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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Shooting is underway for Emma Dante's new film, 'The Macaluso Sisters'

Production has begun on the follow up to Emma Dante's debut feature Via Castellana Bandiera (A Street in Palermo). Le sorelle Macaluso (The Macaluso Sisters) is the story of a matriarchal family of five siblings from childhood through old age. Set in Palermo, the film will follow each of the sisters through the choices that set the course of their lives.

Le sorelle Macaluso stars Alissa Maria Orlando, Susanna Piraino, Anita Pomario, Eleonora De Luca, Viola Pusatieri, Donatella Finocchiaro, Serena Barone, Simona Malato, Laura Giordani, Maria Rosaria Alati, Rosalba Bologna and Ileana Rigano. The film will be released in Italian theatres in 2020.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Mesmerizing Cinema of Ferzan Ozpetek

"Cinema is about the gaze, about where someone is looking. I love to make movies where a character is thinking the line but not speaking the line.”

One of Italy’s most prolific and visionary filmmakers, Ferzan Ozpetek, draws inspiration from situations in everyday life and adds his unique point-of-view to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Born in Turkey in 1959, Ozpetek moved to Rome two decades later to work in theater and assist various film directors.  In 1997, he made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed Hamam Turkish Bath, which went on to win two Golden Globes for Best New Director and Best Soundtrack. Since then, Ozpetek has directed some of the most beautiful and profound films of contemporary Italian cinema. He calls upon his own life experiences when deciding on a film project. He then builds upon that experience with his writing partner and close friend of more than 30 years, Gianni Romoli. Together, they transform an idea into a masterpiece with the perfect combination of drama and comedy relief.

In an Ozpetek film, there is so much that remains unsaid but is revealed through the characters' eyes. "During the shooting of La Finestra di Fronte (Facing Windows), I told Giovanna Mezzogiorno several times, ‘Don't speak the line. Just think the line and gaze,’" recalled Ozpetek. Fifteen years later, the pair teamed up again for Napoli Velata (Naples in Veils), the story of a woman overwhelmed by sudden love and loss. Ozpetek created a crypic world of light and shadows showcased by cinematography that will endear you to its spell-binding natural set. Clearly infatuated with the city of Naples, Ozpetek’s eye for its streets, architecture and shore renders it one of the protagonists. Combined with the explosive dramatic performances of the film’s stars, Mezzogiorno and Alessandro Borghi, the film is a feast for the eyes and soul. And speaking of feasts, food is always a part of his films, and Naples in Veils is no different. Eccentric family and friends sitting around impeccably-made tables eating decadent food is a welcomed reoccurrence in any number of his films. 

Known to provoke emotionally-charged performances, another recent example is the 2014 Allacciate le cinture (Fasten Your Seatbelts). Starring the stunningly gorgeous Kasia Smutniak and Francesco Arca as Elena and Antonio, your quintessential archetype of opposites that attract, the two could not be any different and never mind that Antonio is engaged to Elena's best friend. Once again, Ozpetek manages to evoke extreme emotions such as bliss, fear, anger and guilt while capturing the rich backdrops and continuous playbook of life happening in the background. He brings contemporary issues into classic scenarios. 

Rewind to 2007 and his ensemble hit Saturno Contro (Saturn in Opposition). The film follows a group of contemporary 30- and 40- somethings as they struggle to come to grips with youthful dreams that didn't come true. Ambra Angiolini plays the role of Roberta, a girl-next-door type whose unyielding support, light-heartedness and loyalty endears her character to the audience. It is a subtle but memorable performance that gives testament to Ozpetek’s delicate way of motivating his actors to give life to his screenplay.

I talked with him while he was in New York last year presenting Naples in Veils at Lincoln Center’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. I asked him to give insight into this affinity he has with his cast. “I choose my actors without auditioning them. I choose them from instinct. Instinctively, I say this person can be perfect for the part and that’s it. Then I fall in love with them, but not in the sense of real love or in a sexual way. But in a way that I want the best for them, I want them to do well.” He went on to say, “My rapport with the actors is the best part of my cinema.”

Watch a clip from our interview..

Having been born into one culture and living in another, Ferzan Ozpetek combines the best of both worlds in terms of culture, traditions and relationships. People are people wherever you go. We have the same problems, concerns, fears and desires. Ozpetek’s films mirror life and the struggles people go through. He appreciates physical beauty but also the beauty and purity of an honest, vulnerable soul. His films are visual art and his actors are lucky to be in his hands.

Naples in Veils is still being shown at film festivals throughout the world. Hamam Turkish BathFacing WindowsFasten Your Seatbelts Saturn in Opposition and Loose Cannons are available through Amazon. Click on the links below to purchase or stream. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Director Michela Occhipinti's 'Flesh Out' Makes the Lineup of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

Michela Occhipinti’s “Flesh Out,” which is in the International Narrative Competition of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, will take you into a world filled with emotion. Watching this film, you will feel disbelief, anger and sadness but if you look deeply, you’ll realize how similar the characters’ struggles are to your own.

Gavage is a centuries old tradition practiced in the West African country of Mauritania in which a young woman prepares for marriage by gaining a considerable amount of weight. The weight gain is symbolic of good health and prosperity. However, in 2019, many young people are not embracing this facet of their heritage. 

Verida (Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche) is one of those people. Engaged to a man she’s never met, Verida is forced by her mother day in and day out to eat heaping bowls of food and milk, 10 servings a day to be exact. When you look beyond the emotional trauma and consider the physical, long term damage that 10 meals a day consisting of meat and milk is doing to her body, it can be viewed as a form of abuse but instead of physical or verbal, it is portrayed by the exaggerated sounds of Varida chewing, slurping and swallowing and the mere annoyance of her mothering placing the bowls in front of her, and the noises of flies zipping around, landing on the bowls and on her.

Whether it's the local butcher, her girlfriends, her grandmother or the young man who secretly loves her, everywhere Varida goes, people want to talk about her gavage- how it’s coming along, why she is doing it, how it’s affecting her emotionally, if it is still relevant, what it means to her family. Her entire world is consumed by something she detests. So not only is it taking her body from her but it is also taking her identity.

This is a film that really speaks to the tragedy of life. Everyone in this film is suffering in some way, not just Varida. Her father along with other locals leave their homes and pile into the back of a pickup truck heading to the mountains to search for gold to bring in money. In several scenes, there are animals tied up or walking aimlessly among the people. It’s just a matter of time until they meet their fates and end up in one of Varida’s bowls. Sidi, a young man who provides the scale for Varida’s weekly weigh-ins, is suffering because he is secretly in love with her and is forced to watch her suffer as she cringes at the weight she’s gaining and sometimes wears extra jewelry to tip the scale. Her mother’s spirit is clearly beaten and beyond repair and this makes for an unhappy home. The home is darkly lit with the only light filtering through draped windows. Varida is miserable at home. The only time she smiles is when she is with her sister. But even then, when she imagines the same path for her beloved little sister, she becomes sad.

The moments of joy for these people are few and far between but that’s what makes those moments more beautiful and as viewers, reminds us to savor them. The simple pleasure of enjoying a cup of tea, standing next to the person you love and looking down upon your city, the intimacy of friendship, the closeness to a sibling... Despite all the pain that we have to go through in life, these are the moments we cherish and it’s a universal message. Whether you’re from West Africa, Europe or North America, the situations may be different but the challenges are always present and the rewards are the same.  

The film is not heavy on dialogue and there are numerous scenes in which the characters’ eyes and expressions do the talking. Occhipinti’s direction is reflected in the lead character’s performance- subtle yet strong. There are long silences and slow pans, which create an atmosphere of tension and quiet conflict.

The creative choices made by Occhipinti’s crew enhance the compelling performances and fascinating story. Her editor, Cristiano Travaglioli, is no stranger to American audiences. He worked with Paolo Sorrentino on his Oscar winning film, The Great Beauty, his 2015 film Youth and more recently, Loro. Travaglioli also edited Pif’s The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer, Francesco Munzi’s Black Souls and Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia’s Sicilian Ghost Story. Combined with Alex Braga’s soundtrack and Daria D'Antonio’s cinematography, the excellence achieved in this film makes it hard to believe that it's Occhipinti’s first feature. 

I talked with her about her inspiration behind telling this story, how she found her lead actress and her collaboration with one of Italy’s most sought after editors.

What drew you to this subject?
The idea was born in 2011. I was noticing that I was getting old through my lines. It was the first visual sign that most of my life had gone by. Then I thought, why does it bother me to have lines? I know that the life experiences that I live will leave traces in me, in my spirit. Why shouldn't they leave them also on my body? I started making a broader reflection on women's bodies in general and how much pressure is put on women's bodies in every culture and I went through a few months when this was really a big issue for me. And then by chance, I bumped into a small article in an Italian magazine that talked about the Mauritanian women and gavage. It drew my attention immediately. At the very first second, I thought they are crazy but one second after, I said but we do the same thing. You are changing your body. Whatever shape you are trying to obtain doesn't really matter. It's really secondary. What's really very similar even if the details are different is the process of obtaining that shape is the same lack of acceptance and lack of freedom.

The film opened in Europe (Berlin) and North American (New York) to very positive reviews. People are fascinated by it. When you set out to make this film, did you realize that the theme would be so universal?
Yes. I am interested only in universal subjects. I could maybe make a universal subject out of a local story in my city but it needs to be about discovery for me. It is work that takes so many years in completing, I need it to be a full life experience since I am so attracted to traveling and discovering new traditions and new ways of life, new scenery, new landscapes- both physical and metaphysical. I don't know if there is a reason. I think my opinion is a very personal one. It might not be agreed on but when I see something from a completely different perspective, it makes me make such an effort that it stays with me much more than when something is told on a subject that I know, that maybe strikes me a lot, but then I don't think about it very shortly after. It might seem that I am lacking completely of humbleness and modesty but I am looking for universal themes. It depends on if I succeed in making them universal. That is something that only the audience could say.

Varida's performance was very compelling, very subtle yet very strong. How did you choose her for the role?
I met Varida in 2012 during the last days of my first scouting that lasted one month. I went there to research the story, to understand what it was about and to look for girls. When I found her, I knew right away that she was the one because her eyes were so expressive. It was the same thing with the postman in my first film and when I found him, I knew it was him. It's like an attraction. I don't know how to explain it better.

Tell me about Varida..
She is a young girl. At the time, she was doing some modeling for a billboard. That's why I incorporated this into the story. She wants to be an actress but when I met her, she was very young and she was a bit wild. Then years went by because it took so much to find the financing and everything for the film. She divorced from her first husband. She found another husband. She went to live in Turkey so when I went back, she was gone and I was desperate. But then a few days later, she showed up at the casting because she had just by chance returned to live in Mauritania. I shot her in 2012 and 2015, but only her expressions. I was interested in her eyes mainly. Then in fact, a few days before shooting the actual film, I thought I am crazy. I never tried to let her act by saying words. But I did well I think because the first few times, she was a bit over the top but she followed so well because she lived that same story or similar to that when she was 16. She was promised a marriage to a man and she underwent gavage. In fact, in two scenes of the film, the strongest ones, the one when towards the end, she was touching the veil and started crying. She told me that she was thinking about the past. And also in the scene where she shouts to her mother and her mother gives her a smack on the face, we tried it a few times and it was ok and then we walked out of the house and talked for a half hour and told her that I knew it was very painful for her and I was sorry for asking but that she should dig into what she felt when it happened to her and that's when it really came out. I think she's a very intelligent girl. She understands every nuance. We shot the film mainly in sequence because I wanted her to get into her character and the first scenes were easier to shoot. But then she was also very clever. We were only an eight-person crew. We didn't have makeup. We didn't have costumes. We didn't have design. We didn't have anything. We did it all. And each one of us did much more than our job. Verida did her own makeup. We had some tests and told her how she should do it. Towards the end, she was so clever that she would pick it off a little, so there is also this transformation of her skin. We became really good friends.

What was her reaction to the film and how well it's been received?
When we did the World Premiere in Berlin, I sat next to Verida the whole time and I was holding her hand. At the end of the screening, we were all called up to the stage. Verida talked and she said the film resembles 70 percent of her own life experience and she loved it. We were all very moved because we've been through a lot with this whole process of doing the film since 2012. It's a long time.

How did you come to work with the editor Cristiano Travaglioli?
The producers, especially Marta Donzelli along with Gregorio Paonessa thought that Cristiano should edit my film. He is one who never misses a cut. Every cut he does has meaning. We met for lunch and I never thought that Cristiano would do my film because I am not a well-known director and the project was very risky. It was a very small production with a very low budget. But he did it, he accepted it and it was amazing to work with him because he's got such good taste and also with Alex Braga who did the original music. But then there are two pieces of music that Cristiano chose and I that immediately loved. He likes exactly what I like but he's got much more musical culture. So when I cannot explain exactly what I want, he has the words to translate, which is amazing. Also, aside from the editing and all that, he's got some amazing ideas and I was so blessed to work with him.

Well I think the relationship between an editor and director is very important to the success of a film.
Yes and we wrote and rewrote bits of the film during the editing. We changed a lot of things during editing. We were so few people that I had to think about so many things and sometimes I was not focused enough. For example, I would focus a lot on the direction of the actors and I had to think about all the costume changes. We were just eight, so it was complicated. I like his mind. I like the way he thinks. He is amazing. I was really lucky. 

There were two scenes that stood out for me. In the beginning, when the men were leaving for the mountains, she was watching them through the bars on the house window. It gave me the impression that she was imprisoned. Was that a conscious decision?
I didn't really think about that. The house where we shot, I found in 2016 when I was location scouting, casting and doing all these things. I loved that house because it was perfect. I was also looking for some bars in front of the windows. I didn't know exactly why. I just wanted them and I imagine that unconsciously it was for something like that. I wanted a house that had a terrace because I wanted the character to be going up because going up is like elevating yourself literally and while writing, we thought that it was a perfect thing because everyone is always looking at how she's improving with this gavage. At least that's like her little haven. She just can observe the world without being observed. Yes it is.. It's like a girl locked in a tower.

The next screening of “Flesh Out” during the Tribeca Film Festival will take place on Saturday, May 4 at 11:30 AM at the Village East Cinema. Click here to purchase tickets. 

New Films on the Horizon for Two Maestros of Italian Cinema

Two veteran filmmakers are about to begin production on their new projects at Cinecittà studios in Rome – Paolo Taviani with “Leonora Addi...