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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Documentary Filmmaker Gianfranco Pannone's New Project to Premiere in Venice

The 2019 Venice Film Festival is officially underway. One highly anticipated film is Scherza con i fanti by Gianfranco Pannone and Ambrogio Sparagna. 

The documentary covers over a hundred years from the Unification of Italy to the present to illustrate the varied relationship Italians have had with the military and power in general.

The film combines rare stock footage with traditional folk songs and four diaries kept by a soldier for the Kingdom of Italy in the 1800s, a fighter in Ethiopia in 1935, a female resistance fighter during World War II and a sergeant in the Italian Navy in the Kosovo. 

The film will be shown in the Sala Perla on August 31 as a Special Event in the program, Giornate degli Autori.  Click here for details on the screening. 

Check out the trailer... 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Lasting Legacy of a Silent Film Icon

A new documentary that sheds light on a comic strip character that has become legendary is about to premiere at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Giancarlo Soldi's Cercando Valentina is the story of artist Guido Crepax's sensual, iconic character "Valentina". Here is a look at the actress who inspired her.

Louise Brooks

Black and white photographs of the silent film era preserve mystery and nostalgia from days gone by. Silent film star, Louise Brooks is often at the center of those fascinating portraits. Famous for her bob hairstyle and iconic flapper costumes, her influence and legacy reaches far beyond American shores.

“Louise Brooks is my favorite actress,” revealed Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana when we spoke with him at the 2018 edition of Lincoln Center’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. “When I saw G. W. Pabst’s Lulù and then Augusto Genina’s Prix de Beauté (Miss Europe) with this extraordinary American actress, I fell madly in love with her because she was so representative of the actresses of her time and interpreted very strong and volatile female characters.”

Austrian filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst first introduced Europeans to Brooks with his infamous 1929 film, Pandora’s Box. Brooks portrayed the character "Lulu", a name that would forever stay with her. Based on Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist (1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (1904), the film follows Lulu, a seductive young woman whose sexuality and care-free nature break the hearts of those who love her and eventually cause her to self-destruct. Although the film was not a hit at first, audiences did catch on and Brooks went on to make two more films with Pabst and become a huge international star. 

“Like many other American artists, Louise Brooks is differently and perhaps better appreciated in Europe. It was also in Europe, after decades in obscurity, that she was rediscovered,” explained Thomas Gladysz, author, founder and president of the Louise Brooks Society. “She made three films on the continent: Pandora’s Box and “Diary of a Lost Girl” for the Austrian-born German director G.W. Pabst, and Prix de Beaute, a French film directed by the Italian Augusto Genina. It is because of these three films that Brooks is remembered.”

Watch Brooks in a clip from Augusto Genina's Prix de Beaute..

“Her haircut was so unique, it inspired a famous Italian Comics designer, Guido Crepax, to use Brooks as model for his most famous creation, a character called ‘Valentina,’” said Tullio Giordana. It was “Valentina” that immortalized Brooks in Italy.

Crepax created “Valentina” in 1965 in an effort to reflect the psychedelic spirit of the 1960s. The “Valentina” series of books and comic strips had a sophistication and erotism to them, even inspiring a 1973 horror film called Baba Yaga. Between 1968 and 2003, 27 books were created in the “Valentina” series.

“Guido Crepax started drawing Louise Brooks into his comics and graphic novel-type work in the mid-1960's. These were longer form, not just throw-away comic strips or comic books. They were published in the United States in a magazine called Heavy Metal, which was sort of an alternative culture magazine. They're a really big deal in Italy,” explained Gladysz. 

He went on to say that although Crepax was the main person responsible for developing Brooks’s image, there have been other artists smitten with her and have drawn her in to all types of comic books and graphic novels. So, she is still very much in vogue in Europe. 

“I would say that she is the actress who struck me most in the history of cinema,” proclaimed Tullio Giordana. “Certainly, I am one who loves Katherine Hepburn, loves Marilyn, loves all the great actress. But for me, she is something special.” He went on to talk about one of the rare interviews she did for Italian television in which she was “very radical and very clever with strict judgments on the industry but also very human and very understanding.” 

Brooks spent the last few decades of her life in Rochester, New York. She moved there at the invitation of James Card, a film curator of the George Eastman House. She lived a quiet life and even watched some of her own films for the first time. She also reinvented herself as a writer. She wrote essays and articles for publications. Many of her essays were collected in “Lulu in Hollywood.”

Much of Louise Brooks’s work is available on Amazon, including Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. Her collection of essays, Lulu in Hollywood, Thomas Gladysz’s books and Guido Crepax’s Valentina and the Magic Lantern are also available on Amazon. Visit the Louise Brooks Society at

Cercando Valentina will be shown on August 30 in the  Click here to read my full interview with Thomas Gladysz. Click here to read my full interview with Marco Tullio Giordana. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Rimini City Council Approves Construction for the Fellini Museum

The city council in Federico Fellini's hometown of Rimini has approved the first of four stages planned for the realization of the Fellini Museum, which is due to open in 2020.

Referred to as the “Fellini Experience”, the museum will offer fans and cinema aficionados a place to experience the work of the Italian cinema master of cinema in all its forms and dimensions. The museum will not be limited to a single exhibition place, rather the entire historic center of Rimini will house a wide cultural celebration.

"It is our intention that the Fellini Museum will have to have the same role and centrality as the 'Guggenheim Museum for Bilbao, a cultural and art engine, which has the ambition to cover its precise space in the great international museum network. It will not be an immobile shrine but the dynamic of the legacy left by the Master," said the Mayor of Rimini, Andrea Gnassi.

The project, which received funding from Mibac, will consist of three main locations. They include Castel Sismondo, a fifteenth-century fortress, Palazzo Valloni, a recently restored eighteenth-century building, where on the ground floor is the famous Fulgor cinema and 'Piazza dei Sogni', which houses a collection of Fellini installations and scenography with green areas and arenas for outdoor shows.

The museum's mission is to show Fellini's creative and human universe with unlimited materials, which include hours upon hours of archival footage, documentaries, interviews and other audiovisual sources. In addition, the museum will display Fellini's drawings, screenplays, letters, musical scores, props and costumes, all in an effort to document the quality, originality and authenticity of the collaborations in each of Fellini's projects. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Celebrate Ferragosto Italian Cinema-Style!

Buon Ferragosto! Celebrate the European feasting holiday Italian-style with these two classics on Amazon and The Criterion Collection..

Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch)

Il Sorpasso

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Gaeta: City of Cinema

Free Spirits of Mario Martone's Capri Revolution on the coast of Gaeta
“Città del Cinema” (City of Cinema) is a recent nickname given to a former fortress for the Roman Empire.  Located on the southern end of Rome’s region of #Lazio and bordering Naples' region of #Campania, Gaeta boasts picturesque mountainous shorelines and centuries-old structures.

Scenes from Saverio Costanzo's HBO series L'amica geniale (My Brilliant Friend) were filmed in July along the city's seascapesThe director shot scenes from the first season and returned to film scenes with director Alice Rohrwacher, his girlfriend and collaborator. The set was closed and for the most part, hidden from public view. The scenes were shot on the beach and in the sea. There's speculation that the scenes are part of a vacation plot of the two friends, Elena and Elisa, played by actresses Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace. Click here to see a few photos of the shoot taken from a distance.

The 2018 film Capri Revolution by director Mario Martone features the coastal beauty of Gaeta as the free-spirited young characters ponder the choices of their youth. Watch this clip (in Italian) of Mario Martone on location..

Alessandro Siani shot scenes from his 2017 film Mister Felicità (Mr. Happiness) in Gaeta. The Neapolitan comedian and filmmaker chose the city among the locations for his film accompanied by an enchanting soundtrack composed by Umberto Scipione.

Director Giuseppe Piccioni on the set of Questi Giorni
Director Giuseppe Piccioni shot his 2016 film Questi Giorni (These days) in Gaeta. The city center and outlying districts were perfect for Piccioni's "countryside town" setting, as his characters met "between old walls, on nocturnal jaunts along the shore and in the enchantment of a brief trespassing of nature." The film centers on the life and expectations of four girls who embark on a life changing adventure.

Click here to learn more about Gaeta and to plan a trip there.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Italian Cinema Channel to Launch in the U.S.

A brand new channel is set to launch via Amazon in December and will feature Italian movies of yesterday and today. Movie Italy will make available on demand the monumental classics that have stood the test of time as well as contemporary films, demonstrating the evolution of Italian cinema.

The project is being spearheaded by Italian distribution company Minerva Pictures. I spoke with one of the project's organizers, Gianluca Curti, for the full story.

How was this project born?
From the awareness of the importance of Italian cinema and Italian culture in the history of the United States, we have therefore created a team to bring all our cinema to the United States- the home of cinema and Hollywood. We want to do a well-organized service for all Americans who love Italy and Italian culture, who love the Renaissance and our history, which is well told by the cinema and, of course, to all Italians who live and work in the USA.

How will it work?
It will be a paid channel in SVOD mode (Subscription video on demand) and will be present in the most important OTTs.

** Pleases note that OTT stands for “Over-The-Top”, a the term used for the delivery of film and TV content via the internet, without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite pay-TV service like a Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

When will you start in America?
By December 2019, it will be operational

Can you tell me some of the titles that will be available?
At the launch, there will be 200 titles out of the 1800 that we currently have. Included will be all the directors and actors who have contributed to the history of Italian cinema- classic and popular. Those artists will include Marcello Mastroianni, Alberto Sordi, Luchino Visconti, Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, Sofia Loren, Totò, Roberto Benigni, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alberto Lattuada, Valerio Mastandrea, Ferzan Ozpetek, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Vittorio de Sica. Then once the launch is completed, we will continue to add and acquire more titles.

We will keep you updated on the exact launch date. In the meantime, the official unveiling of the project will take place tomorrow morning (August 31) at the 76th Venice Film Festival in the Italian Pavilion (Sala Tropicana). Click here for details.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Pietro Germi: An Old World Comedy Genius Still Relevant Today

One of the masters of commedia all’Italiana, he had a talent for deconstructing complex  behaviors while maintaining his sharp sense of humor.

Born in 1914 in northern Italy but with an affinity for the South, director Pietro Germi emerged as a leading filmmaker toward the end of the neorealist period and was instrumental in creating the commedia all’Italiana genre. What made his films unique was his ability to grapple with the social issues that were dominating Italy at the time, posing questions that needed to be asked, but in a way that was entertaining, clever, funny and visually beautiful.

The 1954 film Mid-Century Loves is a 52-minute gem that contains five short tales of love directed by Pietro Germi, Mario Chiari, Roberto Rossellini, Antonio Pietrangelo and Glauco Pellegrini. Each vignette is a decadent piece of cinematic perfection with richly detailed sets, regional music and spectacular cinematography. Germi’s segment, War 1915-18 follows the struggles of a young wife and soon-to-be mother whose husband is sent off to war. The segment begins as a draft announcement is posted in the town center and the town’s frustrated schoolmaster (Lauro Gazzolo) must read it to his distracted, illiterate students. Antonio (Albino Coco) is relieved to hear that his birth year has not been listed yet, so he decides to marry his love, Carmella (Maria Pia Casilio). Before long, she is pregnant and he is sent off to basic training. Carmella decides to pay him a surprise visit just before he is sent to the front line. When the war ends, she is waiting with her baby as the soldiers arrive home.

Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style
“The serenades of the South. The sweet, warm, exhausting Sicilian nights. The whole time I’d been away. The memory of those nights or one particular night had filled my days with longing and nostalgia.” Those words flow through the mind of Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni) as he gazes out the train window at the Sicilian countryside in the opening sequence of Germi’s 1961 comedy Divorce Italian Style. The film was among the first revelations of Germi’s ongoing love affair with the Sicilian culture.

Ferdinando is married to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), a nagging but well-meaning wife who won’t leave him alone. In search of some peace and quiet, he falls in love with the mild-mannered and charming Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), his first cousin through marriage. His feelings for the young girl become all consuming, and he daydreams about ways to kill Rosalia so that he can be with Angela. Finally, inspired by a local murder trial in which the wife, a victim of adultery, shot her husband to save her family’s honor, he concocts a plan to find a man to seduce his wife so that he can do the same. He buys her a sexy black lace dress and takes her out on the town to see how the locals react. Indeed, she catches their attention, so the plan is set into motion. The film garnered three Oscar nominations, including Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Director. It was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It was the first of many collaborations between Germi and Sandrelli.

A Scene from Seduced and Abandoned
Germi teamed up again with the actress for Seduced and Abandoned, his follow-up masterpiece in the commedia all’italiana genre. The film opens with Agnese played by a gorgeous Sandrelli wearing a fitted black dress walking through the narrow streets of her Sicilian village. As she heads to confession, a Sicilian troubadour accompanied by a mandolin tells her story of giving in to lustful feelings for her sister’s fiancé, Peppino. Upon entering the confessional, she breaks down in tears, only to have the priest further shame her. Peppino announces that he doesn’t want to marry a girl who succumbs to temptation, even if it was with him, and flees. A chase ensues as the singing/narrator describes Agnese’s father’s determination to save the family’s honor. Peppino won’t budge, and the family lawyer comes up with a plan to shoot Peppino in a way that would be easily defended in court. The film won a whole slew of awards, including a David Di Donatello for Best Director.

Stefania Sandrelli and Dustin Hoffman in Alfredo, Alfredo
Another notable work is Germi’s 1972 film Alfredo, Alfredo. Dustin Hoffman is Alfredo Sbisà, a down-to-earth, shy guy who falls in love with the beautiful Maria Rosa (Sandrelli). The film begins with the couple meeting with a lawyer to finalize their divorce. As Alfredo contemplates the spell that Rosa had cast upon him, he tells their story through a flashback beginning on the fateful night they met. When Alfredo saw Maria Rosa, it was love at first sight and he is thrilled to learn the feeling is mutual. Little by little, Maria Rosa reveals her controlling, jealous tendencies, which Alfredo believes marriage will solve. But after the two are wed, life gets more chaotic and ultimately becomes unbearable. During a rare night out with his best friend, Alfredo meets Carolina (Carla Gravina), the polar opposite of Maria Rosa. They fall in love and suddenly Alfredo finds himself the leader of a movement to make divorce legal in Italy. Although the film is a comedy, the story is complex and tackles real-life issues of personality disorders and emotional abuse. It’s not a particularly well-known movie but an example of the masterful storytelling by Germi’s generation of iconic filmmakers. The film won a David Di Donatello for Best Film and scored Hoffman honorary citizenship in the town of Ascoli Piceno, located in the central region of Marche, where it was shot.

Germi passed away two years later in 1974 at the age of 60. In 2009, a documentary was made featuring his peers and collaborators. A treasure trove of old interviews, the film includes Claudia Cardinale, Mario Monicelli, Stefania Sandrelli and Carlo Verdone. Titled, Pietro Germi: The Man with the Cigar in His Mouth, it is available to stream at

All of the above films are available stateside. Mid-Century Loves is available to stream on Amazon. Divorce Italian Style and Seduced and Abandoned are available to stream on the Criterion Channel. The DVD for Alfredo, Alfredo is available on Amazon. A low-quality version can be found here on YouTube. (Click on the titles for the links to see the films.)

Seduced and Abandoned is also available to stream on Amazon..

- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for Fra Noi Magazine, August 2019 

In Conversation with Director Cecilia Pignocchi

Filmmakers Arthur Couvat and  Cecilia Pignocchi It’s unusual for a first-time filmmaker to be recognized by a high-profile, international fi...