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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Explore Sardinia with ISRECINEMA

A unique collection of videos about the Sardinian heritage are available on Vimeo through the Ethnographic Institute of Sardinia’s on-demand platform, “ISRECINEMA.” There are 52 works (with new ones on the way) that consist of photo essays, documentaries, short films and animated films. The platform contains the institutes first works dating back to the late 1970s and the most recent productions. All were shot on the island of Sardinia. Some have had considerable success, including  Paolo Zucca’s "The referee," which earned him a David di Donatello for Best Short Film.

One compelling documentary is "La cena delle anime" (Supper for Dead Souls) by Ignazio Figus, which made its North American premiere in New York last year at the Margaret Mead Film Festival. A Sardinia native, Figus has made it his life's work to study the culture of his land. He works with ISRE, using the medium of visual anthropology to report his findings.

I talked with him about his fascinating work and the tradition featured in this short film.

Tell me a little about this tradition and how this project came about?
The film project “The Dinner of Souls” was developed as part of the research programs carried out by the Regional Higher Ethnographic Institute of Sardinia (ISRE), in particular on the special relationship between food and death. This connection appears clear in the tradition known in Sardinia as “Sa chena de sos mortos” (The supper of the dead) which consists of preparing, on the night between November 1st and 2nd, a complete meal characterized by “sos macarrones de sos mottos” (the macaroni of the dead) and delicacies particularly pleasing to the dead, that nourish them in the belief that at night they return to their home to feast. There is a belief in some towns that in order to better show the way to the souls, a light is left lit in the window.

How did you find the woman featured in this story?
In the fall of 2015, fortunate circumstances allowed me to meet Mrs. Pasqua Goddi, a lively ninety-year-old from Orune (a town in the province of Nuoro) who, on the occasion of the commemoration of the dead, prepares a sumptuous banquet for the dead of her family every year. In a November setting, misty, a bit gloomy, tempered by the sharp irony of the protagonist, I was able to document an intimate family ritual, so full of meaning. Signora Pasqua appears hieratic in her ancient attitude: the kitchen is transformed into a sanctuary and the table is set in an altar. Alongside this “liturgical” climate, the theatrical potential of Signora Pasqua is manifested, which is endowed with a wide range of ironic, amusing and biting expressions that she has wisely distilled during the filming. But these were fleeting “curtains.” Soon after, we find the old woman deeply understands her role as a “medium”. In reality, it was the very silence and precise gestures of Mrs. Pasqua that were the cornerstones of this observation.

The effect of black and white is beautifully striking. Tell me about your choice in giving the film this particular atmosphere.
For me, working in visual anthropology, the choice of black and white has been rather painful. It is in fact an impoverishment of information in favor of aesthetics. I often make a joke: I didn’t choose black and white, but it was wanted, indeed demanded, by the people and places described. In reality, I really think that every situation, every face, every place, needs its own photographic tone. Black and white helped me to make some elements of modernity in the house less distracting and less present. In this way, it leads the viewer to a greater concentration on the unfolding of the action.
I’d like to mention a reflection made by a young researcher who last spring was in the audience during the presentation of the doc at the Ethnografilm Festival in Paris. During the Q&A she told me: “I find the choice of black and white, very appropriate because this somehow becomes a metaphor for death that removes color from men and things.” I greatly appreciated this reflection and made it my own.

What did you learn about the culture while making this film?
This is a known ritual in Sardinia and in most of southern Italy, and I knew this well before shooting. What I found interesting is that during the filming, I realized how this old woman, officiating priestess of the rite, has risen to a paradigm, becoming an expression of a popular religiosity that appropriately leads the dead back to where they belong, to the family, to consume the common meal.

I can't help but wonder, after the woman leaves the dinner on the table overnight, how she feels in the morning when the food is still there. I assume that, unfortunately, the dead don't end up eating the dinner. It leads me to wonder if every year there is a sense of sadness when the family must come to terms with the dead not actually having visited.
I assure you that during the filming, there was a clear perception of a genuine connection with a possible Beyond. Nothing rational, of course, but a strong suggestion. The food is left on the table for the entire night and consumed by the family the next day. In some places, the dishes are distributed among the less wealthy people of the town. Literature has also been interested in this rite. The Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda (Nobel Prize for literature) writes: “... Giuseppe remembered that the old maid used to prepare a small dinner for the dead every year who returned to the house where they lived: and the next morning he didn’t sweep because something of them could have remained on the floor. The curious thing is that every year the dinner disappeared: and Giuseppe, as a child, crossed the kitchen the next morning and the courtyard in leaps for fear of trampling on something of them ... “. A beautiful lyric, isn’t it?

It is indeed beautiful and regardless of your beliefs, it's comforting to imagine that we can still do something nice for our loved ones who are no longer with us. Nobody knows for sure what happens after we die, so perhaps the souls really do visit. The food is not wasted, so what harm can there be in continuing the tradition?

Click here for the full catalog of documentary films available On Demand by ISRE. The works with English subtitles are labeled accordingly. Click here for the films available in Italy listed in alphabetical order.

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the September issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Venice Classics 2020: Pietro Germi's 'Seduced and Abandoned"

The full line-up of the Venice Film Festival was unveiled today but I am still hooked on the selections in "Venice Classics." Among them is Pietro Germi's commedia all’italiana masterpiece "Seduced and Abandoned."

The film opens with Agnese, played by a gorgeous Stefania 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.

Click on the image to stream it on Amazon..

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sunday Streaming: The Still Relevant 'At the Edge of the City'

Check out Giulietta Masina in Carlo Lizzani and Massimo Mida’s 1952 suspenseful, murder mystery, “Ai margini della metropoli” (At the Edge of the City). Masina plays Gina, the devoted wife of Mario (Michel Jourdin), an unemployed peasant accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Marcella. 

The layered, complex story and brilliantly written screenplay show a side of 1950s Rome that we rarely see in Post-WWII films, but sadly existed for the vast poverty-stricken population. The subject deals with the unspoken discrimination against those living in camps and land-shares who did not benefit from the post-war economic boom. A young, vibrant Massimo Girotti portrays a torn defense attorney who gets emotionally invested in the case, having a gut feeling that his client is innocent while the evidence continues to pile up against him. Gina goes through great lengths to track down the alleged witnesses and call them out on their false testimony. The entire film comes together in a spectacular final courtroom scene in which those wanting to lazily convict Mario are made to confront their prejudices. 

Click on the image to stream the film on Amazon.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Edgardo Pistone's “Very Pasolinian Naples”

The Venice Film Critics’ Week is an independent section of the Venice International Film Festival, organized by the Union of Italian Film Critics (SNCCI). The program traditionally gets a second run in Rome during the Autumn months.

The annual series fosters independent and free-thinking filmmakers, often showcasing the work of new talent, and this year is no different. The 2020 program includes a selection of seven debut films in competition and two special events out of competition. Looking over the Italian films, I found some intriguing projects by filmmakers of all ages and backgrounds. Among them is Edgardo Pistone’s short film, “Le mosche” (The Flies). I was immediately drawn to the black and white images, which reflect both nostalgia and viridity. Critics are already comparing the film to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work, and I can understand why. The poetry of Naples, where it was shot, and the aloofness of the boys brings to mind Pasolini’s “Accattone” as well as Federico Fellini’s “I vitelloni” and “Il bidone.”

The dialogue in the version that I watched is in Neapolitan dialect with some Italian subtitles. Watching the film reminded me of an old David Lynch quote: “Film is a picture and sound working together. Dialogue has its own way of working and it can be like music.” That is how I found this 15-minute film ­–like watching verses and choruses. You can feel something significant coming at the end, but there is not a definitive structure. That’s where it calls on the nostalgia of auteurs, like Pasolini and Fellini. I had a similar experience when watching Fellini’s “The Clowns.” There is this feeling of following the protagonists during a day in their lives. You are not with them. Instead, you are outside looking in. There is an air of abandon, yet you become invested in the characters. Like Moraldo, Alberto and Fausto in “I vitelloni,” they are aloof yet relatable. 

The film follows four mischievous teenage boys on the streets of Naples and their unlikely acquaintanceship with a local named Fiore as he endures their shenanigans. Often on the receiving end of the boys trickery, Fiore nevertheless grows fond of them and welcomes their attention. But boys being boys, they take his affection for granted and one of their pranks too far.

Born in Naples in 1990, Pistone developed an interest in cinema during his high school years. He studied his craft at the acclaimed Accademia di Belle Arti of Naples. Upon graduating, he began working as a director, photographer and screenwriter, and also started teaching filmmaking on the outskirts of Naples. That experience, teaching and talking about film with youngsters, is what ultimately led to the inspiration behind this film. “I received a call to take part in discussions about cinema for a couple of afternoons a week. For me, talking about cinema and making cinema is the same thing and I couldn’t resist. And from those discussions, this long and tiring journey was born. I say tiring because the boys in the film had my same distrust in adults. But once they were involved in the project, they did not stop and further validated this newfound trust with great affection and great professionalism,” Pistone recounted.

Fascinated by this story, I asked him a few questions about the project. He told me that while his experience growing up in Naples was the foundation for the film, he didn’t want the film to be a Neapolitan tale. “In this film, I tried to stage my adolescence. I was born and raised in Naples and I try to make films in my city while avoiding the commonplaces that are now increasingly present in the contents produced here,” he explained. Avoiding Italian stereotypes is also important to him. “In my movies, you will not see spaghetti, camorra or mandolins. The story of ‘Le mosche’ could have been set in North Africa, Eastern Europe or the United States. I also tried not to frame Vesuvius, but from the sea it is inevitable and therefore you can see it and I was happy.”

Regarding the iconic comparisons, he takes a humble stance. “For those who love cinema, talking about Pasolini or Fellini is like talking to a believer of God, and the faithful try to associate any event with this God. Having said that, I was certainly influenced by the authors of the past: especially Fellini. Fellini is paradoxically the director who most represented Italy while staging his interior landscapes, giving us a more complex and fascinating picture of reality during those years. Many other directors have tried, but have not left a mark like him. I am not a cinephile. I’ve missed some things, including some Pasolini films that I’ve yet to see,  but when I see “Accattone” I understand why people see something of Pasolini in my films.”

Certainly the black and white aspect prompts echoes of the past. When I asked him about the significance of making this creative decision, he said that he believes the black and white representation can be the most daring artistic reworking of reality. “It is one of many instruments used to make cinema and to restore other visions of reality. Shaping, translating and rewriting puts me in a position to offer a show, which is my first goal when I try to write a film.”

Naples-born character actor Salvatore Striano makes a brilliant cameo appearance as a street performer. Pistone said that their collaboration came natural as the two share the same struggles and desires to perfect their craft. 

It’s too early to say when "Le Mosche" will be available worldwide.  We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I recommend checking out Pistone’s 2014 short, “Per un’ora di amore” (For One Hour of Love). I found this film to be very dark, so it’s not for the faint of heart. The subject deals with severe loneliness and the measures one will take to feel wanted and loved. Pistone describes it as “a free and anarchist film.” He shot the film in the neighborhood of Rione Traiano. He describes it as "an ode to melancholy and the tenacity of loneliness."  Click here to watch it on Vimeo. 

Rione Traiano was also the location of Agostino Ferrente’s award-winning 2019 “Selfie.” Pistone was the assistant director on the film. Click here to stream it on Vimeo On Demand. 

Click here to watch the trailer.

News from Venice

The lineup of the 35th Venice Critic’s Week 2020 has been revealed. Most interesting is the closing film- a documentary by Roberto Rossellini’s grandson, titled, “The Rossellinis.” According to Luce Cinecittà, Alessandro Rossellini is a recovering drug addict. “At the age of 56, he decides to take on the challenge, as well as to improve his precarious finances, by making this film, forcing everyone to undergo family therapy under the scrutiny of an unforgiving lens.”

Below is the complete line-up.

In Competition
50 o dos ballenas se encuentran en la playa / 50 or Two Whales Meet at the Beach by Jorge Cuchi (Mexico)
Hayaletler / Ghosts by Azra Deniz Okyay (Turkey, Qatar)
Non odiare / Thou Shalt Not Hate by Mauro Mancini (Italy, Poland)
Pohani dorogy / Bad Roads by Natalya Vorozhbyt (Ukraine)
Shorta by Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid (Denmark)
Topside by Celine Held and George Logan (USA)
Tvano nebus / The Flood Won’t Come by Marat Sargsyan (Lithuania)

Opening Film
The Book of Vision by Carlo S. Hintermann (Italy, UK, Belgium)

Closing Film
The Rossellinis by Alessandro Rossellini (Italy, Latvia)

The Venice International Film Critics’ Week is an independent section of the Venice Film Festival, organized by the Union of Italian Film Critics (SNCCI). The program includes a selection of seven debut films in competition and two special events out of competition. The selection is curated by the General Delegate Giona A. Nazzaro with the members of the selection committee Paola Casella, Simone Emiliani, Beatrice Fiorentino and Roberto Manassero. It will take place from September 2 -12.

Meanwhile at the Venice Film Festival, it's been announced that the first film in the Restored Classics section will be "Don’t Look Now" (1973), a horror film masterpiece by British director Nicolas Roeg starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. It will be introduced by director Luca Guadagnino. The original is available in the US on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and YouTubeClick on the image to stream it on Amazon..

Monday, July 20, 2020

New films starring Alba Rohrwacher are on the horizon

A couple new interesting films starring Alba Rohrwacher are on the horizon…

Daniele Luchetti's ‘Lacci’ is set in Naples during the early 1980s as Aldo (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Vanda go through a separation after he reveals his affair with another woman. However, 30 years later, the couple is still together. The story focuses on the "inescapable ties" that keep people together even without love.

Nanni Morretti’s new film, “Tre Piani,” is rumored to be in the official lineup of the 2020 Venice Film Festival. Adapted from Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo’s novel, “Three Floors Up,” the film stars Moretti along with Rohrwacher, Riccardo Scamarcio, Margherita Buy and Adriano Giannini. The story traces the lives of three families who live in a three-story building in a Roman neighborhood. Over the course of 10 years, each family member is forced to grapple with uncomfortable, difficult and painful situations. The choices of each will set the course for their very existence. 

It was just announced today by Variety that Rohrwacher, Toni Servillo and Silvio Orlando will star in a high-profile prison drama directed by Leonardo Di Costanzo. "From the Inside" will focus on two destinies that intersect in a conflict inside the jail. Click here to read Variety’s exclusive scoop.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Matteo Garrone's 'Le Mythe Dior'

Check out this brand new dreamy short film by Matteo Garrone for Dior and click here to read a beautiful article by Stefano Monti with all the details behind the making of it.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Alessandra Mortelliti's Debut Feature Film in Italian Theaters

Having made its world premiere in the Alice nella Città section of the 14th Rome Film Festival, Alessandra Mortelliti’s debut film "Famosa" was adapted from the theatrical monologue of the same name, written and performed by Mortelliti.

The film follows Rocco, a lonely, misunderstood 17-year-old who lives in a small Italian town. He dreams of moving to Rome where he believes he'll have the freedom to express his artistic side. Hindered by his parents, Rocco is strengthened by his love for a classmate, his eccentric aunt, and the friendship with a girl. Stubborn and desperate, he eventually realizes his dream of moving to the big city, but finds a different reality than the one he envisioned.

We'll keep you updated on the international distribution of this film. In the meantime, check out the trailer...

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Two Upcoming Screenings of Timeless Treasures

Film festivals in northern Italy and France will feature restorations, never seen video of Federico Fellini and other Golden Age classics.

Bologna’s annual outdoor film festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato will provide an international preview of a much anticipated documentary by director Anselma Dell’Olio. According to Luce Cinecittà, ”Fellini degli spiriti” will explore the hidden world of Fellini. It will feature never before seen video from the archives of Rai and Istituto Luce in addition to film clips to reconstruct and depict Fellini’s rapport with the spiritual and the supernatural.

The preview will take place at the 34th edition of the festival on August 23. The documentary will then be in Italian cinemas for a three-day engagement beginning August 31.

This beautiful image of Fellini and Giulietta Masina has been circulating in promotions for the preview. We'll keep you posted on the international distribution of this film. In the meantime, click here to read about Fellini's incredible career and for links to stream several of his films.

Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation announced that several of its recent works, including restorations of films by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Fellini, will debut at Cannes Classics in October. “We are thrilled to announce that the restorations of "Accattone" (1961, d. Pier Paolo Pasolini), "The Chess Game of the Wind" (Iran, 1976, d. Mohammad Reza Aslani) and "La Strada" (1956, d. Federico Fellini) will screen at Cannes Classics, which will be held this year at the Festival Lumière in Lyon.”

In addition, Michelangelo Antonioni's “L’avventura” and a documentary about actress Alida Valli will be shown. Scorsese's works are listed below. Click here to see the complete lineup. Click here to watch "L'avventura" on the Criterion Channel and here to watch "La Strada."

Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation celebrates its 30th birthday

"Accattone" (Accatone) (1961, 1h57, Italy) by Pier Paolo Pasolini

"Shatranje bad" (The Game Chess of the Wind) (1976, 1h33, Iran) by Mohammad Reza Aslani

"Federico 100!"

"La strada" (1956, 1h48, Italy) by Federico Fellini

"Luci del varietà" (Les feux du music-hall) (1950, 1h37, Italie) by Alberto Lattuada and Federico Fellini

"Fellini degli Spiriti" (Fellini of the Spirits) by Anselma dell’Olio (1h40, Italy / Belgium)

Friday, July 3, 2020

Laura Bispuri – A Trailblazer Telling Stories from a Woman's Perspective

“I always wanted to talk about women – it has been my mission in my life and my work.” Filmmaker Laura Bispuri is part of a new generation of trailblazers giving voice to the plight of Italian women.

Born in Rome in 1977, Bispuri began studying cinema at La Sapienza University. After graduation, she enrolled in an acclaimed filmmaking workshop under the guidance of producer, Domenico Procacci. That experience made a powerful impression on the young director, inspiring many short films and documentaries between 2003 and 2009 that caught the attention of network television producers and film festival directors. Then in 2010, she made the breakout film that earned her a David di Donatello for Best Short Film. 

“Passing Time” was ahead of its time in regard to the film’s theme of gender identification. Set in a spacious, cold house in the Italian countryside, a teenage girl is overcome by grief over the death of her beloved grandfather, the only person in her life that truly understood her and allowed her to be herself. In one last tribute to him, as he lay in rest on her parent’s bed, she switches their outfits in demonstrating her rejection of imposed roles. In doing so, she finds peace and liberation in mustering up the courage to wear the clothes that suit her best.

Watch "Passing Time".. 

Bispuri’s 2011, “Biondina,” earned her a Nastro d'Argento for Most Promising Director. Shot in the Pugliese coastal town of Lesina, the film follows Biondina, a rebellious teenager who quietly struggles to comply with the rules and expectation of adults. Click here to watch "Biondina" on Vimeo.

Bispuri made her feature film debut in 2015 with the award-winning “Vergine Giurata” (Sworn Virgin). Starring Alba Rohrwacher as Hana, the film is based on the true stories of women in Albania who sacrifice their femininity and choose to live their lives as men in order to be granted certain freedoms. Set in the misty terrain of the mountains of Albania, the story appeals to the old law of the Kanun, swearing eternal virginity and therefore becoming a “sworn virgin.” After years of living this way, Hana feels the need to return to her life as a woman, and leaves Albania in search of a new beginning in Milan. The film was shown all over the world and earned Bispuri numerous awards, including the Nora Ephron prize for Best Female Director at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Bispuri returned to Tribeca in 2018 with “Figlia mia” (Daughter of Mine), which delves into the complex world of adoption as a mother develops a curiosity and affection for the child she gave up. Set amid the majestic sea and mountains of Sardinia, the triangle began when Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), young and poor, gave birth to Vittoria. Tina (Valeria Golino), married and financially secure, was willing and able to take the burden off Angelica’s hands. Ten years later, Vittoria emerges sheltered and protected but with a free spirit. One day at the beach when she comes face to face with Angelica, she immediately senses something isn’t right. After another encounter, Vittoria starts sneaking away to spend time with her suspected biological mother. After a few afternoons, the natural mother-daughter bond becomes apparent and they can no longer deny the truth. Despite her efforts and sincere love for her daughter, Angelica’s demons make it hard for the two to forge a relationship. 

In an interview with Cineuropa about “Daughter of Mine,” Bispuri explained, “Throughout the history of cinema, women have always been sidelined. They have been wives patiently waiting for their husbands to come home, and have often been portrayed in a very superficial way. It’s high time we change that image. Whenever this film is criticized for a lack of focus on men, part of me is quite happy about it. It needs to be this way. Cinema is made of women standing in the background, and yet you never hear us complain.”

Bispuri’s next project is currently in pre-production. “Di lotta e d’amore” is a love story between two teenagers set against the backdrop of housing projects occupied by both Italians and immigrants on the outskirts of Rome.

“Sworn Virgin” and “Daughter of Mine” are available to stream on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.


- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the September issue of Fra Noi Magazine

Thursday, July 2, 2020

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 Addio,” based on Luigi Pirandello’s work and Pupi Avati with the drama “Lei mi parla ancora.” 

We'll bring you more information when it becomes available.

Buon lavoro, maestri!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

It's Christmas in July on Netflix for Contemporary Italian Cinema Aficionados

The Italian comedy series "Under the Riccione Sun" became available today on Netflix. Directed by Antonio Usbergo and Niccolo Celaia, the series follows the adventures of a group of teenagers vacationing on the northern Italian seaside. Click here for more information.

Coming on July 15, "Gli infedeli" (The Players) boasts an all-star cast that includes Valerio Mastandrea, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laura Chiatti, Valentina Cervi and Massimiliano Gallo. And don't forget "The Old Guard" on July 10 with Luca Marinelli. Click here for more information.

And speaking of Scamarcio.. The Gene Siskel Film Center of Chicago’s series “Film Center from Your Sofa” will offer Stefano Mordini’s 2018 film "The Invisible Witness" (Il testimone invisibile) on VOD the week of July 12. Click here to stream it. Enjoy!

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...