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Monday, January 25, 2021

Criterion Channel Marks 30 Years of Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation

Ten shorts by the Sicilian documentary filmmaker Vittorio De Seta are now  available on The Criterion Channel in recognition of 30 years since Martin Scorsese founded The Film Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving cinema. 


"Salvatore Giuliano"

In addition to the films by De Seta, The Criterion Channel is releasing a number of films during the year-long celebration that have been saved and restored thanks to this initiative. Among the Italian films in the first batch of releases are Luchino Visconti’s 1954 “Senso,” Francesco Rosi’s 1962 “Salvatore Giuliano” and 1972 “The Mattei Affair” and Sergio Leone’s 1968 “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Also included is Sicilian-born American director Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night.”


The 10 shorts by Vittorio De Seta are: 

The Age of Swordfish (1954)

Islands of Fire (1954)

Solfatara (1954) 

Easter in Sicily (1954)

Sea Countrymen (1954)

Golden Parable (1954)

Fishing Boats (1958)

Orgosolo’s Shepherds (1958)

A Day in Barbagia (1959)

The Forgotten (1959)


De Seta’s work is not for the faint of heart. His films are anthropological in nature and show the authentic struggles of the people of rural Sicily, Sardinia and Calabria. His films are visually stunning and will stay with you. 


In 2014, I spoke with contemporary documentary filmmaker Salvo Cuccia about his homage to his Sicilian predecessor. “Détour De Seta” was presented by Cuccia and Scorsese at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival and has earned its share of praise from audiences around the globe. 


De Seta was a huge influence on Cuccia, who appreciated the master’s "great depth of vision that is evident in his way of telling a story." Cuccia was always impressed by the eternal message in De Seta's images and how he used those compelling images to reveal the stories of workers in the South and how the poor struggled to get through each day. Cuccia considers De Seta, "a great teacher." 


To mark this momentous release, I reached out to Cuccia via Zoom for his thoughts on the series and De Seta’s films. He was articulate and generous in the recollections he shared. We talked about several of the master documentarian’s works including the “The Age of Swordfish,” “Islands of Fire” and “A Day in Barbagia.”  All three of these are available to stream on the Criterion Channel. Click below to watch our interview on YouTube.. 

Click here to watch “Détour De Seta” online. I highly recommend watching it before seeing De Seta’s documentaries. Click here for the Criterion Channel's series. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Cesare Zavattini: A Screenwriter Who Helped Define Italian Cinema

Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini
He may not be a household name, but he was a major force behind the rise of the neorealism movement and Italy’s Golden Age of Cinema.

Screenwriter Cesare Zavattini was born in the region of Emilia-Romagna in 1902, earning a law degree before turning his attention to writing. In 1930, he moved to Milan to work at the Rizzoli publishing company. Five years later, he met Vittorio De Sica. They would go on to make 20 films together, including the neorealist classics “Sciuscià” (Shoeshine) (1946), “Ladri di biciclette” (The Bicycle Thief) (1948), “Miracolo a Milano” (Miracle in Milan) (1951) and “Umberto D.” (1952). 


Zavattini worked on more than 80 films with many of the great directors of Italian cinema. Among them was Giuseppe De Santis, who collaborated with Zavattini in 1952 on “Roma 11:00.” A tragic story based on true events, the film follows several young women in post-WWII Rome as they answer a job listing for a typist. With 200 applicants waiting in line for an interview, the staircase they’re standing on collapses, killing one woman and injuring dozens more. The tragedy spotlighted the poverty and desperation so many Italians endured in the early 1950s. Zavattini co-wrote the script and interviewed many of the actual victims, a few of whom were cast in supporting roles. Click the image below watch it on YouTube.

Zavattini’s words graced the script of Dino Risi’s 1955 comedy “Il segno di Venere” (The Sign of Venus), which features a host of Golden Age legends, including De Sica, Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi and Raf Vallone. The timeless tale follows the amorous misadventures of Cesira (Franca Valeri), who is frequently overshadowed by her beautiful cousin Agnese (Loren). After having her fortune told by a tarot card reader, Cesira meets a flurry of possible suitors who turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth. Click here to watch it on Netflix. 


Zavattini came up with the concept for the film “L’amore in città” (Love in the City), a collection of short stories based on actual events. The 1953 compilation features one vignette co-directed by Zavattini. “Storia di Caterina” tracks the plight of a young, single Sicilian mother who leaves for Rome after being shamed in her hometown. When she loses her job as a maid, she roams the streets of the Eternal City with her toddler in tow looking for work. Desperate to provide for her son, she decides to abandon him in a park, hoping a wealthy family will take him in. He’s brought to a police station instead, where he’s reunited with his mother. The emotional impact of the story is heightened by the fact that the real-life mother plays herself.


Among Zavattini’s last collaborations with De Sica before the director’s death in 1974 was the 1970 war drama “I girasoli” (Sunflower). Shot in Italy and Russia, the heart-wrenching story brings together screen legends Marcello Mastroianni and Loren for one of the most powerful performances of their onscreen love affair. At the start of the film, Antonio (Mastroianni) must leave his new bride, Giovanna (Loren), to fight on the Russian front. After a near-death experience, Antonio has a brief episode of amnesia and marries the young Russian woman who saved his life. Though Antonio is listed as missing in action, Giovanna sets out to find him in Russia, leading to an explosive reunion. The film is a great example of Zavattini’s signature writing style: a human story that tugs at the heartstrings.

Zavattini’s impact on the film industry extends well beyond the written word. In 1967, he founded the Zavattini Municipal Library, and a decade later, he created the Audiovisual Archive Foundation of the Workers’ and Democratic Movement, which he oversaw until his death in 1989. The foundation still serves as a hub for researching, collecting and storing historical audiovisual work. In 2006, Centro Culturale Zavattini was established in his honor to foster young writers and filmmakers.

Watch "La follia di Zavattini," a documentary by Ansano Giannarelli about the making of Zavattini's 1982 film, "La Veritàaaa." During the interview, Zavattini expresses some of his radically innovative ideas on cinema. Unfortunately, there are not English subtitles. 

Stream Zavattini's films on Amazon..


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

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Netflix's ‘SanPa: Sins of the Savior’

From Variety..

Netflix’s first Italian original doc series “SanPa: Sins of the Savior” follows controversial drug rehab founder Vincenzo Muccioli, and has made a splash on the platform since its Dec. 30 debut. In the last week, the series has cracked the platform’s top 10 most-watched programs in Italy, and currently holds the number 2 spot after “Bridgerton.”

Directed by Cosima Spender — whose 2015 doc “Palio,” about the storied horse race held in Siena, went to Tribeca — “SanPa” is a deep dive into the complexities of Muccioli’s rise to national prominence, and the dubious methods used at his rehab center. As promotional materials put it, the charismatic Muccioli “cared for the addicted, earning him fierce public devotion — even as charges of violence began to mount.”


Those charges included aiding and abetting the murder of one of his rehab’s residents, Roberto Maranzano, who in 1989 was beaten to death in a slaughterhouse within San Patrignano, the large therapeutic community that Muccioli founded in 1978 on a hilltop near Rimini, the central Italian city that, incidentally, was Federico Fellini’s birthplace. Muccioli, who died in 1995 before a definitive verdict could be reached, always maintained his innocence. 


“SanPa” is produced by a new Milan-based company simply called 42, and is being compared by Italian critics to other standout Netflix doc series such as “Wild Wild Country,” about controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), as well as “Making a Murderer.” It features a wealth of archive materials and, besides being directed by Spender, was crafted by a top notch production team comprising chief editor Valerio Bonelli (“Darkest Hour,” “Palio”), cinematographer Diego Romero Suarez-Llanos, who regularly works with Italian doc maker Roberto Minervini (“What You Gonna Do When The World’s on Fire”), and composer Eduardo Aram (“El Chapo”).


The “SanPa” project is the brainchild of Italian journalist Gianluca Neri, who teamed up with Nicola Allieta — who, in a separate guise, is senior distribution manager at Copenhagen-based digital distributor Sweet Chili Entertainment — to bring the project to Netflix. Biografilm Festival founder Andrea Romeo and producer Christine Reinhold, who are all executive producers on the series, also came on board.


Along with Italian Internet pioneer Marco Tosi, Neri and the others also formed 42. Now, the ambitious new company, segueing from “SanPa,” has several high-profile film and doc projects in advanced stages of development. Romeo early last year left 42 to become head of the doc unit at Italy’s Palomar, the outfit behind “Inspector Montalbano.”


“The idea [behind 42] was to set up a company that could generate a type of product that does not yet exist in Italy,” Allieta told Variety. Neri added that they “want to tell big stories with top notch production values that can travel around the world.”

Follow this link to watch "SanPa" on Netflix..

Check out the trailer...

-Originally published by Variety. Click here to read the original. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Giuseppe de Liguoro: A Pioneer of Early Italian Cinema

Giuseppe de Liguoro 
Credit: Museo Nazionale del Cinema – Torino

Born in Naples on January 10, 1869, Giuseppe de Liguoro is credited with creating historical, epic films that reached beyond the borders of his country. 

Among the iconic silent films he directed during the second decade of the 1900s are "L'Inferno" and "L'Odissea" (Homer's Odyssey), which were both made in 1911.

"L'inferno" was roughly adapted from the first part of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" and was Italy's first completed feature film. The project took over three years to make and was directed by de Liguoro, Adolfo Padovan and Francesco Bertolini. 

The gruesome story, which in the original poem, begins on the night before Good Friday in 1300, is set in the depths of Hell as Dante is guided through the "Nine Circles" by the poet Virgil. During their journey, they come in contact with a whole host of characters from the three-headed Cerberus to the flying serpent Geryon. They witness the devil savaging eating people, harpies eating the bodies of those who committed suicide, a man forced to carry his own severed head and people covered in lava. As limited as the special effects crews of that time may have been, the visuals are quite stunning and give testament to their ingenuity. 

The film premiered in Naples at the Teatro Mercadante on March 10, 1911. It was deemed an international success, grossing more than $2 million in the United States. 

This year marks 700 years since the death of Alighieri. In remembrance, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence has made 88 images available on its website. The very first image is from Inferno. Click here to take a virtual tour.

Check out the film below accompanied by a modern soundtrack...

Directed by the same three filmmakers, "L'Odissea" was produced for the world's fair of Torino to mark the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. It premiered in the United States the following year and was declared to have begun "a new epoch in the history of the motion picture as a factory of education" by The Moving Picture World, a trade journal for the American film industry.

Check out the film below and enjoy the stunning images and rich colors...

The legacy of de Liguoro was carried on by his children. His son Eugenio was a director who also acted occasionally in his father's films.  His other son Wladimiro de Liguoro was also an actor and director, and married to actress Rina De Liguoro, who appeared in Luchino Visconti's "Il Gattopardo." 

Giuseppe de Liguoro passed away in Rome on March 19, 1944 at the age of 75. He will forever be remembered as one of the early pioneers of Italian cinema.

Friday, January 8, 2021

An Intriguing Image from Antonio Capuano’s New Film

I'm fascinated by this image from Antonio Capuano’s 2020 “Il buco in testa," which premiered out of competition at the Torino Film Festival. Brava to Antonella Di Martino for her masterful set design and Bravo to Gianluca Laudadio for his cinematography. If the film is as beautiful as the press images, I can’t wait to see it! 

According to Luce Cincittà, the film follows Maria who lives nearby the sea within the province of Naples. “She has a precarious job and no love ahead. Her mother is essentially mute. Forty years before, an extreme left-wing activist killed her father, a near-twenty-year old vice-brigadier, during a political rally. Maria was born two months after the killing. One day she found out that the killer had a name, a face and a job; he now lives in Milan after having paid for his murder in prison. “Now I know the person to detest,” thinks Maria. Then, she dyes her hair and takes a high-speed train to get to know him.” 

The cast includes Teresa Saponangelo, Tommaso Ragno, Francesco Di Leva, Gea Martire, Vincenza Modica, Anita Zagaria, Daria D'Antonio (II), Bruna Rossi, Alberto Ricci Höiss, Vincenzo Ruggiero, and Pietro Juliano. Hopefully this will become available internationally soon. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, check out this clip by the Torino Film Festival...

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...