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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Olive Harvesting in Calabria- Life Imitates Art

Ciccio's Olive Groves
In this week’s edition of Cibo & Cinema, a look at olive harvesting in Calabria with one of my favorite short films- Luigi Di Gianni’s 1967 “Tempo di Raccolta,” which documents a day in the life of Calabrese women as they work in the olive groves of the region. 

The simple yet stunning beauty of those majestic trees, Di Gianni’s choice of traditional music, and the play of sun and shadow during autumn days turn the film into a visual and aural symphony. The generations of women working together, with the older ones filling the baskets and the younger ones lifting them atop their heads and carrying them off, present a picture of contentment.

I talked with Pennsylvania-based, Calabrese olive oil producer Giuseppe “Pino” Pugliano who co-founded Ciccio's Olives with his wife, Laura. Their family farm is located in Vena di Máida, which is located in the province of Catanzaro. He told me about the modernization of harvesting olives and how the process has changed since Di Gianni made his film in the late ‘60s. He also shared the reasons why the climate of southern Italy is perfect for producing high quality oil and why they avoid treating the trees with herbicides. I am so grateful for his insight.

Check out our interview and visit their website- www.cicciosolives.com.



Watch "Tempo di Raccolta" on YouTube..



 



Friday, February 26, 2021

From the Golden Age to Contemporary Italian Cinema, Sophia Loren Remains in the Spotlight

After nearly a decade away from the spotlight, Sophia Loren has returned to the screen in a film directed by her son Edoardo Ponti. Now available on Netflix, “La vita davanti a sé” (The Life Ahead) is based on French writer Romain Gary’s novel “The Life Before Us.”

Ponti co-wrote the screenplay with veteran screenwriter Ugo Chiti, whose recent credits include Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” and “Gomorrah.” Loren gives a heartfelt performance as Madame Rosa, a survivor of Auschwitz and former prostitute who cares for the children of her fellow sex workers.

 

The film opens with Madame Rosa shopping at an open-air market when a young boy runs up from behind her and steals her purse. When a longtime friend, played by Renato Carpentieri, pleads with her to be a foster parent for the very same boy — a Senegalese orphan named Momo — she at first refuses but then reconsiders because she desperately needs the stipend being offered for his care.

 

Momo and Madame Rosa clash at first, but he begins to warm to her unique family, which includes Lola, a trans sex worker and former middleweight boxing champion. He eventually bonds with Madame Rosa as her health deteriorates and she descends into paranoid flashbacks of life in the concentration camp.

 

Though Momo is involved with a local drug dealer, Madame Rosa cannot deny her attachment to the youngster, realizing he’s honest and reliable despite his rough edges. He doesn’t disappoint, coming through for her at the end of her life in response to one last request.



The film marks the third time mother collaborated on Ponti’s 2002 debut feature film, “Between Strangers,” and then again in 2014 on his short film, “Human Voice,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. I caught up with Ponti then and asked him about working with his legendary mother. “My father produced many of my mother’s films, so working with loved ones is natural for us. The lines of communication are already well-oiled and open,” he explained.

 

And what was her approach to raising her children in the spotlight? “What’s amazing is how grounded she is. She never allowed us to be seduced by her success or believe in the glamour of her profession. She is a woman who lives for her family and for her own personal growth. She has an enormous appetite to work and to tackle roles that she has not yet tackled. It is beautiful for us to look up to our mother and admire the woman that she is. She is an exceptional human being.”  Click here to read our complete interview. 


Loren is also the subject of a captivating new half-hour documentary on Netflix. “What Would Sophia Loren Do?” is the tale of an 82-year-old Italian-American grandmother who has looked to her screen idol for inspiration throughout her life.



The film opens with Nancy “Vincenza Careri” Kulik talking about her well-intended children offering her diet and exercise tips that include eating less fruit because it contains too much sugar and more pumpkin seeds because they’re “so good for you.” What follows is a poignant tale of love, loss and dealing with life’s curveballs. It’s a moving and charming film that concludes with an unexpected, emotion-filled ending. Click here to stream it.


If these contemporary films featuring the Neapolitan screen goddess have you feeling nostalgic, you can also catch her 1955 comedies, “The Sign of Venus” and “Scandal in Sorrento,” on Netflix. Watching these four gems will give you some sense of the monumental sweep and impact of Loren’s eight-decade career.


 

“The Life Ahead” has made the Oscar short list in two categories: Music, Original Score and Original Song for “Io sì (Seen),” which was written by 11-time Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren and performed by Italian vocalist Laura Pausini. The nominations will be announced on March 15, with the awards ceremony set to air in April. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and it's just been announced that Loren will receive the Nastro D'Argento's ‘Nastro Di Platino’ for her performance.


-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the March 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Celebrate Giulietta Masina's 100th Birthday with a Walking Tour of Rome


Last year, we celebrated the centennials of Alberto Sordi, Federico Fellini and Franca Valeri. This year, it's Giulietta Masina's turn to shine. 

Born on February 22, 1921 in San Giorgio di Piano, a commune north of Bologna, Masina was the oldest of four children born to a father who was a music professor and violinist and a mother who was a grade-school teacher. Her parents sent her as a child to live in Rome with her widowed aunt while she attended school there. As Masina took an early interest in gymnastics, her aunt saw in her a passion for performing and encouraged her to pursue acting. So after high school, Masina attended Rome’s La Sapienza University where she was active in the theater program during the 1941-1942 school year. 

In 1943, Masina landed the female lead in “Terzoglio,” a radio show about the adventures of newlyweds Cico and Pallina. The scripts were written by Fellini. Not only did she achieve popularity with the show, she married Fellini. The show lasted until 1947 and their marriage endured for half a century.

In 1950, Fellini directed his first film, “Luci del varità” (Variety Lights) and cast Masina in the lead role for which she won her second Nastro d'Argento. Upon the success of that first collaboration, Masina was given a role in Fellini’s 1952 film “Lo Sceicco Bianco” (The White Sheik) starring Sordi. She played the role of Cabiria, a good-hearted prostitute, appearing in one scene. The character inspired her next collaboration with Fellini, the character Gelsomina in his 1954 “La Strada” and of course, Cabiria in the 1957 “Nights of Cabiria.” Both films won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

We are celebrating her centennial by taking a walking tour of Roman locations featured in "Nights of Cabiria." Sveva De Marinis, a Rome-born actress, singer, musician and literature graduate is our guide. 

Having always been interested in art and music, De Marinis says that cinema was her first love. Passionate about movies and always wanting to know more about them, her studies gave, and still give, her the tools to not only appreciate movies even more, but to deeply understand them. She has studied in the United States and visited many times. At just 15-years-old, she studied for a month at the New York Film Academy in New York during the summer, and two years later, spent a semester studying in Florida. She also speaks French because she spent a semester in France during college. We are thrilled to welcome her as a Rome-based contributor.

Click here to read more about Giulietta Masina and to stream many of her films.

Comedy Groundbreaker Franca Valeri


Comedic pioneer Franca Valeri was born Alma Franca Maria Norsa in Milan in 1920 to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. Forced to hide her religious identity during World War II, she turned personal sorrow into cinematic triumph in the decades to come.

In 1949, she founded Teatro dei Gobbi with fellow actors Luciano Salce and future husband Vittorio Caprioli. The trio invented a comedic performance style that focused on speed and timing. Unsure of how this new formula would be received in Italy, they decided to make their debut in Paris. “Italy is always a little scary to those who want to invent something new. It is always a bit hostile, a bit mocking,” Valeri told Rai Cultura. “Since the guys had already done a little experiment in Paris with the Piccolo Teatro di Milano, we decided to debut in Montmartre and had an incredible success.”

 

When work began to pick up, she adopted the stage name Franca Valeri because her father didn’t approve of a life in show business. She was inspired by a friend who was reading a book by French writer Paul Valéry.

 

During those busy years, Valeri’s career as a writer and creator of her own characters and scripts took off. Among her earliest creations — one she would return to throughout her life — was Signorina Snob. An uppity, highbrow type inspired by her Milanese roots, the character originally appeared on radio and was later adapted for the stage and television. In an early incarnation, Valeri hilariously plays the parts of both Signorina and the manicurist doing her nails.


Watch a clip..



Valeri appeared in dozens of television shows and films in the course of her seven-decade career. Among the films available in the United States is Dino Risi’s 1955 comedy “Il segno di Venere” (The Sign of Venus), which Valeri wrote. The story follows Milan-born Cesira (Valeri), who lives in the shadow of her tall, beautiful Roman cousin Agnese, played by Sophia Loren. “Together, they were Italy,” the Corriere della Sera declared. Click here to watch the film on Netflix.

 

Valeri often worked as a screenwriter alongside her male counterparts, providing a contemporary woman’s point of view. In so doing, she created and brought to life some of the most beloved characters of the commedia all’italiana genre. She later remarked on how beautiful it was to be a part of those films, describing her iconic collaborators as a big group of friends.

 

In Steno’s 1955 “Piccola posta,” Valeri plays Lady Eva, a popular advice columnist whose writings sometimes get her readers into trouble. When one of them follows her advice and enters an upscale nursing home, Lady Eva pays her a visit. There, she meets the manager, conman Rodolfo Vanzino (Alberto Sordi), who makes a practice of befriending the home’s aging women in the hopes they will make him a beneficiary to their fortunes. It’s a joy to watch these master comedians share epic scenes together while in the prime of their careers.


In Giorgio Bianchi’s 1959 “Il moralista” (The Moralist), Valeri and Sordi team up again to play Virginia and Agostino, a young couple set up in a new home by Virginia’s father and Agostino’s boss, played by Vittorio De Sica. Polar opposites, Virginia is outgoing and confident, while Agostino is awkward and self-righteous. An endearing dance scene reflects the closeness of their off-screen friendship. The two worked together often and were clearly at ease with each other. Their comic timing was impeccable and their chemistry strong.


In May of 2020, two months before her 100th birthday, Valeri received an Honorary David di Donatello Award for lifetime achievement. She celebrated her milestone birthday on July 31 and passed away in her sleep nine days later on Aug. 9. Younger Italians adored her despite her advanced age, making her a cinematic force to be reckoned with until the very end.

 

Stream "Piccola posta" and "Il moralista" on Amazon.. Click here to follow an Instagram account created in her honor.


     

Spaghetti, aglio, olio, peperoncino with Alberto Sordi


Last Sunday we launched the eighth edition of our winter series Cinema & Cibo with an update from our first edition in 2014, a film shown that year at the Berlin Film Fest that has recently been made available online by Cineteca di Bologna. Click here for the story.  In this week’s edition,  a fun, quick recipe for a classic Roman dish and some recollections of the great Roman actor Alberto Sordi.

This interview took place in the mid-late 1990s. In this clip, he talks about how he and his actor friends didn’t have much money in the early days, so they just ate once a day and it was always prior to a performance to build up strength. During the interview, the host was insisting on talking about the beautiful women with whom he shared the screen and he seemed bashful about it, almost uncomfortable, saying that he never kissed on-screen and wouldn’t divulge the off-screen romances of his youth. Although he seems a little tired, I enjoyed this interview because his subtle sense of humor really comes through. Actually, I enjoy all of his interviews.. he was always very generous and patient with the press and very articulate when answering their questions. He really did appreciate his fans, or his “pubblico” as he often referred to him.  Click here to watch the series video post on Instagram. Click here to watch the complete interview with Sordi.

The films in order are “Bravissimo,” “Una vita difficile” and “Un americano a Roma.” The first and last are available to stream on Amazon. Even though he's been gone for 18 years, all you have to do is read the comment section of his interviews and films on YouTube to understand how profoundly he is missed by people of all ages. He had the ability to reach beyond his own generation and continues to entertain the young people of today.

Click on the images to watch the films on Amazon..

      

In staying with the Roman theme, the song is Semo Tutti Romani (We Are All Romans) by Claudio Villa, who was also born in the 1920s in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome like Sordi. I wonder if they knew each other when they were growing up there. Sadly, Villa passed away in 1987 of a heart attack. He was very popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, having won the San Remo music festival four times- in 1955, ’57, ’62 and ’67. The song is a famous Italian folk song. I’m not sure when it was written but this version is from a 1961 compilation of Italian songs. Click here to listen to the complete album.

Sordi rose to fame in the 1950s and ’60s in the commedia all’italiana genre and continued to work as an actor and director until his death, releasing his last film in 2001. There are numerous contemporary Roman filmmakers making important works today and you should see their films, too. Among them are Gabriele Mainetti, Paola Cortellesi, Edoardo Leo, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Sergio Castellitto, Valentina Cervi and Valerio Mastandrea just to name a few. 

Buon Appetito and Buona Visione!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Italian Biblical Movies to Watch During Lent

Join me in beginning the Lenten season with my favorite adaptation of one of the Gospels-  Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 “Il Vangolo Secondo Matteo" (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) and a few classics that I recently discovered. 

Considered by the Vatican to be among the best film adaptations of the Gospels, Pasolini's film was shot in the regions of Basilicata and Calabria. He cast his mother as Mary and many locals as extras. Spanish actor Enrique Irazoqui was cast in the role of Jesus. He was just 18-years-old when he landed the part. He had been in Rome at the time of casting. Acquaintances arranged a meeting between him and Pasolini. When Pasolini saw Irazoqui, he knew right away that he had found his Jesus.

I contacted Irazoqui around this time last year to ask him about his experience making the film. He suggested that we have a conversation via Skype. Although the connection wasn’t very good, it was thrilling to talk directly with this actor whose film I had been watching for at least 20 years. He was very friendly and nostalgic in his recollections especially about Elsa Morante with whom he shared a lifelong friendship. In fact, he said that meeting her was one of his best memories of working on the film. Irazoqui passed away a few months later and I believe that ours was his last interview. I will cherish it. 


Watch our interview on YouTube..



If you'd like to know more about Pasolini in Basilicata, click here to read my 2015 interview with Daniele Bracuto, president of the region's Cineforum Pier Paolo Pasolini. We talked about the locations of the film, what attracted Pasolini to shoot there and the legacy of his filmmaking on the region. Also, check my 2018 documentary "Return to Lucania" in which actor/director Antonio Andrisani talks about his 2017 film "Il Vangolo Secondo Mattei" (The Gospel According to St. Mathews), a take on Pasolini's film, which stars Flavio Bucci with Irazoqui in a cameo role. The film addresses the controversial issue of oil drilling in Basilicata, a topic that interested Pasolini.


Liliana Cavani’s “Francesco” is another very good biblical film. Starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter, Cavani’s 1989 film tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi from the point-of-view of his followers. Tapping into her early years at RAI, the film takes a documentary approach as it reveals key aspects of the saint’s personality, including his humility, generosity, love of animals and his early inner conflict about abandoning his father's wealth to immerse himself in the world of the desperately poor. 




I found several others available online. I'll be watching a few of these along with you for the first time. Spanning 100 years, these films are sure to keep us busy over the next 40 days!


Giulio Antamoro’s 1916 “Christus”

(Title boards are in Italian)


This spectacular restoration of the 1916 original follows the life of Jesus Christ from the Annunciation of Our Lady to his birth and through his early life and betrayal by Judas, concluding with the crucifixion and his resurrection and ascension to Heaven.

 



Roberto Rossellini’s 1975 “The Messiah”

(I could not find this film with English subtitles but as we have so many Italian and Spanish-speaking readers, I am including the versions in those languages.)


I have not yet seen this film.. but I found this commentary here"Though The Messiah is not a flawless film, it is a great one. For one thing, since its subject is usually conceived of in apolitical terms, the inconsistencies of Rossellini's historical method are perhaps less bothersome than they are elsewhere. Furthermore, the director's treatment of the all too familiar story is refreshingly astringent, and the typical strategies of dedramatized acting and antispectacular mise-en-scène here find their perfect subject." 


(In Italian with Croation subtitles)




Spanish-language dub



Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 British television series "Jesus of Nazareth"

This 6-hour series boasts an all-star cast that includes Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, Claudia Cardinale, Valentina Cortese, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer and Anthony Quinn. "Extra-Biblical traditions were used in the writing of the screenplay, and some characters (such as Zerah) and situations were invented for the film for brevity or dramatic purposes. [The film] depicts Judas Iscariot as a well-intentioned man initially, but later as a dupe of Zerah's who betrays Jesus largely as a result of Zerah's false platitudes and pretexts. However, in accordance with the Gospels, the film depicts Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as sympathetic members of the Sanhedrin. Many of the miracles of Jesus, such as the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana, the transfiguration, and the calming of the storm, are not depicted."  Click here for more information. 



The Italian version.. "Gesu di Nazareth" di Zeffirelli Versione integrale Rai di 380 min



Carlo Carlei's 2000 "Padre Pio Miracle Man"

Originally made for Italian television, "Padre Pio Miracle Man" follows the boy, Francesco Forgione before he joined the Capuchin order of friars and was given the name Pio. The film documents Padre Pio's deep faith and spirituality as well as the persecution that he received by those in and outside of the Catholic Church.  It also gives us rare insight to Padre Pio's sharp sense of humor amid the pain that he endured during his lifetime, in particular with the stigmata he is known for. Sergio Castellitto eerily transforms himself into the man and the saint, making this an emotionally moving dramatic film that will entertain and educate you at the same time. Click here to stream the film on Formed or below to purchase the DVD on Amazon.



Mel Gibson's 2004 "The Passion of the Christ"

This infamous and controversial film was shot at Rome's Cinecittà and on location in Basilicata's Sassi of Matera. Starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, Maia Morgenstern as the Virgin Mary, and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, the film covers the final 12 hours before Christ's death, which is reflected in the title. The film gives a gruesome and heartbreaking account of the suffering that Jesus was forced to endure at the end of his life. Check out my interviews with actresses Sabrina Impacciatore and Claudia Gerini in which they talk about their experiences working on the film.


 

 
Giulio Base's 2006 "L'inchiesta" (The Inquiry)

A remake of Damiano Damiani's 1986 film of the same name, Base's 2006 version features a diverse international cast that includes Daniele Liotti, Dolph Lundgren, Mónica Cruz, Hristo Shopov and Ornella Muti. The film follows a fictional Roman tribune sent to Judaea to investigate the possible divinity of the recently crucified Jesus Christ. Watch it for free courtesy of IMDB.



Garth Davis's 2018 "Mary Magdalene"

Filmed mostly on location in the Sassi of Matera utilizing many local actors, "Mary Magdalene" features Rooney Mara in the role of Mary Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix in the part of Jesus. The real-life couple is said to have fallen in love during the making of the film. Click here to stream on Hulu or on the image below to stream on Amazon.



Dave Hansen's 2016 “Jesus VR – The Story of Christ” 

Executive produced by Enzo Sisti, a film veteran whose credits include “The English Patient” and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” “Jesus VR – The Story of Christ” was shot entirely in 360° 4K video on location in Matera. The 90-minute film covers the life and death of Jesus from his baptism to the Last Supper to his crucifixion. 

Matera-born actor Walter Nicoletti plays the role of the disciple, James. Click here to read our conversation about his experience working on the film and his thoughts on film production in his region of Basilicata.

The 80-minute film will be available on iOS, Android and premium VR platforms including Google Cardboard, and Oculus Go. In the meantime, click here to purchase the Jesus VR App, which includes Chapters 3, 8 & 12 along with a pair of VR Glasses.

Buona visione! I wish you a safe and peaceful Lenten season.

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...