Sunday, January 21, 2018

Documentary Filmmaker Matteo Troncone on Pizza, Napoli and the Art of Arrangiarsi

Matteo Troncone at the Mill Valley Film Festival
Matteo Troncone's heartfelt documentary Arrangiarsi is the most refreshing contemporary film about the south to be shown in America in a very long time. Why? Because it's a film about the people of the south, the spirit of the south and the pride of the south. After one criminality film after another about the stereotypical southern poverty and people being abused, bullied and silenced by gangsters, finally there is a movie in which the element of organized crime takes just one segment and the people are positive in confronting it. The characters in Arrangiarsi are real. They are not actors reading a script. This is a rare and extraordinary opportunity to hear about the south from southerners born and raised there- southerners who did not flee. Instead, they stayed to withstand all the obstacles and challenges out of the love and loyalty they feel for their land. That is why the story is so fascinating and compelling. Troncone's film is rich and generous in its portrayal of the south. You will walk away informed not only about the people, but also about the history and values of southern Italy, how the monumental unification of 1861 impacted its economy and why the great brigante Giuseppe Garibaldi is not every Italian's hero.

The film is fiercely charged with emotion because of Troncone's honesty and openness. He originally set out to make a documentary about the process of Neapolitan pizza-making, searching for the secret to its unparalleled taste and texture. While interviewing Neapolitans, he learned about the term Arrangiarsi, which refers to their art form of arranging things in order to make the best situation out of virtually nothing. As Troncone's personal and professional life was all but falling apart when he set out on this journey, he realized that he was already taking part in the act of arrangiarsi. 

Speaking of those Neapolitans, the film is filled with a whole cast of beautifully flawed, soulful characters who you will miss once the film is over. Troncone also introduces us to his parents and explains the challenges of their relationship when they fell in love as his mother was from the Veneto region and his father from Naples. In his explanation, he visits the word "Terroni" and his characters are full of enthusiasm when they explain that this once vergogna (shame) of being southern has become a sense of pride to recognize their origins.

Photo by Matteo Troncone
Although the film takes sharp twists and turns, Troncone always manages to return to his original motive, which is finding the secret to Neapolitan pizza. After hearing from men and women of all ages and backgrounds who argue the possible secret being the water or the heart of the person making it, he actually took his investigation to the experts and in doing so, revealed a number of interesting facts such as the chemical balance of the water of Napoli, the process of cultivating the famous San Marzano tomatoes, and the differences in wheat for sweets vs. pizza crust. He also touched on the notorious corruption that goes on in the olive oil industry.

After seeing the film, I had quite a few questions about the production and the dedication behind such a poignant work. Matteo Troncone was kind in answering my questions, revealing his wholehearted devotion to the project. 

It took you 8 years to finish this film. What kept your dedication going for almost a decade? At any point, were you tempted to throw in the towel.. and if so, what kept you from doing so?
I believed in the project from the very beginning. That fire and passion for the concept; not to mention the pizza, kept me going. I was determined to see the film through to its completion. I liken it to having a child. You would never abandon your baby. While there were MANY obstacles to completing it, throwing in the towel was never something that I considered. After all, "arrangiarsi" is the art of over coming an obstacle.
I truly believed in the concept; that pizza is a form of "arrangiarsi". And I also thought it was particularly interesting that the filmmaker was in a way, living the subject matter and coming from the perspective of a street artist himself.
Naples is a rough and tumble place. To make a film about a street food and the art of being resourceful and over coming obstacles without living it would be an artistic error in my view. Having a lot of resources like a big crew, great equipment and money would make it a completely different film and lose the sense of authenticity and personal experience which makes the film so unique. The obstacle in this case was the path.

Time after time, we see the same old Mafioso and criminality stereotypes in films about the south of Italy. Your film is so refreshing because it shows the true spirit of the people. However, they did talk about the element of organized crime in Naples. How much of a concern is it for them and is it present in their daily lives?
For all of my interviews I asked that question. They all spoke about the Camorra and the mafiosi that have infiltrated the town, especially since WW2. This was thanks to the Americans and the British who when they invaded, paid the mafia, strengthened them by making them mayors and police chiefs, and kept them in power. The Napoletani refer to this as the "system".
It is a reality with which they live on a daily basis. You sometimes are reminded of it when the garbage has not been picked up for weeks (the Camorra controls rubbish collection). And reminders are there often, from Camorra rival gangs murdering each other, to the drugs on the streets particularly in the periphery of the town, to the corruption they see in the government. The government can be slow to respond because of the lack of resources, infrastructure and organization in public facilities. It has gotten better since Luigi De Magistris became the new mayor. Yet I'm afraid the problem runs very deep.

Photo by Matteo Troncone
As an Italian-American growing up here, which qualities in the southern Italians did you identify with and see in yourself?
The openness, playfulness, and passion for sure. The name of my company is called "Solare". Solare means to be lit from within, to be connected to soul and to be sunny. The people of the South are particularly known to be "solare". I also have learned to embrace my own chaos as well. I find that from chaos, can come creativity. Nietzsche said, "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star". Another aspect of the South is being a master of arrangiarsi. As you see in the film, I have developed that skill quite well.

How did the project, and meeting all those interesting people change you?
The project profoundly changed me in many ways. I learned to trust my voice and my own inner guidance deeply. This is arrangiarsi in the meta-physical form. This is making something out of nothing; or no-thing. The editing process which took me 3 years to complete was a practice in working with my ego structure. I had many people who were giving me unsolicited advice, trying to put their stamp on it and projecting their own fear and blocked creativity onto me and the film. This was a powerful opportunity to listen deeply to my own voice and artistic calling rather than trying to please the audience, being influenced by someone else's ego agenda, or trying to make the film commercial, instead of staying with the artistic vision. Not "knowing' is actually a great advantage sometimes because you are open to possibility and magic rather than confined by a preconceived agenda. This was a powerful lesson and changed my life as an artist.

In our messaging, you told me that you love the people. Just during the couple hours spent watching the movie, I developed an affection for them, too. Tell me what made these people so special to you..
What made the people special to me was their kindness, passion and joy for what they do regardless of financial remuneration. They were eager to share it with me so openly. Of course the street artist Peppe Martinelli was a favorite because I found him to be so funny, deep and articulate. He loves performing and his joy and creativity shines through immensely. I also felt respected and honored by these people; by them offering me their heart.

After having had this amazing experience, what is your message to your fellow Italian-Americans? Do you recommend they also visit the land of their origins?
I would NEVER discourage anyone from traveling at all. And to learn the language and speak it can activate something in your DNA I think. I think most Americans are thirsty for ancestral knowledge that is connected to the land and their language. It is human nature to have this yearning. Native Americans know deeply how crucial this is to keep their culture thriving. Apart from indigenous First Nations, The United states is a country of immigrants who left their land, and language in most cases. To return to the land and culture can be very important in the soul's journey.
As it says in the film, "Before bringing me to Italy to meet her family, my mother told me, "You will find out who you really are".

What’s in store for the film? Do you have any upcoming screenings confirmed?
Presently the only way to see the film is the tour. In the spirit of arrangiarsi, rather than be solely dependent on film festivals or distributors, I have been "arranging" my own screenings with venues and theaters in towns where I feel the project will resonate. The first three screenings this year have all sold out. Italian organizations, pizzerias, and even a buffalo mozzarella dairy farm have all approached me about creating screenings for their communities and patrons. This is an alternative way to disseminate the film and a fun way to personally meet people who are passionate about Italian culture, pizza and also the film's theme which is: "...there's always a way". The film was also recently selected for AMDOCs in Palm Springs in April, the largest documentary film festival in the states. My website has screening information as it is confirmed. 

To sum it up, the film is a testament to the power of storytelling-  telling your own story with your unique way of seeing the world. It is deeply insightful with light moments of laughter and tender moments in which your eyes will fill with tears. As to the pizza's special ingredient, Troncone gives you enough information to reach your own conclusion. I'm going with heart because that’s also the main ingredient of his film. 

Click here to visit the website. You can also follow Arrangiarsi on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Check out the trailer...

The Timeless Talent of Stefania Sandrelli

On screen since the tender age of 14, she has captivated audiences for more than 50 years with a compelling combination of strength and vulnerability.

She achieved stardom at just 14 years old playing the angelic cousin of a love-struck Marcello Mastroianni in Pietro Germi’s “Divorce Italian Style.” More than half a century later, she is still going strong and remains one of Italy’s most esteemed actors.

Stefania Sandrelli was born on June 5, 1946, in Viareggio in the province of Lucca in northern Italy. As a child, she studied music and dance. Then in 1960, she won a beauty pageant and was featured on the cover of Le Ore magazine. Her purity captivated the country and shortly thereafter, movie offers began pouring in. Just one year later, she made her cinema debut in three feature films: Mario Sequi’s Gioventù di notte, Luciano Salce’s The Fascist and Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style. She instantly became a star and before long was a key figure in Italy’s legendary commedia all’italiana. In 1963, she teamed up again with director Pietro Germi to portray Agnese in Seduced and Abandoned, a masterpiece of the genre.

The film boasts an unforgettable opening scene with a stunning Sandrelli in a fitted black dress walking through the narrow streets of her enchanting Sicilian village. As she heads to confession, a Sicilian troubadour accompanied by the mandolin tells her unfortunate story of giving in to lustful feelings for her sister's fiancé, Peppino. Upon entering the confessional, she breaks down in tears as she describes the tryst, only to have the priest further shame her with words like wicked and disgraceful. Peppino announces that he doesn’t want to marry a girl who gave into temptation, even if it was to him, and flees with his mother. A chase ensues as the singing narrator describes Agnese’s father’s determination to change Peppino’s mind and save his daughter’s honor. Peppino refuses to relent, and the family lawyer instructs Agnese’s pushover brother Antonio on how to shoot Peppino in a way that would be easiest to defend in court. Agnese learns of the plan and stops the murder from happening at the last minute. Sandrelli delivers a subtle yet forceful performance, going full drama at the end.

One year later, Sandrelli starred in Antonio Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well. In her role as Adriana Astarelli, a free-spirited starlet trying to make it in Rome’s unforgiving movie business, she revealed her fierce acting chops while portraying a complex character in a leading role. She propels the film forward with contradicting qualities of vulnerability and strength toward a devastating, unpredictable ending. Qualities of Adriana reappeared in many characters throughout her career. She often portrays strong-yet-vulnerable women struggling with male characters who mistake that vulnerability for weakness.

In 1970, she took on another career-defining role in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist. Sandrelli plays the wife of Marcello, a state employee of the fascist party ordered to murder a political rival and former professor. The film is set in Rome and Paris during Benito Mussolini’s reign. Known for its monumental cinematography by the legendary Vittorio Storaro, the film’s eerie atmosphere is accentuated with splashes of Storaro’s signature shades of reds, blues and oranges. In a film of pure visual decadence, Sandrelli revels in her character’s innocence and Bourgeoisie lifestyle, which Marcello denounces for its petty thoughts and ambitions. Even so, she holds her own, living in his world of intellectuals, where everyone has a dark secret.

Since those prolific decades of the ’60s and ’70s, Sandrelli has appeared in numerous contemporary hits, including Bertolucci’s 1996 Stealing Beauty, Gabriele Muccino’s 2000 The Last Kiss, and various Italian television series.

All the films mentioned are available through Amazon. All four films by Pietro Germi, Antonio Pietrangeli and Bernardo Bertolucci are available to stream on Filmstruck, an absolute treasure for old and rare films. Stefania Sandrelli currently has two films slated for a 2018 release, one in which she teams up again with Gabriele Muccino.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Claudio Santamaria: Cinematic Chameleon

A recent New York Times Magazine article stated the actors belonging to the new concept of a character actor are, instead of playing types, hired for “their ability to play no type at all, to disappear into roles completely while at the same time imbuing their performances with something memorable; they are chameleons in the truest sense of that word.” This description certainly applies to Claudio Santamaria.

Born in Rome in 1974, Santamaria began his acting career in 1997, quickly making a name for himself while working with the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Bud Spencer and Monica Bellucci. In 2001, he emerged as a major force in contemporary Italian cinema with his performance in Gabriele Muccino’s record-breaking L’ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss). As Paolo, brash Gen Xer forced to come to terms with getting older, being responsible and letting go of a lost love, he plays the leader of a pack with whom countless young adults in Italy could identify. The film broke box office records there and earned Muccino Best Director and Best Screenplay prizes at the David di Donatello Awards as well as the Audience Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. In 2010, Santamaria reunited with Muccino and the cast for a reprisal of his their roles in Baciami ancora (Kiss Me Again).

In Emanuele Crialese’s 2011 Terraferma, Santamaria has a small but powerful role as a police chief cracking down on the fishermen helping clandestine immigrants enter the island of Lampedusa. Santamaria’s character is a law-enforcer showing no sympathy for acts of kindness towards the refugees. Though his appearance is brief, his presence and command prove that, even with just a few lines, Santamaria can make a strong statement.

Gabriele Mainetti’s Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot (They Call Me Jeeg Robot) was a wildly imaginative runaway success in 2015, and much of the credit for that goes to Santamaria’s outstanding performance. A classic tale of good vs. evil that combines the thrills of an action adventure and the suspense of a horror movie, the film pits Santamaria’s flawed hero against a villainous gangster played by Luca Marinelli. Watching these two talented actors fully immerse themselves in their roles is awe-inspiring. Santamaria plays Enzo, a loner who obsessively eats eating single-serving puddings and robs ATM machines. After being chased by the police, he falls into Rome’s Tiber River and is exposed to radioactive waste, which gives him super powers and strength beyond his wildest dreams. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Alessia. She inspires him to use his super-human abilities to make the world a better place. When Marinelli’s character, "The Gypsy", catches wind of Enzo’s new skill set, he hunts him down and that’s when the real fun begins. Santamaria delivers an empathic performance that makes the audience root for him despite his flaws.

The Millionairs
Last year, Santamaria stepped behind the camera and directed his second short film. The Millionairs is a noir-style tale of deception and desperation fueled by greed. Brimming with suspicious characters, suspenseful scenes and dark landscapes, the film was produced by Marinetti and features a diverse cast, which includes  Peppe Servillo and Sabrina Impacciatore, and has earned rave reviews. The project brought Santamaria back to his southern roots. Set in the mountainous terrain of Basilicata's Pollino National Park, the largest protected area in Europe, the film was the first official project of Lu.Ca., an initiative to bring together the film commissions of Calabria and Basilicata. Santamaria and Mainetti have co-presented The Millionairs at numerous film festivals. In November, Santamaria brought the film to this side of the Atlantic, presenting it at the 13th edition of the Cinema Italian Style fest in Los Angeles.

When he’s not making and promoting films, Santamaria has been seen out and about with the woman in his life, journalist and novelist Francesca Barra. Both with origins in Basilicata, the two originally met as teenagers when they shared a special slow dance while on summer break with their families. They went their separate ways and last year, rekindled that spark of many years ago.

Santamaria recently wrapped up shooting on Antonio Morabito’s Rimetti a noi i nostri debiti (Forgive Us Our Debts) which focuses on the victims of a loan shark. The project is currently in post-production. The Last Kiss, They Call Me Jeeg Robot and Terraferma are available through Amazon.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Visual Artist and Filmmaker Gaetano Russo Driven by the Moon, Fire and Wine of Basilicata

The big news in Basilicata this week is making the New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2018. Pictured in the article with a nice write-up is Matera. While this ancient stone city is stunning and should be on everyone’s list of places to visit, there are so many other treasures across the region of Basilicata.

Also referred to by its ancient name, Lucania, the region is divided into two provinces: Potenza and Matera. While Matera gets a lot of attention for the Sassi district, the abandoned town of Craco and the beaches and Greek ruins of Metaponto, the province of Potenza has its own breathtaking spots such as the Dolomite mountains, Pollino National Park and the seaside town of Maratea, nicknamed the pearl of the Tyrrhenian.

Little known, especially here in America, is a vast land of vineyards located in the province of Potenza. Many of these vineyards are located in various towns surrounding the great Monte Vulture, a dormant volcano, which houses two small lakes. The grape known in this region is called Aglianico and produces world renowned red and white wine. Towns and communities surrounding the Monte Vulture, including Rionero in Vulture, Barile, Ripacandida and Venosa, are home to some of the region’s most prolific wine producers.

Enter Gaetano Russo, an accomplished artist, sculptor, set designer and filmmaker. Although he doesn’t consider himself a director because he’s only experimented with a few short films, those films are beautiful vignettes. They recount a rich land that has been the muse for many artists and writers through the centuries. But more importantly, to the people who call it home, it is life.

The first short film that caught my attention was Russo's 2010 documentary La Vendemmia Notturna. Set in Rionero in Vulture, Russo interviews local winemakers and the mayor about the cutting edge technology mixed with old world tradition that produces the renowned varieties of Aglianico wines. Russo conducts his interviews right on the vineyards and takes his camera inside the factory to show the new processes of winemaking. However, he also tells of the old traditions, including the immersion of a premature baby in a warm bath of Aglianico wine. A remedy that dates back several generations, the warm Aglianico is believed to give the baby the sensation of being in the mother's womb. 

The film also shows an annual wine festival that takes place in Rionero In Vulture. The Aglianica Wine Festival usually takes place in the main piazza of Rionero in Vulture, Piazza Fortunato, and features numerous varieties of Aglianico wine produced by area wineries and cantinas.

Watch La Vendemmia Notturna. The film is in Italian without English subtitles, but the images and direction are self explanatory, so it's quite easy to follow. 

While shooting La Vendemmia Notturna, Russo was told about the healing properties of the Aglianico grape for people who grew up on the land of the vineyards. They just couldn’t survive after long periods of being away. When they fell ill, they were brought back to the vineyards to breathe the air and to drink the wine... Then they would recover.  

Russo first told me about this film, which he titled Luna Divini, a play on words. The literal translation is Moon of the wine or simply Wine Moon, which you will understand after seeing the film. We met back in October when I interviewed him in ancient Rome at Circo Massimo near the Baths of Caracalla, just down the street from the Colosseum. I thought it was a fitting spot to talk about the history of Basilicata and how it inspires him artistically. 

Speaking about his discovery of this ritual featured in the film, Russo told me about the land of Rionero in Vulture surrounding the majestic Monte Vulture. “In these places where there are marvelous vineyards, I discovered something during the shooting of my short film (La Vendemmia Notturna), a little project that I directed. Luna Divina is set in a vineyard because the film speaks of a grandfather that was dying but then saved by this wine, Aglianico. He couldn’t breathe until after he was brought back to this land by his grandchildren. I transformed the story into a film completely about women instead of making it about the grandfather. The moral of the story is- those who hide (stay away from the vineyards) are not able to live.”

After seeing the film and the lead character's strong reaction as she participates in the stomping of the grapes, I thought she had lost her baby. But Russo explained to me that she didn’t lose the baby. Instead, she lost a part of herself because after giving birth, she stayed in her home to care for the infant and hadn’t returned to the vineyards. So, that evening during the stomping of the grapes when she finally left the house, she reconnected with the land and as Russo said, “The fire, the wine and the moon made her collapse. But she collapsed from the joy she felt because the emptiness she had inside disappeared as soon as her feet touched the land, giving her a sense of inner peace and serenity.”

Watch Luna Divina... There is no dialogue in this film, which speaks to the skillful direction and talent of Gaetano Russo.

There is an expression that people from Basilicata use to express their pride for their southern roots- "Orgoglio Lucano". When I interview filmmakers from the region, I usually ask them what the term means to them. When I asked Russo, he had to think about it because the term has profound meaning for him. Later, he sent me a message. “If you want to write about my real lucano pride, it is my family, especially my nieces and nephews... and all the children of Lucania to whom I wish a bright future. They are our main resource, and our most precious. For this reason, I am grateful to my brother Michele who has dedicated his life to them and to cinema.”

In addition to organizing occasional art exhibits and traveling through the region supporting his brother, director Michele Russo, and other young filmmakers, he is a set designer and art teacher. His latest film for which he did the set design, Le Terre Rosse, recently premiered in Italy and has received some great reviews in the press. Scenes were also shot in Rionero in Vulture, which is slowly but surely becoming a set cinematografico. Actress Ornella Muti just wrapped up shooting the film, Wine to Love in the vineyards surrounding Monte Vulture and the upcoming 2018 release Lucania was also recently shot in Rionero and the surrounding countryside of Basilicata.The film has an all-star cast, which includes a few regional actors as well. We'll keep you posted on its release date. In the meantime, click here to watch the trailer for Le Terre Rosse (with English subtitles).

For more information on Gaetano Russo, check out his YouTube channel where many his projects have been posted. He also just started a residence for artists. Click here to visit the Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Arrangiarsi" - Matteo Troncone's Love Letter to his Italian Origins

"To truly understand the film's subject matter, it was important for me to actually "live it" -- not just go to Naples for two weeks with a big budget, a film crew and be a “tourist,” but to immerse myself and deeply experience the culture." -Matteo Troncone

The Italian word “arrangiarsi” means the art of making something out of nothing. I didn't know this word until I discovered Matteo Troncone's film. Titled Arrangiarsi, the film is a labor of love that forced Troncone to be homeless during the making of the film, dividing his time between his van in California and a tent in Italy. 

A California native, Troncone's Italian origins are in the north and south of Italy, so it was a poignant experience for him to go back to his family's roots and savor not only the amazing Neapolitan food but to also take in the rich culture and centuries-old traditions. The project was seven years in the making and captures the essence of his adventures and sometimes hilarious, other times tragic misfortunes.

The film is currently being shown in the Bay Area of California at the following venues:
January 14 at 2:30pm at the Italian American Museum of San Francisco
January 27 at 6:30pm at the Lark Theater in Larkspur

Troncone told me that he is organizing screenings on the West Coast and has several lined up through April. Check our social media pages for updates.

In the meantime, watch the trailer... My favorite line is the hilarious..."I'm ready to go Italian. I'm ready to lose it." Don't miss this film if you get the chance to see it!

For more information about Arrangiarsi, visit the film online at

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Southern Italian Filmmakers Gaetano Russo and Pif talk about the Lucano and Sicilian Influences on International Cinema

Each Sunday during the winter, we will be putting the spotlight on films with a culinary twist, whether it be an article, interview or just a post on one of our social media platforms. The focus for this series will be on the southern part of the Italian peninsula- in particular, the regions of Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily.

During the summer, I traveled through central and southern Italy and spoke with a number of contemporary filmmakers of lucano origin about why Basilicata is emerging as a land of cinema. I asked these filmmakers what motivates them to stay in Basilicata when so many of their young counterparts have fled to northern regions in search of work. While in Rome, I met up with the accomplished, award-winning artist and filmmaker Gaetano Russo, who we will be visiting often in this series. He is from Bernalda and is very active in the filmmaking and artistic communities throughout the region. He is a cousin of Frances Ford Coppola and that is apparent by the interests they share not only in filmmaking but also in their appreciation of wine and the process of making it. We will talk more about that next week. For now, I'd like to share his thoughts on the qualities that make Basilicata so appealing to directors throughout the world.

According to Russo, "In Basilicata... it sounds strange, but the most interesting part is its contradiction. There is a part that is still not very structured, not very technological and at the same time, it’s a fantastic natural set." 

He went on to say, "Pasolini, the Taviani Brothers and many others have come to Basilicata for their projects." 
"Basilicata, in certain points, has forests that are similar to those found near the Swiss border or even in America. There are water falls, mountains, lowlands and rivers. There are a variety of characteristics that change from place to place. There is Craco, which is a fantastic, evocative place where the Taviani brothers shot.. and also Mel Gibson shot among these famous Calanchi."

Today, I’d like to talk a bit about that Taviani film shot in Craco, the deserted, crumbling town in Basilicata. Craco is situated on a mountain, which offers panoramic views of the infamous calanchi rock formations of the region. I visited in 2015 and I can attest to the deserted, erie atmosphere not only of the town itself but also of the winding, abandoned road leading up to it. 

A scene from Il sole anche di notte
Il sole anche di notte (Night Sun), a 1990 film by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani was adapted from Father Sergius, a short story written by Leo Tolstoy between 1890 and 1898 and published (posthumously) in 1911. The film stars Julian Sands, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Massimo Bonetti and Nastassja Kinski. The story recounts a bright young man who, on the eve of his wedding, finds out that his fiancé has been having an affair with his beloved mentor. Destroyed by the news, he flees, joins a monastery and becomes a monk. Unhappy with this path he's taken, he retreats to the life of a hermit and removes himself from society. One night, a group of women set out to seduce him, prompting a life-changing turn. Tolstoy’s story was originally made into a film by Soviet directors Yakov Protazanov and Alexandre Volkoff in 1918. The book and original film are set in Russia. The Taviani brothers swapped the Russian set for southern Italy. Although the film is listed as being set in Naples, it was actually shot mostly in Basilicata. In the clip below, the opening scene is set in the lowlands of Craco with a pan of the magnificent calanchi mountains.The film premiered out of competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.

The culinary angle today is a regional recipe I put together with a little help from our friends at Dispensa dei Tipici, an e-commerce website, which features culinary products from Basilicata and Puglia. The dish is called Cicorie e Fave (Dandoline Greens and Fava Beans). I’ve had many versions of this dish while traveling through Basilicata. One of my recent favorite versions, pictured below with the recipe, was at the Ristorante Al Becco Della Civetta in Castelmezzano, a town in Basilicata located in the province of Potenza, and also experiencing an increase in film production. In 2016, the Italian blockbuster Un paese quasi perfetto starring Silvio Orlando, Fabio Volo and Miriam Leone was shown in theaters across Italy and at film festivals throughout the world. The films was shot inCastelmezzano and the neighboring Pietrapertosa with many local actors and crew members. When I was visiting during the summer, a Toyota commercial that will air during the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics was being shot in the streets of in the same two towns. 

Here's a fun fact about cicoria, which also speaks to its popularity in the south... When I interviewed Pif last June in New York while he was promoting his film, In guerra per amore, I asked him about the differences in how organized crime is portrayed in American vs Italian cinema. He told me about the infamous mafia boss, Bernardo Provenzano who was hiding in a barn eating cicoria when he was arrested by police. Pif's entire answer to my question was so interesting, let's revisit it. I asked him specifically about the differences and stereotypes between the Sicilian mafia and its American version.

"I think there's been a huge kind of misunderstanding about the mafia through films. (The Godfather) is a beautiful film. I'd give my eye teeth to make a film like that. It represents an American mafia in the 1950s, a mafia that is Sicilian in origin but is Italian-American. There is a very big difference between that kind of romanticized mafia and the Sicilian mafia, which is much less cool. For example, when Provenzano, the boss of the bosses was arrested, he was arrested in a barn eating bread and cicoria (dandelion greens). But thanks to Coppola, even the Sicilian mafia fell under the influence of this film. When Bagarella, a relative of Totò Riina, the other big mafia boss, had a wedding in his family, he insisted that the music played at the wedding be the music that was played in The Godfather wedding scene. The funny thing is even the word itself mafia didn't really exist in Sicily. They called it the Cosa Nostra. But the film had such a huge influence on the Sicilian mafia itself, which is dazzled by it and have fallen in love with the myth of the film."

The town of Castelmezzano nestled in the Dolomite mountains of Lucania
We will also be revisiting Castelmezzano in the future to hear from the new generation of Lucani who choose to stay in Basilicata and develop the region as a natural set for cinema and as a vacation destination for international travelers looking to enjoy the purity of Lucania. Please contact us on our social media platforms listed at the top, righthand side of the page, if you have any questions about filmmaking or traveling in Basilicata. Please also visit us on Instagram where you will find additional photos that we don't have the space to post here. 

Cicorie e Fave

This dish is what I call "compassionate comfort food" (cucina etica casereccia) because it's rich in flavor and it's vegan. This recipe serves 4-6 people and is very simple to make. Enjoy!

2  cups dried fava beans
1.5  pounds dandelion greens
Extra virgin olive oil
1  garlic clove
Hot red pepper

Soak the beans in water overnight.
Cook them in salted water until the consistency is very soft. Then transfer them to a food processor or just drain the water and return them to the pan and mash them until a puree is formed. 

In the meantime, boil the greens in salted water until they are tender. While they are boiling, cut the garlic clove in half and sauté it in a skillet with hot pepper. Strain the greens, add them to the skillet and sauté for a few minutes. Transfer the puree to a dish and top with the greens. Add a little extra evoo, salt and hot pepper to taste. Buon Appetito!

Join us next Sunday as we take an in-depth look at two enchanting short films directed by Gaetano Russo.