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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The 2017 Edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema Kicks Off Today

 and Isabella Ragonese in Sole, cuore, amore
The Film Society of Lincoln Center kicks off its 17th annual series dedicated to the work contemporary Italian filmmakers. The 2017 edition of "Open Roads: New Italian Cinema" is not to be missed. With topics ranging from secrets inside an all-male boarding school to Neapolitan conjoined twins to the stronghold of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the American influence on the Sicilian mafia, there is no shortage of diversity. 

Every year, I review a number of films in the lineup and usually choose one must-see. This year, however, I couldn't boil it down to one. Instead, I'm highlighting a few of the films that stood out for me. I usually notice a trend among the filmmakers and I have to say this year it was some unexpected endings. 

Daniele Vicari's Sole, cuore, amore is a modern reflection of life today in Italy and the challenges that young Italians are facing in the job market. Isabella Ragonese is Eli, a loving wife and mother forced to endure a tiresome daily commute and unforgiving boss just to make ends meet while her husband searches for work. Through Eli's relationships with her friends, coworkers, customers and family, we can understand why she finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. She feels a responsibility for the people in her life and cannot let them down even though she is also suffering. 



Aside from Eli's story, Daniele Vicari's choice of locations was fantastic, especially for those who don't live in Italy because it shows a neighborhood far off the beaten path of tourist attractions that we don't often see in films. The metro stations Eli uses in the film are Lucio Sestio and Giulio Agricola located on the A line (red) in the direction of Anagnina. They're  ideal stops to exit if you are planning to spend a day touring the studios of Cinecittà. They are only about a 15-20 minute walk and you will find a true slice of Roman life along with shops and authentic Roman food. The scene in which Eli becomes disoriented is home to the stunning Basilica San Giovanni Bosco. Numerous scenes from films have been shot in the piazza including Fellini's La Dolce vita with Marcello Mastroianni. 


Marcello Mastroianni and Isabella Ragonese in the same spot, five decades apart
I found Vicari's wide shot of the piazza with the apartment buildings in view especially outstanding. After spending almost two hours with Eli and her daily routine, I was caught off guard by the heart-wrenching ending. Sole, cuore, amore is an example of why I enjoy contemporary Italian cinema so much. It is simply real.


Daniele Vicari's money shot of Piazza San Giovanni Bosco
Indivisibile. This film made my list if for no other reason than people are losing their minds over it. The film was a huge blockbuster in Italy last year and is now making its way through North America with one glowing review after another. Indivisibile is the story of conjoined twins whose parents have exploited to make money. 


Real-life sisters Angela Fontana and  as Daisy and Violet
Set in Naples, performers Daisy and Violet are about to turn 18. After a doctor reveals they can live independently, they are on a mission to travel to Switzerland for the life-changing surgery. Their dysfunctional parents, fearing to lose money when the two will no longer perform as conjoined twins, are dead set against the procedure. What ensues is a coming-of-age story filled with hope, fear, desperation and discovery with another shocking turn at the end of the film.

In guerra per amore (At War for Love) is probably the closest Open Roads gets this year to comedy with the exception of Orecchie (see below) and although there are some hilarious moments, it's a thought-provoking lesson in Italian-American and Sicilian history. 


Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif) in a scene from In guerra per amore
Pierfrancesco Diliberto aka Pif is Arturo, a young Sicilian living in New York. When he falls in love with Flora (Miriam Leone), he realizes the only way to outdo her mafia-connected finance is to travel to Sicily and ask for her dying father's permission to marry her. The only problem is that Europe is in the trenches of World War II and the only feasible way of reaching Flora's father is traveling there as a soldier. What follows is a funny and wild but always poignant adventure into war torn Italy with a whole cast of characters that make this film an absolute joy to watch. Some noteworthy performances are by Andrea Di Stefano in the role of Philip Chiamparino, a devoted and respected sergeant and Domenico Centamore as Tonino, the goofball assistant to the local Sicilian mafia boss Don Calò, played with a brilliantly subtle sense of humor by Maurizio Marchetti.


Pif and Miriam Leone
Pif's followup to his 2014 La mafia uccide solo d'estate (The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer) is another contemporary masterpiece that accomplishes a number of tasks. It honors those who have lost their lives at the hands of organized crime, gives an important history lesson and generates some serious laughter. 


Alessandro Aronadio's Orecchie is about acceptance, learning to accept that which is different. It's  a day in the life of a 30-something unnamed character who wakes up one morning with an irritating ringing in his ear. He finds a note on the fridge left by his girlfriend stating that his friend Luigi is dead and that the funeral will be held at 7pm. The problem is that he doesn’t remember having a friend named Luigi. So he spends most of the day trying to resolve the ringing in his ears and finding out how he knows this Luigi. 

Since the lead character doesn’t have a name in the film, I will italicize my references to him. This adventure is filled with a whole host of zany characters, including a gastroenterologist, played hilariously by Massimo Wertmuller, who makes him believe that he’s a pregnant hermaphrodite, a mother obsessed with selfies and her new performance artist boyfriend, an anal retentive fast food worker and a dignified newspaper editor who wants to turn her publication into a gossip magazine.  


You have to have patience with this film. It gets off to a slow start and you may not know where it’s leading to. But stay with it. My ah-ah moment of the film happened with the following conversation from which I pulled a few of my favorite lines.. 

“I had my opportunities but I didn’t want to compromise”
“People tend to confuse compromise with acceptance”
“Acceptance is surrender”
“I suppose you think the world is going crazy.”
“That’s obviously the case, isn’t it?”
“People seem as strange to us as we probably seem to them.”

With this conversation, I understood more about the character and that he would be undergoing some kind of transformation. 


The whole film comes together with the ending when he attends the funeral mass of this supposed friend Luigi. There, he meets Father Giancarlo (Rocco Papaleo), a wise priest and ambiguous alcoholic, who reveals that he dialed the wrong phone number. So, Luigi really wasn’t his friend. This is when the transformation is completed, and this is also where we see some simple but powerful screenwriting. Father Giancarlo tells him about his conversation with Luigi that took place on his deathbed.  

“His biggest sin was that he hadn’t been able to get used to it.”
“To what?”
“To the world, to people. We look for a thousand excuses to avoid admitting that we’re afraid of others. Life is too short to be afraid."

The film is a true testament to these crazy times and although I appreciate the message of tolerance, it really is a fine line. It is true that we need to be tolerant of other cultures and ways of thinking but we cannot accept everything, including much of the inappropriate behavior we saw by characters throughout the film or his mother taking selfies in a church in front of a casket. The challenge is finding the balance on your own moral compass, realizing and respecting the fact that not everybody shares your pinions and then holding judgment.



Federica Di Giacomo's Liberami is just a fascinating watch. It's a story about the practice of exorcism. The contrasts between ancient traditions and modern habits, between sacred and profane, meet in this documentary film. It's been described as "disturbing and hilarious at the same time". I tend to find it more disturbing. It's a film that makes you think and assess your own beliefs and spirituality. 

These days, more and more people admit to feeling possessed by Satan. The Catholic Church responds to this emergency by training more exorcist priests. Father Cataldo is one of them. The film's focus is on four characters- Gloria, Enrico, Anna and Giulia, who follow Father Cataldo’s mass and look for answers and a cure to their disease. 

Di Giacamo doesn't waste any time presenting the terror of an exorcism. The film opens with a woman sitting on a chair in a chapel as Father Cataldo anoints her with holy water. He then puts his hand on her head and prays. The woman immediately begins to scream obscenities in the voice of Satan. "Leave me alone. She's mine now. Leave me alone."

Father Cataldo visits a church in Palermo. There is a long line of people waiting to see him. Many are turned away. When the faithful get their chance to speak with him, they talk to him like he's a psychologist rather than a priest. They blame their misfortunes and bad luck on Satan. In one case of a depressed housewife, Father Cataldo tells her that her problem is more likely psychological than spiritual. He asks one man who is convinced his bad luck is spiritual, "Did you try to live in the grace of God at least when you could?". The man replies, "I try, Father, but it's hard."


In another scene, the priest sees a woman with a nagging cough. Father Cataldo sits with her and her family. The woman is clearly uneasy and fidgeting. As he starts to pray with them, she visibly becomes more uneasy. As he puts his hand on her head, she begins to lose control. The family members gather around her and try to help keep her still. She falls to the floor and he anoints her with holy water. She weeps, they all say a Hail Mary and she seems to be healed.

Father Cataldo then holds a public mass for all of these people and during his message to Satan to leave them alone, a boy begins to have outbursts and then it's as if the priest is speaking directly to him. "Go away Satan." And the boy screams uncontrollably. Father Cataldo responds, "Be quiet. It's God ordering you to leave." The yelling continues. "Get the cross," says Father. A cross is then held over him while Father Cataldo continues to drive the devil away. Then it happens to others and some are forced to retreat to a designating room where they are all trying to recover and regain control. At times, it's tough to watch. Whatever the cause of these people losing control, they are undoubtedly suffering very much.




These are just a few of the compelling stories in the 2017 edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. The series, which runs June 1-7, is a group effort by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Istituto Luce Cinecittà, the Italian Trade Commission and the Italian Cultural Institute New York; Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò—NYU not to mention the tireless champions of Italian cinema who have been with this festival since the beginning- Antonio Monda, Griselda Guerrasio and Monique Catalina. 

Click here to see the full lineup and to purchase tickets.

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