I’ve been going to the movies in Italy and buying Italian movies since around the year 2000 and I am no expert, but I know about the ones that I see and I know what I like. Since the turn of the century I like what I see – the movies have been getting better and the audiences have been growing.
A few years ago I read an article that I wish I could find now; it was written by an Italian film student that said that the difference between Italian and American film directors was that Americans had to jump through a lot of hoops to get a movie made and Italians didn’t. Italians get the money for a project and then have complete control over it, and the student felt that this was the reason that so many bad Italian films get made – that they should have been forced through a few hoops and not been given such free rein.
It’s an interesting theory and would explain a lot – for instance, La Bellezza del Somaro (Love and Slaps), Sergio Castellito’s 2011 mock-fest. I won’t get into why I feel this way because, frankly, I don’t want to talk about it anymore (click the link if you want to read about it), but someone should have made Castellito jump through something before letting that get to the theaters.
And there will probably always be movies like Ricky Tognazzi’s (unexportable and unabashedly cheesy) 2011 Tutta culpa della musica (All the music’s fault), a movie that I saw at Venice and didn’t even bother to write about. Nominated for the festival’s “Controcampo” award it wasn’t insulting, like La Bellezza del Somaro, but it’s like trying to talk about an episode of Three’s Company or some other 80s comedy. There’s an audience for that kind of thing and until I stop watching Beavis and Butthead I am in no position to judge.
That said, there was a lot to love this year and here are the ones I loved:
Seeing Benvenuti al Sud made me smile in more ways than one: It’s funny, and it’s a sign that Italian comedies are becoming more exportable. With its universal message about not misjudging people you don’t know, a super-talented cast, and a warm, smart script that made me genuinely like all the characters this one could play at my local cineplex and be a big hit (if it weren’t for the subtitles – but that’s a different discussion).
You don’t have to be clairvoyant to guess that Nanni Moretti will one day be the recipient of the lifetime achievement award at Venice and his Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) made it all the more obvious. Moretti is after two things: making movies he is passionate about and making movies that he believes the world will be passionate about. While others are making self-indulgent pet projects (I’m talking to you, Sergio), Moretti wants to make movies that are both artistic and commercial successes, and he succeeds.
Since Zeitgeist Films has bought the US rights to Gianni e le Donne and will bring it to American theaters in Spring 2012, you’ll get the chance to see Gianni di Gregorio’s second “Gianni”, this time a recently retired guy that is struggling to stay relevant. Should he volunteer in a soup kitchen? Travel? His numbskull buddies suggest he take a lover to fill his time, but this is trickier than it looks. I keep changing my mind, but this one might be my favorite of the year.
Donatella Finocchiaro is a true movie star if I ever saw one and I Baci Mai Dati is more proof of that. Playing the mother of a 13-year-old that may or may not be performing miracles, Donatella, a knockout beauty that could have built a career playing femme fatales like Monica Bellucci chooses instead to take the tough role, like this one. As the unattractive (personality-wise if not physically) “bad mother of the year” she transforms herself into a rough, crass, Southern Italian money-grubber.
Few saw Into Paradiso, even in Italy, and I don’t understand why. With a great cast, a funny, smart script, and a killer soundtrack it’s stylish and – cool, just really cool. Director Paola Randi tells us the story of a scientist in Naples who loses his job and goes to a connected friend to get it back, but when the bad guys are after him, he holes up in an apartment building inhabited by Sri Lanken immigrants.
Probably the year’s best is Emanuele Crialese‘s Terraferma, and starring Donatella Finocchiaro and Filippo Pucillo, this film is stunning in every sense of the word – visually, having been filmed on the island of Lampedusa, and emotionally, with first-rate performances and inspired story and direction. About Italy’s real life immigration problem, it’s doesn’t exploit- it just tells a good story.
I’ll give an honorable mention to Aldo, Giovanni and Giocomo and their La Banda Dei Babbi Natale. The comedy trio has been around since 70s and this is their best work to date. It’s a Christmas movie, but I wouldn’t call it Cinepanettone – it’s a seriously funny comedy about three friends that get mistaken for burglars on Christmas eve. I’ll be watching it again when I wrap Christmas presents this year.
And now, enjoy a little Beavis & Butthead in Italian: