While I don’t understand audiences that would boo a movie like Jonathan Glazer’s enigmatic Under The Skin, and then cheer wildly for the sentimental sports movie, Il Terzo Tempo, I can’t pretend to dislike the audiences’ favorable reaction to all of the Italian movies I saw at Venice this year. Even if they were mostly Italians in the packed theaters at the Biennale, this is a victory, because I’ve spent too many years listening to Italians tell me that they prefer American movies in one breath and then tell me that they’ve never heard of the Italian movies that I love in the next.
Whoever these theater goers were, they came, they watched, and they liked the Italian films.
Probably the strongest audience reaction was for this year’s surprise Golden Lion Award winner, Sacro GRA, Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary about the citizens who live by the giant highway that makes a Saturn-like ring around the city of Rome. I’m not sure how long the ovation for this one went on, because I eventually had to leave, but it was still going strong after 5 minutes and the shouts for the director didn’t show any sign of abatement.
I liked Sacro GRA, but it wasn’t my favorite. I am head over heels in love with Andrea Segre’s new La Prima Neve (The First Snow), the touching and emotional story of a family in crisis that hires an emotionally scarred refugee to do odd jobs at their Alpine home. While the theme is (maybe a little too) prevalent in Italian films these days, Segre’s got a fresh and noteworthy script, cast, and storyline that tells me he’s the director to watch.
Another surprise for me, Alessandro Rossetto’s Piccola Patria, the engaging story of two girls who risk everything using sexual blackmail to try to make it out of their small town. I felt punched in the stomach when I left the Sala Grande after that one, and I mean that in a good way.
I wasn’t as taken with the two other Italian films in competition for the Golden Lion, Via Castellana Bandiera and the one I’d been most anxious to see, L’Intrepido. Via Castellana Bandiera is OK, but with its forced storyline and serious need of editing I’m ready to leave it behind (and watch, this one will be the one that makes it to US theaters).
I’m still annoyed with Gianni Amelio’s L’intrepido, a huge waste of the movie’s star, Antonio Albanese and a very pedestrian view at unemployment in Italy. It should have and could have been wonderful, this story of the guy who can’t find a job and so spends his days filling in for anyone who needs a couple of hours or a couple of days off from work doing everything from cutting up fish at the fish market to carrying girders on job sites.