Movies that I expected to see here in the USA, but never did.
Keeping in mind, many good ones are available, along with some real stinkers (Wondrous Boccaccio, Fathers and Daughters). The jury is still out for movies that came out over the last year, so let’s take a look at 2014 through mid-2015. Here are the ones that should have found a distributor in the USA, but for some reason didn’t.
Senza Nessuna Pietà
Pierfrancesco Favino gained fifty pounds and shows every bit of his star potential in director Michele Alhaique’s Senza Nessuna Pietà.
Mimmo, played by Favino, is part of a crime family but is happier at his day job as a construction worker. Having been left fatherless at an early age, his uncle raised him and expects his bruiser nephew to provide muscle when debts need to be collected. Mimmo is perfectly capable but clearly unhappy about his lot in life, destined, it seems, to live it out in a clinically depressed state.
When his spoiled and obnoxious cousin Manuel (Adriano Giannini) wants him to pick up and babysit a young prostitute, played by the very beautiful and talented Greta Scarano (named best supporting actress by just about everybody this year for Suburra), a protective side emerges from Mimmo. “Tanya” has been hired for a party but when delivered to Manuel, Mimmo sees that she’s in trouble and comes to her rescue, knowing full well that in doing so he’s signed his own death warrant.
There’s a kind of “beauty and the beast” quality to Mimmo and Tanya’s love story, as Tanya begins to care for him and then literally cares for him when he is punished for going against the family. They are a bit of an odd couple, but the chemistry is there and when they meet, you can see the relief in their eyes. In their “hard-knock lives, they’d never considered that they might find someone who actually want the best for them.
Smetto Quando Voglio
It was a smash hit in Italy and they are getting ready to release the sequel (I’m hearing it’s to be a trilogy?), but aside from a few random film fests, most of the country never got to see director Sydney Sibilia’s fun comedy, Smetto Quando Voglio (I Can Quit Whenever I Want) about an unemployed college professor, Pietro, (Edoardo Leo).
One day Pietro chases down a boy he’s been tutoring, trying to get him to pay for the lessons he’s been giving him, and he finds himself at a night club. The boy’s been telling him he’s a penniless orphan, but that’s a lie; the kid spends more in one day on designer drugs than Pietro makes in a week.
In a flash, biology professor Pietro sees an opportunity. He’s sure he can design his own drug; one that has none of the substances that are banned by the Italian government. It’s still illegal to sell what he comes up with, but that’s a minor technicality.
His criminal organization is in need of other skills, so he rounds up all his out of work friends, from a math genius to chemists to help him, and at first, it’s as if they have struck gold.
Sibilia says that he got the idea one day when he heard two Italian streetcleaners talking about philosophy, and when he asked them, he found out that they were university professors that couldn’t find jobs. He decided he wanted to tell the story of so many young people in Italy today.
Writer/Director Cristina Comencini has been at this for a long time with great success, having written novels and screenplays, and directed films like the award-winning Don’t Tell (La Bestia Nel Cuore), but her newest film, Latin Lover, exceeds every expectation.
Golden era film star Saverio Crispo has been dead for 10 years and his eclectic and complicated family has planned a memorial for him in his Puglian hometown. Crispo, who “left a lot outside of the scene”, collected wives, lovers, and children from all of his movies. Two widows and five daughters (six?) gathered for an uncomfortable family reunion in the family estate, rehashing old grievances and uncovering secrets. Though the daughters all had different mothers and different nationalities, they shared names that began with the letter “S”, a sort of “factory label”, explained Saverio.
This is one of the best ensemble comedies I have seen in years, and Comencini’s dialogue is spot on. Virna Lisi (in her last performance before her death in December 2014), Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Human Capital), Candela Peña (All About My Mother) and Angela Finocchiaro (Benvenuto al Sud) couldn’t be more natural as mother and sisters airing old slights, and though their family dynamics are unconventional, they seem real. Saverio himself, who never really understood why all those women were so crazy about him, is played by Francesco Scianna (Baarìa) who evokes old fashioned movie swoons from everyone in the film and us in the audience as well.
Latin Lover is funny and heartwarming, and the recreated vintage movie scenes are too much fun for words. Dedicated to the memory of Lisi, this film couldn’t have been a better tribute to the movie star and her golden era.
La Bella Gente
Ivano De Matteo’s ‘La Bella Gente’, La Beautiful People, puts a spotlight on the ugliness in us all. Though it was made in 2008, (for complicated reasons I never quite got) it never made it into Italian theaters until last year.
Privileged Alfredo and Susanna are on their way to their summer home in the Umbrian countryside and spot a young prostitute along the side of the road who is getting slapped around by her pimp. Susanna, a counselor for abused women, is determined to help Nadja, a teenager from Ukraine, and asks Alfredo to, basically, kidnap her and bring her back to the house.
Nadja is initially (understandably) freaked out, and tries to call her pimp for help, but as one does with a feral kitten found in the back yard, Alfredo and Susanna gently make her feel comfortable with them and convince her to stay. A bath, a civilized meal, and some new clothes magically and quickly transform her into a sweet and welcome house guest and the whole thing seems too good to be true.
Too bad it is.
After a couple of weeks of high-fiving each other for being awesome people and introducing her to family and friends, Susanna is confronted with the reality of their situation and takes a step back. The summer holiday dissolves into nasty remarks, angry outbursts, and suspicion.
But we’re still awesome; right?
It would be easy to watch La Bella Gente with a judgmental eye but that would be ill-advised. I saw myself in the characters, all of them, actually, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. You spend your life telling yourself that class and social status mean nothing, and here comes Ivano De Matteo to remind us that we are only fooling ourselves if that’s what we think we believe.
Noi E La Giulia
It was the Comedy of the Year according to the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists (Nastro D’Argento Best Comedy) and the foreign press (Italian Golden Globes, Best Comedy) and I’m not going to argue with them. Noi e la Giulia (The Giulia and us) deserves the accolades, but it isn’t laugh out loud, “rolling in the aisle” funny; in its own way it is inspirational, and a call to action for all of us who need to stand up and stand for something.
Written, directed by and starring Edoardo Leo, with Luca Argentero, Claudio Amendola, Claudio Buccirosso, Stefano Fresi and Anna Foglietta, it’s based on a book (Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles by Fabio Bartolomei) and is the story of three guys, their individual mid-life crisises, and a Giulia 1300 Alfa Romeo.
When Claudio, Diego and Fausto decide to go in on an “agroturismo” B&B (a sort of farm vacation) in Camorra country, maybe, if they’d stopped to think about why the previous owners had cleared out so quickly, they might have realized that this wasn’t such a great idea. When the Camorra shows up at their door and even the local cops are giving them the shakedown, they realize that they’ll never be free to conduct their own affairs. After a serious of improbable but completely understandable events they, with the help of some illegal immigrants, a pregnant girl and a Cammorista that they’ve kidnapped, decide to recoup their investment and get the heck out of there.
And with the help of a little elbow grease and an invented ghost story about the place, the B&B is a big hit. Such a shame they’ll all most likely be killed if they don’t abandon it.