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Preview: 18th Italian Film Festival

By October 3, 2013No Comments


Feel like vis­it­ing some­where new but don’t have the time or money right now? A film fest­iv­al is the next best thing. If you want to under­stand a coun­try and its cul­ture it’s hard to go past watch­ing their com­mer­cial cinema – their mul­ti­plex and block­buster fare rather than the arthouse.

18th Italian Film Festival posterThat’s why the region­al film fest­ivals are so import­ant – and the Italian Film Festival is king with attend­ance num­bers every year that are great­er than all the oth­er region­al fest­ivals put togeth­er. Festival dir­ect­or Tony Lambert has been at this for over a dozen years and his for­mula works – a well-constructed sur­vey of the cur­rent Italian cinema fea­tur­ing broad com­ed­ies, romances and his­tor­ic­al dra­mas. These are the films that Italians have been watching.

This year’s fest­iv­al opens at the Paramount on the 9th of October with a gala screen­ing of Welcome to the North (a sequel to the 2010 smash hit Welcome to the South, itself a remake of the French com­edy Welcome to the Sticks). After that we have two and a half weeks of screen­ings with most films play­ing four or five times.

I’ve already had a sneak pre­view of four of the eight­een titles and they were – jus­ti­fi­ably – all over the place. Love is in the Air is a broad sex com­edy that hints at a sau­ci­ness that it does­n’t quite deliv­er on. Dull busi­ness­man Andrea and beau­ti­ful house­wife Giulia are promp­ted to spice up their love life by the arrival of Giulia’s old school friend Max – now a Hollywood porn star. The whole house­hold (includ­ing their teen­age son and their maid) try and mine the fam­ous lothario for tips but the actu­al les­sons learned are much more tra­di­tion­al. Originally released in 3D, the ver­sion we will see here does­n’t have quite the same visu­al ‘pop’ but the broad Carry On-style humour will appeal to many.

In The Entrepreneur, a fact­ory own­er (Pierfrancesco Favino from Rush) struggles to keep his busi­ness and his mar­riage afloat. Until a dis­ap­point­ing dénoue­ment acclaimed dir­ect­or Giuliano Montaldo builds palp­able ten­sion and the de-saturated-to-almost-black-and-white pho­to­graphy makes Turin look like the fad­ing indus­tri­al power­house that it is.

An inden­tured Chinese immig­rant forges an unlikely friend­ship with an age­ing fish­er­man in Shun Li and the Poet, win­ner of sev­er­al Italian film awards includ­ing for lead act­ress Tao Zhao. The Poet is played by famil­i­ar face, Croatian Rade Serbedzijia with a grizzled warmth that coun­ter­points the ugly ignor­ant racism of his friends and the cold-hearted prac­tic­al­ity of the Chinese busi­ness­men. Director Andrea Segre uses the Chioggia set­ting per­fectly – an old world work­ing class town on the Venice lagoon, its his­tory con­trast­ing with the faces of the new arrivals.

The only film in the fest­iv­al to have played here before is 2012 Berlin Golden Bear win­ner Caesar Must Die but, from memory, it got a little bur­ied in last year’s film fest­iv­al pro­gramme and deserves more atten­tion than that: a group of hardened pris­on­ers stage Julius Caesar. The film isn’t a doc­u­ment­ary even though the per­formers are play­ing them­selves play­ing Shakespeare. It’s fas­cin­at­ing watch­ing the power rela­tion­ships of the cons (and ex-cons) mir­ror the char­ac­ters and there’s an extra lay­er of interest in see­ing the play cre­ated in Rome for a change.

[Printed in the October issue of Wellington’s FishHead magazine.]