Monday, April 12, 2010

Last but not least: "Il Compleanno"

In writing these reviews about Atlanta's Italian Film Festival, I forgot to mention that I never write about film and have never worked as a film critic.

Probably painfully obvious, but I mention it because all I'm saying is, I liked these films. And mainly what I want everyone to do is watch Italian films, and maybe these reviews will help get you started or fill you in on the latest releases.

So, the last film I want to mention is "Il Compleanno," which was translated as "David's Birthday."

I liked this film a lot! The cinematography, the music, the characters, the plot -- they all pulled me in right away. These old friends are going to the Italian seaside for the summer, oh how nice, here's your sunny Italian countryside, but wait! You know things are about to go awry.

And much of the trouble, though not all, is spurred by the reappearance of David, the son of one of the couples, who arrives from America.

He's young, he's a fashion model and he appeals to both women and men.

And that's one of the key themes of the film. I should mention at this point that there are those so-called "adult situations" in this film, but in spades. I mean, alla grande. If you're not ready for this, you may want to stay away.

But the way the characters fall apart at the end of the film is so delicious. Particularly the psychoanalyst played by Massimo Poggio. The film also features Alessandro Gassman, a well-known actor in Italy.

All these shrinks want to make it look like they have it all together. Ha ha ha this guy not so much! This guy absolutely and totally self-destructs. And it's fun to watch! In fact, in some scenes the audience actually laughed even though the action was not intended to be funny.

So enjoy "Il Compleanno." I did!

Italian Film Festival film reviews continued....

Ok, continuing with reviews of some of the films shown at Atlanta's 4th Annual Italian Film Festival, which wrapped up last week.

"Il papà di Giovanna" ("Giovanna's Father") is next up, and it received the highest rating of any of the films shown, with a score of 9.388, according to the film festival organizers.

It stars Silvio Orlando, a veteran Italian actor who plays a schoolteacher living in Bologna before World War II (the film continues through the war, though the family is forced to leave the city).

His daughter, Giovanna, is considered delicate, special, different, sensitive -- all the words people use to describe someone who may or may not have mental problems.

Silvio Orlando's character, Michele Casali, dotes on his daughter in a vain effort to shore up her confidence. Right from the start, the relationship is moving -- his doomed efforts to save this girl really get to you.

Again I won't say anything more about the plot -- no spoiler alert here! (THOUGH, if you understand Italian very well and you don't want to know too much, you may want to only watch the beginning of the trailer).

But let me add a few other key details. The movie is the work of famed Italian director Pupi Avati, whose other films include one of my favorites, "Il testimone dello sposo" (1998), which in English was called "The Best Man."

I definitely recommend this film. And in fact, when I saw this film along with "Alza La Testa" (see previous review), I was sure the film festival was on the right track. I think people go to a film festival to see something different, something jarring perhaps, something profound, something that says something.

And "Il papà di Giovanna" fits the bill.

"Alza La Testa," "Il Compleanno" e "Il Papa di Giovanna"

I'm going to try to tackle all of these films at once, given that Atlanta's Italian Film Festival has now been over for a week!

Let's start with "Alza La Testa."

I thought it was great, in large part because Sergio Castellitto, the star, is, ahem, Sergio Castellitto.

Interestingly, I received the official punteggio from the film festival and it received a 7.3, compared with a rating of 9.0, which went to "Italians," a forgettable comedy that was popular in Italy.

For American viewers who may not be familiar with Castellitto, I guess you could say he's like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro in their best roles. He's intense and high-energy, and he feels a lot -- too much.

In this film, he plays a former prize fighter who has raised his son with one idea and one idea only: that he will be a champion boxer. The son is game, and trains with his father every day, but as a 17-year-old (I'm guessing at his age), he also wants to be a regular kid, which strains his relationship with his father.

I won't say more about the plot, but the film takes place in Fiumicino and Castellito's character works in a ship-building yard, which as a background I found very interesting and compelling. It's not just the sunny Tuscan countryside: it's the real Italy that's just as interesting but a little less postcard-perfect.

So, in response to the AsianCajuns and other readers, rent "Alza La Testa"! It's worth it (though, no, I don't see it on Netflix).

Alternately, you can try to rent "Non Ti Muovere," another Castellitto vehicle which is available on Netflix. Just be prepared: that film is even heavier and sucker-punches you with an initial encounter that's the opposite of romantic.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Anti-Mafia Wine in Sicily

My friend Nancy Greenleese produced a story for the American public radio show, The World, on winemakers in Italy who are defying the Mafia. They are part of a movement in Sicily to seize properties bought with proceeds from organized crime.

Here's the link. Enjoy!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Roundup on Atlanta's Italian Film Festival -- coming

Atlanta's week-long Italian Film Festival, which concluded yesterday, included some amazing films!

Among the ones I liked were "Alza La Testa," with Sergio Castellito; "Il Papa' Di Giovanna," with Silvio Orlando and "Il Compleanno," with Alessandro Gassman.

I don't have time to write about the films today -- sto lavorando! -- but stay tuned because I want to share my thoughts with you and spread the gospel of Italian cinema.

I think there's hope yet!

And in any event, three cheers for the Italian Film Festival, a nonprofit that produces film festivals in Miami and Acapulco, and for Georgia State University, which was the festival's chief sponsor and host.

Buon proseguimento!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Radio piece on Atlanta's Italian Film Festival

Here's a piece that ran on Atlanta's NPR affiliate about Atlanta's Fourth Annual Italian Film Festival:

Here's just the text:

ATLANTA, GA. (WABE) - This week, a small but growing film festival will show Atlanta movie-goers a side of Italy they may have never seen. Here's a report on Atlanta's Fourth Annual Italian Film Festival.
There are eight features in the festival, and none of them show the sunny Italian countryside that many Americans have seen in mainstream movies.

One film tells the story of a girl from Bologna who is institutionalized after killing her best friend. Another follows a television journalist as he investigates the death of his teenage son.

Georgia State University is the festival's main sponsor, and Richard Keatley is a professor of Italian.

"I think American viewers will get a much broader vision of Italy. You see Italy is a real country with real problems and real issues to confront," Keatley said.

This year's festival doubled the number of feature films from last year, and added short and documentary films. Keatley said the festival's growth is remarkable given the economic climate, and the obscure nature of some of the films.

"These are not films that are released in the U. S. for distribution. They've been shown at film festivals here and there but you can't find them on Netflix," Keatley said.

The Italian Film Festival will run through Sunday at Georgia State's Rialto Center. For more information, visit

WABE News.