Friday 13 October 2023

Italian Film Festival - Sydney's supercinephile Barrie Pattison puts in the hard yards and recalls the highlights including STRANGENESS (Roberto Ando), A BRIGHTER TOMORROW (Nanni Moretti), THE LAST NIGHT OF AMORE (Franco de Stefano), LA CHIMERA (Alice Rohrwacher) and ORLANDO (Daniele Vicari)


NB: The 2023 Italian Film Festival ends in Sydney on October 18, some other states a week later. There are overflow sessions of the hits including some of the titles mentioned here in Barrie's report. Check out Palace Cinemas websites for details.


This year’s Italian Film Festival (at least they generated a new St. Ali commercial) is in there stressing significance. No teen musicals, gallant swordsmen and dialect comics this year.

They did manage Mario Martone’s Laggiu qualcuno mi ama/ Somebody Down There Likes me a biography of Neapolitan comic, the late Massimo Troisi and a three movie retrospective. With a bit of luck I’ll get onto that shortly.

More characteristic was Roberto Ando’s La strangezza/ Strangeness, a coverage of Nobel Prize Winning dramatist Luigi Pirandello’s 1920s visit to his Sicilian origins. It’s a bit disturbing to find no reference in the press response to the Tavianis’ remarkable 1984 Kaos which deals with the same incident, down to the exhausting rail trip and the local crazy.

In the new film, a barbered Tony Servillo is the blocked celebrity writer coming back to his one time Catania home to confer with mentor Renato Carpentieri  but sidetracked by the death of his old wet nurse, whose funeral involves him with gravediggers, comic duo Salvatore Ficarra & Valentino Picone from l primo Natale/Once Upon a Time in Bethlehem. There are routines of two bodies allocated to the same mortuary niche and bribed bureaucrats. Turns out that the pair are staging their own local theatre piece, complete with a comic séance, extra lines for the priest whose hall they want to use and Picone, complete with moustache, rung in as the Countess character because everyone else is already on stage.

Servillo tries to hide his famous writer status but his cover is blown and he finds himself honored guest at the presentation, where audience members indignantly recognise themselves in the characters. This Kaos triggers his struggling creativity and he returns to the city to spin the mix of comic and tragic, real and illusory into his major work “Six Characters in Search of an Author” to which he invites the Sicilians. They find themselves witness to the riot the first presentation of the revolutionary work provokes. Spot Luigio Lo Cascio as the onstage director.


Strangeness is given the best frock coat movie mounting, with dim lit images of the kind better deployed in Bellochio’s imposing Rapito/Kidnapped, which was also on show. I covered it on its Melbourne festival outing. Despite the new production’s obvious ambitions, it falls far short of the Taviani brothers’ take on the same material.

Curiously this one plays in the same event as the most Pirandellian movie I’ve seen – Nanni Moretti’s new Il sol dell'avvenire/A Brighter Tomorrow which deliberately shuffles comic and tragic, real and unreal, movies and history. 

Moretti offers his on-screen director character thrashing about with an industry that has moved away from him. Clips of movies he cherishes, notably the Demy Lola and La dolce vita, fail to involve his associates. His proposed film of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” evokes the flawed Burt Lancaster version. Moretti’s hours long nocturnal disruption of a film set with his harangue about violence in movies or his scooter ride with shonk French producer Mathieu Almaric go with a caricatured meeting with Netflix reps.

Meanwhile, Moretti’s character isn’t aware that wife and longtime assistant Margherita Buy is seeing a shrink in order to work up the courage to leave him, as he gets stuck into the production of a film about the Fifties Russian invasion of Hungary stranding a Hungarian circus troop invited by the Italian Communist Party, who now fluctuate between an allegiance to Moscow and outrage at their barbaric conduct (no one has to mention Ukraine) while an order for fifty pounds of meat a day for the animals has to be met.

This stream is headed up by the great Silvio Orlando and Barbora Bobulova as the film’s star players, while the lead couple finds their daughter Valentina Romani an item with Polish senior citizen diplomat Jerzy Stuhr (Camera Buff) adding to the already eye popping cast. Any celebrity who happens to be left out gets to march in the final parade complete with glimpsed Trotsky banner, celebrating the ironic title – the blissful new world order following the Italians’ break with Soviet Hegemony.


At seventy, Moretti is still on top of his game, able to surprise, amuse and involve. This is one of the best films in the event and one of the best we are likely to see this year.

Also a class item is Franco de Stefano’s L'ultima notte di Amore/The Last Night of Amore, another cop piece, which goes with Nostalgia and Suburra to put Pierfrancisco Favino in the top bracket of Italian crime movie stars. Think a kind of sad sack Gian Maria Volonte. Favino is a thirty five year police veteran who has never had to fire his weapon on duty. That’s a key piece of plot information actually. After resuscitating a Chinese businessman following a gone wrong encounter with vice girls, he’s offered a well-paid gig like his security businessman colleague. Only trouble is that the diamond pick-up from the airport which will net him a month’s salary at a stroke, comes on Favino’s last evening on the force. It of course goes pear shaped, endangering his pension and the comfort of wife Linda Caridi  and their student daughter Skype calling from her dorm to his surprise farewell party.


The actual night time motorway tunnel encounter is a great suspense set piece and must have been hell on wheels to stage. The script, weaving backward and forward around it, is ingenious and original. Conviction only wilts when Caridi becomes involved in the action, not probably through the shortcomings of the performer, who registers as alert & attractive, but through the implausible device of involving the wife in all the hard man stuff.

Craft aspects impress. Notice the blows of the beating suggested as continuing in the imposing score after the visual has ended. The largely unfamiliar-face cast are spot on and the Milanese setting convincing, with the ending with Favino crossing the deserted square in front of the Cathedral particularly resonant.

I can see this one having a long life as a Euro-action classic on a par with Borsalino  or Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.

On the other hand coming after her Happy as Lazarro and medium length La pupille, Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera is a letdown. It centers on young Englishman Josh O’Connor  who we learn is making his way to the manor house run by an ailing Isabella Rossellini (identifiable by her Ingrid Bergman sound-alike voice), with whose deceased daughter he had an association Rossellini approved. He has just come out of the slammer for tomb-robbing, with cops homing in on family heirlooms as property of the state. Josh is welcomed by the local hoon element for his ability to locate lootable grave sites with a divining rod. Their mysterious fence has paid his bail.

On a drunken night with the stronzi gang on the beach, he snaps back into discovery mode and they find a millennia-untouched Etruscan grave site complete with an imposing marble statue from which the experienced vandals immediately saw off the head. The foreigner is appalled… and the sound of a police siren rings out.

Developments introduce director Rohrwacher’s actress-star sister Alba, here got up glamorous, elaborating the plot. The story’s possibilities are lost in unsatisfactory wandering into unreal imagery. Josh O’Connor’s dowsing inspired visions as shots cut in upside down, following the red thread. Staging a finale in a cheery women’s co-operative in the vacant Tuscan  Riparbella station house doesn’t convince.

Curiously this is the third piece I’ve just encountered to deal with provenance in art, after Steve Martin’s novel “An Object of Beauty” and the ABC’s Brett Whiteley documentary. I don’t know whether it is a comfort to know that the process of mystifying the value of movies still has some way to go by comparison.

Director Daniele Vicari is a visitor from the Projects on the margins of Sub-Titles City. We’ve seen him passing every so often (Diaz – Don’t Clean Up This Blood is a show-stopper) but we really don’t know what he gets up to. His new Orlando deserves attention for that alone. 

This one provides an initial shock in finding once rugged juvenile Michele Placido as a plausibly stooped and surly seventy-three year old Central Italian peasant. He throws a crumpled letter into the wheelbarrow rubbish but relents and makes the requested call from the bar to his alienated son gone years from the remote village to make a new life in Brussels. They have to find a migrant worker who can understand the person who answers. For the first time in his life, Placido leaves his home only to face his son’s feet framed by part obscured coffin, leaving Placido the man’s pre-teen daughter, Angelica Krazancova’s only living relative. Complications include a black landlord who Placido treats with contempt despite the man’s sympathy and a fellow Italian social worker who has lived through the migrant experience, like the dead son, and is getting stick from his woman associate for not following regulations.

Placido, for whom the greatest satisfaction in his life is eating the food from his own land, and Krazancova who lives for her figure skating, are mutually incomprehensible. Her tantrum at the station, when he wants to take her back with him, gets him into strife with the gendarmes there and he finds himself slaving as a day laborer and still short on the rent. There are however moments like the shared pleasure of the Xmas ice festival in the square or finding the girl cooking her grandmother’s recipe, learned from her father. Despite digressions like the night at the expatriate Italians’ concertina bar, it’s made clear to Placido that his impossible options narrow to never seeing the girl again as she is swallowed by the adoption machine, where he has no say.

The piece is laid out with unrelenting clarity – legal detail, real locations, language problems. Masking the characters for COVID is in character. I’d guess it’s too deliberate for a wide audience. I was the only one in the theater that session but I defy anyone to remain uninvolved by the final scene.

This one extends a line that’s not exactly new. Since the days of Jackie Coogan and Freddy Barthololemew, we’ve seen unlikely child custodian movies. There was a spate of them with WW2 displaced persons – Tomorrow the World, The Pied Piper, The Search or Germany Year Zero. Since then however, we've had widely spaced pieces from different cultures –  Joseph Lejtes’particularly strong 1963 Dick Powell Theater ep. Apples Don’t Fall FarMichel Simon & Alain Cohen in Claude Berri’s Le vieil homme et l'enfant/The Two of Us, Wu Ma and Kun-Hsuan Huang in Anne Hui’s Shanghai jiaqi/My American Grandson, or Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neal in Jules Dassin’s Circle of Two. Ponder a season made up of those.

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