Always a hot ticket item here on Sydney’s Norton Street, the Lavazza Italian Film Festival is spreading itself widely across Palace Cinemas’ Sydney venues all this month from Sept 11, as well as running in all the other capital cities.
Now in its 19th year, this passionate love-child of long-time festival curator Elysia Zeccola has become Palace’s biggest and most beloved festival. And this year she’s chosen a particularly strong selection – with a more than usual number of critically acclaimed international hits.
There’s actually been quite a revival in the quality of Italian cinema in recent years – in inverse proportion to the country’s economic and political woes. Or perhaps because of them – for fittingly enough, Italians are ever-ready to cast an acerbic and critical eye over all aspects of public life in their homeland. Although an equally characteristic approach is to simply to poke as much fun as possible, and laugh out loud at its absurdities.
But how to choose from among the 39 films on offer? As part of our giveaway offering double passes to festival films, we asked competition entrants to name the film they were most interested in seeing. So here’s our readers’ top 5 choices – plus a few suggestions from us as well.
By far the most highly anticipated is the festival opener from The Great Beauty’s director Paolo Sorrentino, which looks at the scandal-plagued reign of Silvio Berlusconi. While the rest of us are still reeling from Donald Trump, with every new day revealing what it actually means to have a vulgar, power-mad buffoon as president, it’s definitely worth remembering that the Italians have seen it all before. Did they learn from the experience? Er… no, but at least we can all now cast a cinematic eye back on an epoch of debauchery and utterly mad politics with Toni Servillo playing the outrageous president. The Wrap says, “Italy has rarely looked so stunning and soulless,” and then proclaims it, “The definitive Paolo Sorrentino film to date. It’s brash, stylish, and silly… That it exists in the #MeToo era is a miracle.” We’ll treat that as a trigger warning! More details and trailer
Worth a look: Toni Servillo turns up again in The Girl In The Fog, a highly unusual, Coen Brothers-like suspense thriller. He plays a cynical, manipulative and dishonest detective, who may be the only one who can solve a missing teen murder-mystery in a misty small town in the mountains.
Director Matteo Garrone’s highly acclaimed 2008 crime drama Gomorra is widely regarded as one of the best Mafia movies ever made, and his latest Cannes hit is generating a similar buzz. He stays within the gangster milieu here, but takes a lighter approach in a tale of a dog groomer and small time coke dealer (Marcello Fonte). Though fans of hard-edged Italian cinema will find themselves in very familiar turf – a bleak world of cynicism, brutality and sycophancy set in an unbelievably ugly derelict urban estate. Ahh, Italy today… no wonder its birth-rate is so low… More details and trailer
Worth a look: Boy’s Cry is still in Gomorra-land, although this time on the outskirts of Rome. Two clueless young pizza-delivery guys are lured into a life of crime after they accidentally run over and kill an informer. Instead of going to the cops, they spot a career opportunity – as killers for hire. This could only happen in Italy.
Love and Bullets
The Manetti Brothers’ Naples-set musical comedy about a Camorra boss and his henchman won five awards including Best Film at the 2018 Italian Academy (David di Donatello) Awards, and was also in competition at the Venice Film Festival. Though there it seems to have sharply divided critics. Hollywood Reporter called it “The year’s best-received Italian film in competition… a real crowd-pleaser,” while Variety labelled it “a self-indulgent romp through standard Neapolitan stereotypes.” Not previewed by Ciao, so who knows, but any film which includes satirical dance number featuring a bunch of American tourists joyfully singing about their “ultimate touristic experience” of being robbed in Italy is surely worth seeing. More details and trailer
Worth a look: Put Nonna in the Freezer, a black comedy about a woman getting by with the help of her Nonna’s pension. But what happens when Nonna dies? The title says it all – this is Italy where swindling the state is a national sport.
Happy as Lazzaro
Alice Rohrwacher’s huge Cannes hit (where it won Best Screenplay) is set an idyllic country village, where a simple peasant boy (Adriano Tardiolo) becomes embroiled in the corrupt plans of the local townsfolk. Gradually it becomes more surreal, gathering symbolic force along the way. Unlike Love and Bullets, everyone has loved this one. Variety wrote – “A slow but bewitching burn that rewards viewers’ patience with humor and uncanny grace, sealing Rohrwacher’s status…as a truly distinctive European major.” More details and trailer
Worth a look: Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino has an updated version of Suspiria, Dario Argento’s highly regarded “neon-soaked nightmare,” due in cinemas this November. Fans and critics have not been happy, suggesting that the 1977 horror classic should not have been remade. Check it for yourself, that original is the festival’s closing night special.
Daughter of Mine
Laura Bispuri’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut Sworn Virgin screened in competition at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival, and stands a good chance of taking out this festival’s Bvlgari Critics Choice Award. It’s an intense family drama set in sun-drenched Sardinia, and tells the dramatic story of a young girl torn between two mothers – her sedate but loving protective parent (Valeria Gollino) and her wild, unpredictable birth mother (Alba Rohrwacher). A 100% Rotten Tomatoes approval bodes well, with Screen International declaring it “beautifully acted and crafted.” More details and trailer
Worth a look: With Italy’s new right-wing government saying it wants to copy Australia’s hard-line border control policies, the stylish, and refreshingly non-preachy The Order of Things from director Corrado Rinaldi makes for fascinating and timely viewing. It dives into the real-politics of immigration with a sensitivity and verve rarely seen, following a high-level Interior Ministry official (Paulo Pierobon) who breaks the cardinal rule of his profession by getting to know a Somali woman refugee.
Also worth a look: Loose Cannons, a 2010 coming out drama described by Empire magazine as a “slickly funny and polished romantic-comedy” is screening as part of the Spotlight on Ferzan Ozetek section. He’s a director with a well-established a track record of nuanced comic dramas about people negotiating points of transition and uncertainty in their lives, and three more of his features are also screening. There’s another more recent LGBTI comedy in the festival too – My Big Gay Italian Wedding, which also involves coming out to traditional parents. Catchy title, but isn’t it misleading? I’m sure the film is a hoot but allow me to be boringly pedantic… And point out, that although Italy did recognise same-sex civil unions in 2016, unlike the rest of Western Europe, the country has yet to introduce equal marriage.
Compiled by – Russell Edwards
The Lavazza Italian Film Festival is at these Palace locations:
Sydney: 11 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Chauvel Cinemas, Palace Central
Canberra: 12 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Electric Cinemas
Melbourne: 13 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth, Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Kino Cinemas, The Astor Theatre
Brisbane: 19 Sept – 14 Oct, Palace Barracks and Palace Centro
Adelaide: 19 Sept – 14 Oct, Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas and Palace Nova Prospect Cinemas
Perth: 27 Sept – 17 Oct, Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX
Hobart: 18 Oct – 24 Oct, The State Cinema
For more information visit: www.italianfilmfestival.com.au
Or pick up the festival guide from Palace Cinemas