Ever since most inner west cinema-lovers can remember, September has been a special month on Norton St. For that’s when the Lavazza Italian Film Festival comes to town.
Established in 2000 by Palace Cinema’s founder Antonio Zeccola, the Lavazza Italian Film Festival has continued to grow every year, and been enthusiastically welcomed by audiences all over the country. So much so that it is now the largest Italian film festival in the world outside of Italy, and this year will run for a full month at Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona and Chauvel Cinemas.
For a while now Antonio’s cinema-loving daughter Elysia Zeccola has been the festival’s director. Once again she has carefully selected films to satisfy lovers of all things Italian as well as serious film buffs, with a broad range of new comedies, engrossing dramas, romantic stories, crime thrillers and festival hits – the latter often straight from their Venice, Rome, Berlin and Cannes Festival premieres. Outstanding cinematography and characteristically caustic Italian humour feature in many, and as always, Italian directors just love to righteously expose the sleazy side of their national life, while not-so-secretly reveling in it.
This year, the festival’s eighteenth, the line-up of hard-hitting films is particularly strong, and for the first time Palace will present an official competition – similar to the one run by Sydney Film Festival.
Six outstanding films will compete for a $10,000 prize in the Bulgari Cinema Award, and the winner selected by an esteemed panel of six judges (including actor and festival patron Greta Scacchi, Radio National’s film critic Jason di Rossi and local director Ruth Borgobelo) will be announced on Sept 20. The six films in competition are Fortunata, an emotional charged story of a single mother (pictured above); the offbeat and internationally acclaimed Indivisible; a visually superb redemption drama I Was A Dreamer; exciting new director Roberto De Paolis’ Pure Hearts, which was selected for Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight; an evocative mix of fairy tale and Mafia crime, Sicilian Ghost Story; and the funny yet poignant satire At War For Love from the maker of the hit The Mafia Only Kills in Summer.
Those more attuned to popular mainstream hits have plenty to choose from too. A good start would be the winner of the 2017 Italian Golden Globe for Best Comedy Let Yourself Go – which opens the festival with many more screenings throughout the month. It’s a screwball comedy with smart, fast-paced dialogue and top-notch performances from director Francesco Amato. Toni Servillo stars as an uptight psychoanalyst, whose life is upended when a zesty an attractive personal trainer (Veronica Echegui) drags him into a swirling vortex of mishaps and misunderstandings.
Laughs aplenty too in Luca Miniero’s (Welcome to the North) new comedy Merry Christmas. The mayor (Claudio Bisio) of a small island town has to enlist the help of local Islam convert Bilal (Alessandro Gassmanto) find a child to play baby Jesus in the traditional Christmas nativity scene. But the island’s birth rate has been zero for years, so the only solution may be to change Jesus’ nationality, and even his religion…
One lovely little gem deserves a special mention. Katia Bernardi’s Sea Dreaming Girls is a joyous doco about living carefree at any age. In a tiny Northern Italian mountain village, a group of elderly women plan a holiday to the ocean, something most of them have never experienced. But first they have to raise enough money. Led by the plain-speaking chain-smoking Erminia, the grannies soon find a way to wiggle their toes in the surf.
The festival all wraps on October 8 with a classic – LIFF Closing Night will feature a special 20th anniversary screening of Life Is Beautiful starring Roberto Benigni, Italy’s undisputed king of slapstick.
For the full program and more info about all the films and special events, head to the festival website. Tickets are on sale there, and don’t delay too long before you book. Screenings often fill up and as we know only too sadly, often festivals are the only time these high quality films will be shown in this country.
Double pass ticket giveaway
Thanks to Palace Cinemas we have 10 double in-season passes to festival films up for grabs. And as always it’s really easy to enter, just email your name and address to email@example.com letting us know you are reading us online. But just to make it just a little bit more challenging – also tell us who this years’ festival ambassador is (hint: She’s the well-known Australian/Italian actor who starred as Josie’s mum in Looking For Alibrandi).