Tuesday May 1, 9:30pm
I Am Love (2009)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Gabriele Ferzetti, Pippo Delbono
Tuesday May 8, 9:30pm
Il Divo (2008)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Flavio Bucci
Tuesday May 15, 9:30pm
Our Life (2010)
Director: Daniele Luchetti
Starring: Elio Germano, Raoul Bova, Stefania Montorsi
Tuesday May 22, 9:30pm
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Starring: Filippo Timi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Fausto Russo Alesi
Tuesday May 29, 9:30pm
The Big Dream (2009)
Director: Michele Placido
Starring: Riccardo Scamarcio, Jasmine Trinca, Luca Argentero
In his remarkable documentary Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (My Voyage to Italy, 1999), Martin Scorsese talks about his debt, both thematic and spiritual, to the Italian cinema in the decades following World War II. “The more films I made,” says the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, “the more I realised what an indelible mark Italian cinema had left on me.”
Scorsese’s not the only one. But as much as Italy’s moviemaking history is crucial to the medium’s history – think Roberto Rossellini’s Open City, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura – there’s a contemporary scene also worthy of investigation. On Tuesday nights during May SBS screens a season of Italian films that both build on the past’s grand achievements and suggest new visions of what is an increasingly complex nation.
Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love (2009, May 1) is the title that feels most deeply connected to the strong currents of previous Italian filmmakers, with his visually graceful exploration of unexpected change within a wealthy Milanese dynasty recalling the films of Luchino Visconti (particularly 1963’s magisterial The Leopard). Like the setting, the picture is rigorously controlled, with the design of the hermetic milieu showing a world that has corralled the very emotions of Emma (Tilda Swinton), a Russian who has married into the aristocratic Recchi clan.
Even as the family’s business interests are tested by the modern world, the increasingly rich visual aesthetic and the score by John Adams combine to coax Emma out of her matriarchal reserve. She initiates an affair with a chef, her son’s friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), and Swinton is astounding as a woman coming alive to sensation and feeling even as it threatens the life she has so carefully arranged. This is sensual and authentic melodrama, and it adheres to the tradition that such satisfaction can only lead to tragedy.
Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, and in that time the country has had more than 60 governments – they last, on average, just over a year, and that constant swirl of coalitions has often left a void in the country that has been filled by everything from the radical Red Brigade terrorists of the 1970s to the more recent machinations of Silvio Berlusconi. Probably the most nuanced examination of the political scene is Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo (2008, May 8), a tellingly stylised biopic of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who served repeatedly as Prime Minister until he was charged with crimes that include murder.
As played by Toni Servillo (left), Andreotti is almost bereft of emotion, an undertaker with thick glasses and clenched shoulders who scurries through grand buildings he controls like an interloper hoping not to be noticed. Sorrentino avoids the narrative of a standard biopic for precise images from the politician’s world, and the power Andreotti wields bends the story to him. He denies all the accusations, but confesses in a furious private monologue, eventually explaining that, “You must love God enough to know that good needs evil.”
With its nods to the neorealist movement that introduced Italian cinema to the world in the 1940s and 1950s, Daniele Luchetti Our Life (2010, May 15) offers a strong portrait of how a country of strong traditions is changing rapidly, unsettling a population often ill-equipped for the 21st century. Elio Germano plays Claudio, a construction worker from the outskirts of Rome with a wife and family who tries to advance his family’s fortunes by covering up the death of an illegal immigrant in exchange for a promotion.
Luchetti reveals a world where everything is fixed illegally, with Claudio having to deal with a workforce of illegal immigrants as well as the friends of the dead man, two Romanians, who come looking for him. The loving father befriends the searchers, but it only drags him deeper into a world where the old tenets of job, family and retirement are falling away. Claudio’s guilt, played out as nervous energy by Germano, makes the situation palpably real.
Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere (2009, May 22, pictured top) finds the perfect example to use to look at the relationship between the sexes in Italy, a country where the Madonna-whore complex was seemingly invented. His period piece dramatises the story of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who was the unacknowledged first wife that Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) erased from his life when he became Italy’s dictator in 1922. The picture recreates the Italy of a century ago, although the rise of extremism has unfortunate parallels to today.
The young Mussolini, a firebrand, seduces both Ida and eventually the country, and despite eventually recognising their son (who Timi briefly and memorably also plays as a grown man), she is increasingly persecuted when Mussolini, who also married another mistress, needs to have the correct public image. Bellochio paints Ida Dalser as a tragic figure, and her suffering becomes a kind of crucifixion upon which Italy’s sin in giving power to Mussolini is played out in swathes of tear-soaked suffering. The film leaves you emotionally spent.
The season ends with the semi-autobiographical The Big Dream (2009, May 31), where the veteran actor and director Michele Placido recreates his own youth as a disaffected policeman who dreams of being an actor in the story of Nicola (Riccardo Scamarcio), a police officer ordered to infiltrate the student-led occupation of the University of Rome during the heady political uprisings of 1968. Nicola begins an affair with the Laura (Jasmine Trinca), who is unaware of his true affiliation.
As in France, 1968 was a huge turning point in Italian public life, although the only person who doesn’t appreciate what is happening is Nicola. The film is at its best when it examines Laura’s conservative family, who are struggling to stay united as national divisions reach the family home. Like the other dramas screening across May, Placido’s work recognises the bustle and stress of Italian life, the contradictory impulses and the sometimes flawed prescriptive cures. The only thing that’s agreed on, thankfully, is that the cinema is vital to making sense of it all.