FOR A FEW YEARS IN THE '70S, ITALIAN director Marco Ferreri was a considerable--and scandalous--success. I hear nothing but great things about his early film Dillinger is Dead, while his 1973 feature La Grande Bouffe provoked one of the nastiest and most entertaining fistfights in the history of the Cannes festival. Though he's still active, he rather quickly fell out of fashion. Well, fashion's been wrong before; does he deserve a second look? The Grand Illusion thinks so, and is presenting two of his films. Neither convinces me we've been missing out on a major talent, though both have their redeeming qualities.

1979's Seeking Asylum stars a youthful and charmingly restrained Roberto Benigni as an unorthodox kindergarten schoolteacher, who wins the hearts of his young charges through such acts as bringing a donkey to school, and taking the class on an illegal field trip to visit their parents at the town factory. There's a nice double-edge here: As repressive as the film finds society, it makes it clear that Benigni's behavior has selfish dimensions. Ultimately though, its arguments are barely thought out, and it veers too close and too often towards whimsy for the satire to draw real blood.

Ferreri followed this up in 1981 with Tales of Ordinary Madness, a Charles Bukowski adaptation filmed in America, with Ben Gazzara as the heavy-drinking, hard-fucking, brilliant writer putting up with the cruel demands of women, pimps, and arrogant capitalists. Like its source, the concerns are so narrow that pretty quickly we're stuck in the been-there-done-that mode, but Gazzara is terrific. Rather than the oversized self-aggrandizing most actors bring to Bukowski-esque roles, Gazzara opts for a weary (not even boozy) immobility; someone who's seen way too much for anything to shock him, though his sad smile tells you he keeps hoping something, anything, will.

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