There’s no neat way to sum up the range of style and talent at this year’s Cinema Italian-Style Festival at SIFF Cinema Uptown (Nov 9-16), except that it will draw from the richest veins of the country’s filmic life. For one thing, two films cast nonprofessionals in lead roles, a hallmark of the neorealism movement of the 1940s and 1950s. The War of the Yokels (Nov 10) stars young first-time actors in a visceral fable about a war between rich and poor teenagers in rural Puglia. (The film is in the Pugliese dialect and had subtitles even for its domestic release.) A Ciambra (Nov 13), the second film by Jonas Carpignano, and this year’s Italian Oscar submission, immerses itself in the life and community of a marginalized Roma boy (played by the nonprofessional Pio Amato, also the name of the character) as he sets out to prove he’s a grown man.
Speaking of neorealism: If you have any doubts that filmmaking can be an expression of profound love and empathy for one’s fellow humans (and animals), see the restoration of Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (Nov 11), a 1952 masterpiece about a destitute retired civil servant, his desire to die with dignity, and his bond with an adorable dog. The titular character was played by an elderly professor in his first and only screen role. De Sica and the new directors alike have sought to capture a more immediate, more truthful relationship with life by undermining artifice, and these three films show the diverse results of this neorealist philosophy.
That said, the professional actors merit watching too—from the Palme d’Or-winning Jasmine Trinca in Lucky (Nov 15), about a single mother determined to start anew after an abusive marriage, to Renato Carpentieri as an old man estranged from his children in Holding Hands (Nov 12). But if you don’t want to deal with anything too heavy, Cinema Italian-Style makes a grand case for Italy’s tradition of slapstick. The opening night film At War For Love (Nov 9) may take place among soldiers and dons in World War II-era Sicily, but that’s just evidence that Italians take their comedy very seriously. There’s also a mafia-mocking rock musical on November 14 (Love and Bullets, a US premiere) and, as a closing night feature, a surreal tale of an ex go-kart champion hired to transport a coffin to Ukraine, Easy (Nov 16).
If you’ve never been, make this your first rendezvous with Cinema Italian-Style. It looks like a particularly good year, full of the humanist spirit and earnest fun that’s always abounded in the country’s art. It might be exactly what you need as the year grows dismal.
More information about Cinema Italian-Style can be gathered on Movie Times.