Preview: Cinema Italiano Festival
10:07 am on 31 August 2017
Dan Slevin dan.slevin@radionz.co.nz

If you still have any room left on your credit card after the New Zealand international Film Festival, Dan Slevin recommends you splurge on the latest festival celebrating Italian cinema which is on in Auckland now.

The Italian Film Festival used to be the biggest of the regional film celebrations. Piggy-backing on the massively successful Australian event, it ran out of steam post-GFC as sponsorship became harder to find, eventually giving up the ghost in 2015. The resurgence of the French Film Festival under the auspices of the Alliance Française means that they now hold the Champions League trophy for regional film festivals in New Zealand.

Italian cinema is too interesting – and too powerful – to be kept off our screens for long but it took a brave man to pick up the challenge and that man is actor, writer and director Paolo Rotondo – once a beneficiary of the previous Italian Film Festival’s boldest move during the good times, a scholarship to work alongside professional filmmakers at the fabled Cinecittá in Rome.

The Cinema Italiano festival has been quietly – and successfully – touring around the regions this year, finding understandable favour with audiences in Christchurch, Nelson, Tauranga, and Havelock North before landing in Auckland this week (and Wellington in November). If your credit card can still sustain some big screen entertainment after the gluttony of the New Zealand International Film Festival, Auckland audiences should head over to the Bridgeway in Northcote and indulge in some – it’s not antipasto if it’s after the main course, is it? – in some dolce.

Among the 20 features in the programme (including two unmissable vintage pictures – Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday which is Italian in spirit and setting at least, and Visconti’s restored classic Rocco and His Brothers), Signor Rotondo offered me an advance look at a couple.

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Laura Morante is better known as an actor than a director but her Assolo (Solo) helps nudge me toward my distant goal of #52filmsbywomen in 2017 as well as being one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen this year. Morante directs herself as Flavia, a divorcee in her 40s whose fate it seems is to be disappointed by men. I’m not sure what sort of revelation this is supposed to be, but maybe in Italy it still needs saying.

From awkward family dinners to wallflower tango classes, life conspires to frustrate Flavia, and even attempts at self-pleasure are destined go awry. It’s a broad comedy – a ‘gag’ comedy – but it has a big heart and Morante plays things perfectly, even when she’s upstaged by the best dog acting I’ve seen this year.

The second film I saw was also dominated by a central performance but to slightly less success. In Veloce Come Il Vento (Italian Race), Stefano Accorsi plays Loris, a former rally driver now a heroin addict, forced to reconnect with his family after the death of his father. His teenage sister Giulia (Matilda De Angelis) is a talented driver with a shot at the Italian GT championship but now she has no coach – and if she doesn’t win the trophy the family loses the house!

Accorsi is an acquired taste – playing the junkie as physically wobbly and emotionally unreliable but as a single unrelenting note – but the supporting players conjure up shades of grey and the driving scenes are when the film really comes to life. Young director Matteo Rovere shows veteran Ron Howard (whose F1 feature Rush needed too much digital enhancement to provide anything near the excitement motorsport fans are used to every day of the week on TV) how it should be done.

(Evidently, I am out of step with Italian cinema orthodoxy here as Accorsi swept all the acting awards for Italian cinema in 2016 and 2017.)

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