The parade of film festivals goes on, continuing to bring Wellington film fans a selection of the hundreds of films made and released all over the world every year. The relentless tide of features and documentaries gets filtered in various ways — through the lens of sexuality and gender, for example. Or generic convention. In the case of the New Zealand International Film Festival, the filter is the unrivalled combination of good taste and nearly 40 years of experience that belongs to director Bill Gosden — an act that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone following.
In other cases, the lens focuses on regional cinema. In this domain, until recently the Italian Film Festival has reigned supreme — more centres, better marketing, more films, better food at the opening night, etc. But their counterparts across the Euro zone are stepping up their game. The French Film Festival now has extremely good sponsorship and support from the French state broadcaster to bring Kiwi media to Paris for interviews (a junket that, thus far, your correspondent has missed out on). And the Germans returned to the fray with an impressive entry at the Paramount only last month.
So, how have the Italians responded? By tightening their belts a little — or at least tightening ours by cancelling the media launch and opening night shindig, meaning no more free feed for those hungry for Nicolini’s tiramisu as well as the the sights and sounds of Milan, Rome and Sicily. It’s a sensible move, encouraging audiences and media to focus on the pictures — and there are a few worth paying attention to.
Valeria Golino is best known as an actor, but her first film as director won her a special mention and a nomination in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes in 2013. In Honey (Miele), Jasmine Trinca is a mysterious and unknowable young woman who makes a living in the fraught world of assisted suicide. When she meets a client who is not only not sick but in somewhat rude health, all her assumptions about the rightness of her mission are called into question.
With several scenes of quite remarkable, quiet power, Honey can sometimes frustrate when the title character continually refuses to let people — including us — into her inner life, but that’s really just the set-up for a powerful pay-off.
Equally frustrating — but equally impossible to take your eyes off — is Salvo, a thriller about a Sicilian Mafia enforcer whose tough exterior is melted by the blind sister of a ‘hit’. So far, so clichéd. But the telling is like nothing you’ve ever seen before — mostly wordless, often told in movement like a Pina Bausch dance.
In both of these films almost all of their qualities lie under the surface — still waters running deep, etc. Much less than meets the eye grabs you in Roberto Andò’s Long Live Freedom (Viva la libertà), starring Toni Servillo (you’ll remember him from Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty) in dual roles as a jaded politician and the eccentric twin brother who masquerades as him when he needs some time out from the campaign trail. Of course, the truth-telling twin is an immediate hit, despite spouting some unbelievable twaddle — quoting Brecht, of all people, at a rally — while the senator has an equally unlikely fling with a pretty motion-picture production assistant.
It’s nonsense, frankly, but it romped home with a stack of Italian Oscars and Servillo is always watchable, even when he’s given this little to work with.
The Italian Film Festival runs from 9 to 26 October at the Embassy Theatre (italianfilmfestival.co.nz).