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NZ Salvo 1The 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 (

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