Daughter Of Mine (2018)

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Directed by Laura Bispuri
Country: Italy

Laura Bispuri’s sophomore feature Daughter Of Mine takes mother-daughter relationships to an interesting level. Lifted by the sharp performances of its ensemble cast, this is an emotionally resonant tale that, still, could have offered more than just some modest pleasures.

The story centers on Vittoria (Sara Casu), a bashful 10-year-old who lives in a quiet Sardinian village with her mother, Tina (Valeria Golino), and father, Umberto (Michele Carboni). One day, she finds out she was adopted at birth and that her biological mother is Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, the younger sister of prestigious director Alice Rohrwacher), an alcoholic young woman who spends her nights at the local bar asking men to pay her drinks. The good-hearted Tina has helped her financially since the kid was born, but now the young lady faces an eviction order that has no solution in sight.

Meanwhile, Vittoria starts visiting Angelica without Tina’s knowledge. The tactless, irresponsible young mother seems pleased for having the kid around before departing for good. In such a way that Tina becomes distressed with the idea of losing her only daughter. It’s sad when we conclude that this sudden bond has ulterior motives.

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Interesting dynamics emerge from this triangle and there are a few ignominious situations to which a 10-year-old shouldn’t be exposed. They serve as emotional shockers in a journey that feels at once tough and merciful. After all, Vittoria is a victim of the circumstances.

If Golino convinces without enchanting, Rohrwacher, in her second collaboration with Bispuri, gives one of her best performances by shaping her character as it should be - with no structure, no reliability, no will to change. As far as the young Casu is concerned, this is an agreeable surprise with the qualified newcomer revealing strong acting skills as she personifies the object of dispute between the mothers.

Whereas Bispuri’s direction is guileless and focused, the script, co-written with Francesca Manieri, could have been slightly adjusted, especially in its final section where the complexity of the situation spins no payoff and got me a bit frustrated.

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Happy As Lazzaro (2018)

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Directed by Alice Rohrwacher
Country: Italy

Alice Rohrwacher keeps up the remarkable directorial career initiated in 2011 with Corpo Celeste and followed by The Wonders in 2014. Communicating with a superbly controlled cinematic language, the Italian director conjures up a surreal folktale in her third feature, Happy As Lazzaro, in which tradition and contemporaneity splice together with tribulation and grief.

Written in a somewhat prophetic way and told with a Visconti-like conviction, the film depicts the methodical life and daily struggles of the few naive sharecroppers that inhabit Inviolata, a mountainous off-the-beaten-track village. Among the youngest natives are Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) and Antonia (director’s sister Alba Rohrwacher). The former, a pure-hearted young man who never complains about anything, is constantly solicited by those who need help, while the latter was selected to be the servant of the Marquise Alfonsina de Luna (Nicoletta Braschi), queen of cigarettes and wealthy proprietor of the local estate.

Shamefully, the Marquise exploits the villagers with the help of Nicola (Natalino Balasso), a tricky trader, who devours the bread and wine of the humble locals without giving them a cent in exchange. If anyone gets pretty bored around there, that person is Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), the Marquise’s rebellious son, who calls his mother a torturer. He forges an unlikely friendship with Lazzaro at the same time that simulates his own kidnapping.

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Leaving the village is considered disrespect to the family and requires the Marquise's consent, but when Lazzaro wakes up from a long sleep, which epitomizes his own death, he finds no one but two burglars in the Marquise’s now decrepit house. One of the men is Pippo, Antonia’s son, but he is grown up and unrecognizable. Lazzaro, who didn’t age during all the years that have passed, reconnects with his family again in an unexplored city, where they struggle to survive. Either considered a ghost or a saint, Lazzaro searches for an adult Tancredi (Tommaso Ragno) and eventually finds him at the time he was trying to fraudulently sell Inviolata, now a property of the bank. Both got very happy with the reconnection, but modern society is a tough ‘place’ to live. Unfitted and misunderstood, our placid young star shed tears, suffering with his new reality.

Reinforced by the story of the saint and the wolf, the film counterpoints subjugation and freedom, in a thoughtful coupling between the mundane and the fantastic. Rohrwacher’s ability to acknowledge pain without being depressing is an asset, and her work is nothing less than a seductive elegy that overflows with imagination and pulsating heart. Despite the idyllic nature of great part of the story, the pace was never affected. In fact, it was often used to lure and hypnotize in conjunction with the powerful images.

It was curious to observe that, even being exploited, the hard-working peasants were so much happier in the countryside, where the economic factors were never the main reasons to exist. Not eschewing subtly wry humor, this depiction of irreparable loss, is an eye-opener for the strange direction the world is taking these days. Rohrwacher’s work is brilliant and very much recommended.

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Dogman (2018)

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Directed by Matteo Garrone
Country: Italy

Matteo Garrone is a compelling Italian director who always brings an authentic ‘mafiosi’ flavor to his thoughtful films, exception made to Tale Of Tales, an incursion into fantasy/adventure, which deviates from his habitually native topics. His bleak, lowlife crime drama Dogman is an excellent addition to a worthy filmography that also includes Gomorrah and Reality.

Co-written by Garrone and his frequent collaborators Ugo Chiti and Massimo Gaudioso, the story has Marcello (Marcello Fonte) at its center, a gentle and patient dog groomer whom everyone in the neighborhood is fond of. However, by looking at his smiling face and maladroit expression, you wouldn’t say he hides a dark secret. Marcello sells cocaine on the side in order to support his beloved daughter Alida (Alida Baldari Calabria).

Despite the worries of his closest friends - bar owner Francesco (Francesco Acquaroli) and gold jewelry proprietor Franco (Adamo Dionisi) - regarding Simone (Edoardo Pesce), an unruly, violent, addictive former boxer who terrorizes the neighborhood, he still wants to be his friend. Even when forced to join the thug in robberies without being paid. This sort of fascination for an ungrateful criminal who constantly takes advantage of his fragile posture and good nature is the film’s most difficult part to cope with.

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When Simone engenders a plan to rob Francesco’s gold from the inside of Dogman, Marcello’s store, the things change radically. The robbery is sloppily executed and Marcello is left in a very delicate position: he whether takes the responsibility for the infraction or denounces Simone to the police. The option of spending one year in prison for his ‘friend’ wasn’t surprising at all. Yet, it will make him tougher and resolute in his future decisions, which include demanding the respect of the beast he covered up.

Fonte gives a blistering central performance and is deservedly rewarded in Cannes, winning in the Best Actor category. Beautifully shot, this character study fascinates in an almost perverse way, building up adequate levels of tension throughout and bursting with disturbing scenes of violence. It is also a tale of solitude, equally tragic and funny, heavy and whimsical.

While the Italian cinema gives signs to come back to life, Dogman is a great choice if you’re sick of showy crime trifles that arrive from Hollywood on a regular basis.

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Country: Italy 

The praiseworthy dramas of Italian director Luca Guadagnino always give us something to think about and to remember. Usually, the mature stories he addresses are set in his country of origin, involving local and foreign characters, whose experiences are unhurriedly depicted with a true heart and a non-judgmental posture.

If the British Tilda Swinton was the star in the previous installments of his Desire trilogy, “I Am Love” and “The Bigger Splash”, the American actor Armie Hammer was the one to appear in the bold final installment, “Call Me By Your Name”. 

Hammer is Oliver, a handsome 24-year-old anthropology doctorate who arrives at the Northern Italian countryside to intern for six weeks with professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), a summit in the field.
The year is 1983, and the sun abundantly bathes the beautiful villa of the Perlmans. All the members of this American Jewish family are excited to receive the also American Jewish Oliver, with the exception of the 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the professor’s eldest son, who sees his privacy compromised and his comfort dimmed. Besides sharing the bathroom with the guest, he was politely forced to offer his room either. It’s perceptible that Elio is a bit annoyed by Oliver's arrogance and carefree posture. However, on the other hand, he becomes very attracted to this man, whose sociable nature, self-confidence, and irresistible charm have a magnetic effect on him.
 
Both the adult and the teenager flirt with girls. The older one with the local Chiara (Victoire Du Bois), and the younger with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), a Parisienne around his age, who is experiencing love for the first time. But the compulsive seduction game between the men keeps happening as their desire grows without dissimulation or fears. This is naturally depicted rather than forced.

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Despite having sharp eyes, Elio’s lenient parents don’t meddle directly in their son’s affairs. They seem inattentive and a bit detached, with the housekeeper, Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo), assuming the authority and rebuking Elio whenever he deserves.
Yet, this initial perception has proven to be false, since the couple, aware of the special bond between their son and their guest, suggest they take a farewell trip to Bologna.
 
The drama is filled with raw emotions and evinces an incredible honesty in terms of storytelling. The filmmaking style, evoking the wonderfully languid cinema of Eric Rohmer and Bernardo Bertolucci, reflects, even more, the vivid three-dimensionality of the characters. Guadagnino did an amazing job with John Ivory’s script, an adaptation of André Aciman’s novel of the same name, and was granted with superior performances by Chalamet and Hammer in order to bring to the surface any emotional complexity that their words couldn't express. 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, opted to shoot in 35-mm to accurately capture the sexual awakening of a young man, who, at the end, becomes inconsolable, suffering violently with the loss of his first true love. Who hadn’t been there?

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The Confessions (2016)

Directed by Roberto Andò
Country: Italy

Roberto Andò’s multi-lingual "The Confessions" looks at the filthy capitalist side of the world with a sneering disdain and confronts it with suggestive topics such as religion and the supernatural.

As it happened in the political satire "Long Live the Freedom" (2013), the Sicilian filmmaker teams up with the one and only Toni Servillo ("The Great Beauty", "Il Divo"), who plays a Carthusian monk turned into the main suspect in the death of the wealthy French economist Daniel Roché (Daniel Auteuil), director of the International Monetary Fund. The tragic incident occurs during a G8 confidential meeting convoked by the president himself, who, after a long confession with Father Roberto Salus (Servillo), a man of untrembling faith, is found in his hotel room choked with a plastic bag tied over his head.

None of the ministers or guests can leave the luxurious German hotel exclusively reserved for the event before the detective in charge concludes the investigations that will determine whether if it was a suicide or murder. The procedures take a long and sinuous course because the monk’s mouth is sealed by a strict vow of silence, which increases the mistrust and insecurity among the group.

By itself, the simple convocation of the monk for this meeting is an enigma, but the fact that he was the last person seeing the banker before his death along with a few other relevant details, make him the center of everyone’s attention. 

Pushed to the limit to tell what he knows, the mysterious Father Salus becomes the most sought after personality in the hotel for various reasons. While the elusive Italian minister Antonio Varelli (Pierfrancesco Favino), worried about his reputation, agrees to confess his sins to relieve his conscience, other ministers, particularly the ones from the UK and the US, just want to get rid of him since he might be in possession of classified information. From here, we conclude that what they were about to approve wouldn't be beneficial for the world at all but for their pockets and personal interests.

This tense dance between God and the devil, dispossession and financial power, repent and sin, takes almost the shape of one of Agatha Christie’s cases with uncertainty and mysticism alike. 

Salus’ best ally ends up being Claire Seth (Connie Nielsen), a famous writer of books for children, who developed a steep curiosity for the monk since the minute she laid her eyes on him. Besides them, there’s another outsider, Mark Klein (Moritz Bleibtreu), a guest musician who tries to conquer Ms. Seth with his gallantry when he’s not entertaining everyone with country-like renditions of tunes like Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side.

Andò co-wrote the script with his close collaborator Angelo Pasquini, resorting to mordant, funny lines to censure the secrecy and hypocrisy of the world’s financial state of affairs, a concern that he dares to compare to the Mafia.

Packed with ironic scenes accurately framed by cinematographer Maurizio Calvesi, who was able to find the right tonic between the light and the shadow, and enhanced by Nicola Piovani’s uncanny score, "The Confessions" flows at a steady pace, avoiding abrupt frenzied spins beyond an unfathomable surreal finale that is worthy of the best illusionists.
One thought weighs in the end: silence, no one can buy.

Suburra (2015)

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Directed by Stefano Sollima
Country: Italy / France

Once there was “Gomorrah”, a powerful examination about the Neapolitan mafia. Now there’s “Suburra”, another Italian eye-opener, whose title derives from an area of Rome. This film also addresses the Italian crime syndicate but focusing its strong connection with the abusive political system through dirty schemes and games of power, lust, corruption, treason, and revenge.

The story spans over eight days of November 2011, and starts by bringing out the true nature of the parliamentary politician, Filippo Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino), a lascivious, prepotent man who relies on the taste of his regular hooker, Ninni (Giulia Gorietti), to find a second woman to participate in their wild sexual sessions loaded with drugs. 
One night, before explaining to his wife how busy he was at work, he goes to a fancy hotel where Ninni was waiting for him with a minor girl, as he has asked. Sadly, the youngster doesn’t resist to an overdose, leaving the other two in the verge of a panic attack. To avoid a public scandal and get rid of the body, Ninni remembers to call the atrocious Dagger (Giacomo Ferrara), the younger brother of Manfredi Anacleti (Adamo Dionisi), the face of a dangerously established gipsy turf.
Simultaneously, a highly respected Mafiosi, Samurai (Claudio Amendola), is looking for the families’ interests in the real estate field, but for that to occur, he needs to convince Aureliano (Alessandro Borghi) to refrain his impetuous actions of violence for a while. To put it simple: peace is imperative among the turfs as Malgradi tries to pass a suburban law that allows the construction of the huge real estate project.
However, Samurai’s intentions are shattered when Dagger, who had threatened to snitch Malgradi, is slain by the tempestuous Aureliano. Manfredi swears to avenge the death of his brother, getting the name of the presumable killer from the well-related Seba (Elio Germano) who was made responsible for his father’s debts by the Anacleti clan.

The director, Stefano Sollima (“All Cops Are Bastards”), certainly took advantage of the fact that the screenplay was co-written by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo, the authors of the novel that inspired the film. 
Despite the numerous characters, the filmmaker articulates well the relationships between them within a lucid structure, as he diffuses a bunch of situations that characterize the ignominious state of a corrupted society.

Even using a feverish approach, which in some occasions would have benefitted if toned down, he still manages to keep the film controlled for most of the times. The finale, impulsive and slightly unorthodox, ends up being the movie’s weakest part. Nevertheless, this didn’t hamper Mr. Sollima, Bonini, and De Cataldo from expressing directly their discontentment about the Italian political/criminal network through a loud, critical voice.  

Tale of Tales (2015)

Tale of Tales (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Matteo Garrone
Country: Italy / others

Movie Review: Competent Italian filmmaker, Matteo Garrone, who over the last few years has been giving us memorable films such as “Gomorrah” and “Reality”, hauls us into three Baroque tales from the 17th century, in which the real and the unreal go hand in hand. The director, who exquisitely and efficaciously brings in mystical elements and dreamlike sequences, mixing them with the ethereal music by Alexandre Desplat, combines fulgurant medieval settings to host the odd stories, loosely adapted from the fairy-tale collection ‘Il Pentamerone’ by the Neapolitan poet, Giambattista Basile. The first tale tells us about an anguished queen (Selma Hayek) who can’t cope with the impossibility of having children. However, a sinister occultist offers her the solution – the king (John C. Reilly) has to kill a sea monster and rip its heart out, to be cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen. That way, she will become pregnant immediately. The vaticination comes true, and the queen acts radiant, even losing her husband in the risky sea hunt. What wasn’t explained, was that the virgin who cooked the heart would also get pregnant of a boy who looks exactly the same as the prince, and that they will be forever inseparable. Another tale takes us to an odd king (the unique Toby Jones) who lives with his young daughter, Violet (Bebe Cave). While the daughter sings to him, his attention goes entirely to a flea that hops on his hands. Over the following years, he secretly nurtures the flea, which turns into a gigantic creature. When the flea dies, he decides to exhibit its skin and give his daughter as a bride to whoever guesses its origin. A brute Ogre was the one who wins the trophy, taking the terrified Violet to his dungeon in the highest of the mountains. The last tale is about a lustful king (Vincent Cassel) who falls in love with the angelical voice of a woman whom he has never seen the face. This woman is a wrinkled old woman who surrealistically manages to become young again, leaving her aged sister lonely and jealous. I have to admit that my enthusiasm was let a bit down by an out-of-the-blue conclusion that certainly hides inscrutable philosophical meanings. Anyway, “Tale of Tales”, the first English-language film from Mr.Garrone, bewitched me somehow with its extraordinary, recondite mood.

Mia Madre (2015)

Mia Madre (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Nanni Moretti
Country: Italy / France

Movie Review: I’ve been following Nanni Moretti’s versatile filmmaking career throughout all these years, and he has gained my appreciation by giving a very particular vision about himself and the world that surrounds him. His work ranges from satirical autobiographical essays (“Dear Diary”, “April”), to incisive dramas (the Palm D’Or “The Son’s Room”), to entertaining comedies (“We Have a Pope”) and even political provocations (”The Caiman”). This time around, Moretti’s approach is slightly different, introducing a few new elements to a drama that tries to mirror the real life of a filmmaker who is experiencing great distress. The restless Margherita (Margherita Buy) struggles to shoot her new film about the laborers of an Italian factory demanding their rights, according to her own concept. Inflexible and difficult to get along with, she has trouble to clearly convey her confusing ideas to the actors – ‘you should play the character but also stand next to the character’, she says. The film becomes even more complicated to finish with the arrival of the American actor, Barry Huggins (John Turturro), a sort of ardent, eccentric dreamer who freaks out whenever he gets blocked in his acting. He’s by far the most interesting character of the film. Even sharing some sympathy for each other, director and actor, enter in a, sometimes freeing, course of collision. Besides work, there’s also Margherita’s personal life, which has been turned into hell since her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and now lives permanently at the hospital against her will. Margherita and her dedicated brother, Giovanni (Moretti), who doesn’t bring much to the story, were the ones making the decision. Also her daughter, Livia, and a former lover and actor, Vittorio, contribute to the stress, occasionally expressed through unclear dreams and futile flashbacks. “Mia Madre” advances unevenly, at a vapid pace, and only intermittently was able to enforce some emotional weight. Mr. Moretti has seen better days before, but just as his character’s mom, we’re already thinking in tomorrow because this one is middling.

Youth (2015)

Youth (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino
Country: Italy / Switzerland / others

Movie Review: The notable Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino, has a more nostalgic come back with “Youth”, an expressionistic and unflappable poetic opus reflecting on life, work, and creativity, aspects that are differently regarded by two aging, lifelong friends who are spending a period of time in a Swiss spa located near the Alps. The retired maestro and composer, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), became embittered and apathetic after his beloved wife got sick, having no intention to conduct again. He often enjoys the presence of his best friend and filmmaker, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) who, in turn, is overexcited with a new upcoming film that he intends to turn into a testament of life, the perfect ending for his career. The good friends like to take long walks, during which they talk about past happenings in detail, agreeing they’ve become forgetful. Occasionally, Fred and Mick have the company of a downcast Hollywood actor, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), and of Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz) who is trying to cope with the recent separation from Julian, Mick’s son, who has found in the eccentric pop-star, Paloma Faith (herself), his reason to live. Even the Argentine former soccer star, Maradona (Rolly Serrano), is present, attending to his bad shape, which also makes him wonder about the future. Apart from these secondary and yet conspicuous characters, it’s enriching to see how Fred and Mick change significantly when facing two personal challenges: the former received an invitation to play for the queen of England, while the latter gets disappointed when his first-choice actress, Brenda, refuses to participate in his film. Bringing to mind Raul Ruiz’s final work, the observant “Youth” doesn’t exhibit the same catchy sumptuousness as “The Great Beauty”, but still manages to create a salutary harmony when it puts together the diversified score, gentle pace, sturdy photography, and reliable performances. The hearty musical finale doesn’t beat Petzold’s “Phoenix”; anyhow, it’s still worthy of mention.

Pasolini (2014)

Pasolini (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Country: Italy / France / others

Movie Review: After a very personal and stinging recreation of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in “Welcome to New York”, Italian filmmaker Abel Ferrara continues fearlessly examining lives, and giving his own vision about the relevant situations involving them. This time he has chosen the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a distinctive fellow professional and poet, author of masterpieces such as: “Accatone”, “Mamma Roma” and “The Gospel According St. Matthews”. The film starts with an interview to Mr. Pasolini where he speaks about his shocking last film “Saló”, admitting that sex is politics and that he draws some pleasure in scandalizing the audience. To quote him: ‘The ones who refuse the pleasure of being scandalized are moralists’. Explaining next that since he’s not a moralist, he accepts the insults from the people who don’t understand his work. Willem Defoe is once again Ferrara’s first choice, and an assured one, even when the character is more controlled, as in this case. “Pasolini” arrives intellectually and morally defiant but leaves in the shadow, due to the incapacity of tunneling in a clear way all the episodes that were supposed to form the final picture. One of them is the short appearance of the actress Laura Betti (Maria de Medeiros), Pasolini’s close friend – in a scene that seems not to have a purpose. Nevertheless, we can still have a notion of his personality, family life, politic ideologies, work philosophy, and sexuality - witnessing furtive sexual adventures with male youngsters. The real Ninetto Davoli, who at the age of 15 became Pasolini’s lover, plays Epifanio in a film inside the film, created from an unfinished script. Visually unrefined, fuzzy, and flawed, “Pasolini” still provides a worthy experience, yet those familiar with the director’s life are better positioned to enjoy it.

Black Souls (2014)

Black Souls (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Francesco Munzi
Country: Italy

Movie Review: In this screen adaptation of Gioacchino Criaco’s novel, director and co-writer Francesco Munzi retrieves the essential aspects that compose the traditional Italian Mafia pictures – family, power, honor, pride, and vengeance. With some atmospheric resemblances to Francesco Rosi’s cinema, he tells the story of three brothers from rural Calabria whose choices and postures lead them to different lives. The eldest, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), lives quietly on his farm but gets constantly worried about his troublesome adolescent son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo); Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) and Luigi (Marco Leonardi) live in Milan where they established a small illicit organization. The former is the brain of this disguised pineapple distribution company, showing a calculative and prudent posture, while the latter is carefree and shares the same sneaky way of thinking of his nephew Leo who visits his uncles, against the will of his father, to learn and earn his place and respect. Somehow, this fierce young lad will be co-responsible for the family’s decadence. Mr. Munzi takes his time to span every character, giving us the precise notion of their scope of actions. Adopting cavernous tones and comfortless images, the film appeals more to the intellect than properly to the eyes. Its narrative is solidly constructed and some details help to contextualize and understand what’s going on in the family - mostly being a film of men, there are some powerful feminine presences, especially the critical and jittery Rocco’s wife, Valeria (Barbora Bobulova). The startling finale comes to be crucial, elevating the film from its apparent languorous state. It’s an obscure and pertinent glimpse at the Calabrian Mafia known as ‘Ndrangheta.

La Buca (2014)

La Buca (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Daniele Cipri
Country: Italy

Movie Review: Filmmaker and cinematographer, Daniele Cipri, is trying to find his own space in contemporary Italian cinema. That particular task is not so simple, and the truth is that by proceeding to a comparison of his two latest works, we observe a significant oscillation in quality. His more recent comedy “La Buca” adopts the same stirring posture (very Italian) as used in the accomplished “It Was a Son”, dated from 2012. Both are satires, so why the former stays a few steps behind the latter? There was a bunch of very defined factors that made that difference to loom. “It Was a Son” satirizes the greediness of a Sicilian family after the accidental death of one of their children in a shootout between Mafia gangsters. The story was sufficiently funny, straightforward and expressive in order to grab immediately our attention. “La Buca”, in turn, takes a long time chewing the adventures of a not less greedy lawyer who tries to live from monetary compensations obtained by fake injuries or accidents. The film was unable to flow accordingly, not even when Oscar, the whimsical lawyer, tries to win a genuine case for a fragile man, Armando, who was condemned to 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The characters were not so interesting, and of course Oscar Castellitto and Valeria Bruna Tedeschi fall short when weighed with the magnificent Toni Servillo and Giselda Volodi, stars in “It Was a Son”. If this wasn’t enough, “La Buca” throws ungracious jokes that explains its blandness as a comedy and compromises its intentions to mock with the already ridiculous situation. Only Armando’s senile mother lets my face broke into a grin, which is meager for a comedy.

The Wonders (2014)

The Wonders (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
Country: Italy / others

Movie Review: Alice Rohrwacher is an emergent Italian filmmaker whose impressive talent could be proven in her debut “Corpo Celeste”. In her second feature-length, “The Wonders”, she keeps involving us with her powerful filmmaking, vigorously pushing us into a story that conveys as much beauty as sadness, in its own melancholic yet observant way. The characters are intriguing; it seems that there’s always something to be discovered in them. This sense of unpredictability is present throughout all the film, functioning as a secret formula to keep us pursuing a story that takes the time to evolve. With an attentive social awareness, “The Wonders” is centered on teenager Gelsomina who lives in a rural region with her parents and three younger sisters. Their house seems not to gather the best conditions to be living in but has a neat honey laboratory that mainly guarantees their livelihood. Being a real expert with bees, Gelsomina is indispensable to her father, Wolfgang, a traditional beekeeper whose stubbornness and strictness is followed by limited ambitions. Since he lacks responsibility and is a big spender, indulging himself into certain eccentricities like buying a camel to reward his daughter’s work, the family has sunk in debt. A unique opportunity to overcome the situation arises when they are invited to participate in a TV show contest for farmers called ‘The Land of Wonders’. Gelsomina, despite stuck in her family life, will also reveal an admirable maturity when deal with an emotionally insecure friend of the family, Cocó, and a quiet troubled teen, Martin, who arrived to help her father. The uncanny finale proves that this family doesn’t break, even in the worst situations. Slightly less riveting than “Corpo Celeste”, “The Wonders”, overall is a palpable, rich drama.

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013)

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pierfrancesco Diliberto
Country: Italy

Movie Review: Italian TV star, Pierfrancesco Diliberto a.k.a. Pif, has his directorial debut with the valid but not essential, “The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer”, a romantic comedy mixed with politics and crime, in which he also stars. Arturo, the film narrator and central character, is a young boy whose first word was mafia. In fact, the film shows that the Sicilian Mafia, in one way or another, always had considerable impact in his life. Since a young child, he nourished a sweet passion for his classmate Flora, but the dangerous circumstances lived in Palermo led them to lost contact for several years. Misunderstood by his father, he gains an early fascination for the chairman of the board and future president, Giulio Andreotti (amazingly depicted in the film “Il Divo” by the master Sorrentino), after listening on TV to one of his speeches. This passion for politics and the curiosity for the criminal actions lived in the city he was born, will push him into journalism. Arturo will go through some uneasy incidents before an unexpected reencounter with Flora in political circumstances. “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” was not so funny as I was expecting, but smartly exposes in a more lighthearted than profound manner, a good slice of the agitated history of Palermo and its spirit lived in the eighties and beginning of nineties. Diliberto achieved much better results by exposing the assassinations perpetrated by the Mafiosi and how the people dealt with them, than properly in the romantic side, which required some more seasoning to better engage. Arturo’s final message was much appreciated, though.

Salvo (2013)

Salvo (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
Country: Italy / France

Movie Review: Winner of the critic’s week grand prize at Cannes, “Salvo”, the debut feature from Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, tells us a standard story of crime and romance set in the torrid Palermo, presenting it in a non-standard way. Salvo (Saleh Bakri) is a quiet, determined and unmerciful hitman who works for the Sicilian mafia. When trying to ambush a traitor inside his house, he bumps into Rita (Sara Serraiocco), the blind sister of his target. Salvo, accomplishes his task, killing the man, but in a mix of pity and admiration spares Rita, keeping her hostage inside the house. An act of compassion that, going against the mafia rules, consequently puts both their lives at stake. It was interesting to notice that Salvo, visibly tired of living in the shadows, was starting to humanize himself – his love for Rita made him a better man and he seemed enjoying that beneficial effect. This notion was observable when he returns the kindness of his landlords for the first time. The film plays with a variety of atmospheres, in which the use of light, sound, and silence, have preponderant roles, at times causing claustrophobic sensations. Its minimal dialogues and decelerated pace can be an obstacle for some viewers, and the love story never transcends itself into something memorable, but in the other hand, the sensorial experience provided and the changeable moods through a different way of filmmaking, worth the ride.

Human Capital (2013)

Human Capital (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Paolo Virzi
Country: Italy / France

Movie Review: Solid cinematic adaptation of Stephen Amidon’s American novel of the same name, “Human Capital” was directed by Paolo Virzi (“The First Beautiful Thing”, “Every Blessed Day”), considered an effective storyteller for the screen. The film is a poignant look into a rotten society, which is capable of anything to maintain their comfort in life and avoid to be swallowed by a rampant economic recession. The contrasts between middle and high classes are well delimited, as two families cross paths to face greediness, bankruptcy, infidelity, and even deal with a death. Dino Ossola, a middle class real estate investor is determined to get ahead in life. Taking advantage of the relationship of his daughter Serena with the spoiled son of Giovanni Bernaschi, one of the wealthiest hedge fund managers of Italy, he embarks in a risky business and without moment’s notice sees his financial life completely upside down. Intriguingly, the death of a cyclist in a crash with a car drove by the discredited Luca, Serena’s true love, will serve as salvation for some and misfortune for others. The film is divided into four chapters, where the first three report on the inconvenient greedy Dino, the insecure and unfaithful Carla (Giovanni’s wife), and the passionate Serena, in a determined period of time, while the last one, entitled ‘human capital’, represents the solution adopted to solve the problem. The compelling narrative structure and flawless direction were enhanced by the splendid performances, with particular mention to Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, best actress at Tribeca Film Festival.

Honey (2013)

Honey - Miele (2013) Movie Review
Directed by: Valeria Golino
Country: Italy / France

Movie Review: Italian actress Valeria Golino (“Rain Man”, “Respiro”, “Frida, “Quiet Chaos”) directs her first feature film, “Honey”, based on the novel “A Nome Tuo” by Mauro Covacich. Jasmine Trinca stars as Irene, a young woman who uses the codename Miele (Honey) when she dedicates, body and soul, to assisted suicides. Often traveling to Mexico in order to easily obtain the right drug to apply on the multi-age terminally ill patients, Irene is seen as a gift by the despaired ones, in a task she considers respectful and necessary. One day, her conscience will be violently shaken after she meets with Carlo Grimaldi, an old Roman engineer who evinces his wish to die due to simple boredom of life. “Honey” moves in the right direction, being simultaneously humane and severe in its analysis but without always show the expected intensity to involve me deeply. It showed so much potential but left me with the sensation that could be better explored in terms of ambiance. Notwithstanding, its plot brings moral and other pertinent questions to be careful examined, and its visuals are aesthetically engaging. Trinca was very appropriate for the role of an anguished woman, trying to do the right options in life and struggling to be in peace with her conscience. Golino’s “Honey” resulted more effective when compared with other films about the same topic, such as the also Italian “The Dormant Beauty”, but lacking the emotional impact of “The Sea Inside”. Choosing to die, and in which conditions – that is the question!

Viva La Libertà (2013)

Viva La Libertà (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Roberto Andó
Country: Italy

Movie Review: “Viva La Libertà” is a political dramedy directed with passion by Roberto Andó, based on his own novel. The film depicts the atypical story of Enrico Oliveri, the secretary of the main Italian opposition party, who after a depressive crisis, decides to avoid responsibilities, abandoning his tiresome life and traveling to Paris where he will be received by an actress friend and former lover, Danielle, now married with a famous filmmaker. His absence will cause the chaos inside the party, which isn’t seen as a good alternative to the actual government, according to the latest opinion polls. That’s when an assistant who operates behind the scenes, Andrea Bottini, with the approval of Enrico’s wife, comes with the only possible solution: to occupy the vacant post with Enrico’s twin brother Giovani Ernani, a creative philosopher who suffers from bipolar depression. With the twins extremely well adapted to their new lives, a bunch of risky, funny, and occasionally improbable situations will take place. As usual, Toni Servillo has a superb performance, being impressive in the way he gives shape to the two twins – Enrico, more pensive and sufferer, while Giovani was more seductive and spirited. Even if the script is difficult to believe in its whole, “Viva La Libertà” put on the screen the expressive and ironic elements so characteristic of Italian cinema, whereas madness, dance, passionate romance, and fervent speeches, kept the film well alive.

A Magnificent Haunting (2012)

A Magnificent Haunting (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ferzan Ozpetek
Country: Italy

Movie Review: Not original in concept but depicted in agreeable tones, “A Magnificent Haunting” is a feel-good comedy without any other pretention than entertain us with the story of Pietro (Elio Germano), a homosexual croissant-maker who planned to change his life radically after the death of his father. He decides to leave his hometown, Catania, to live in Rome’s district of Monteverde. Pietro, always backed up by his inseparable and disoriented cousin, Maria (Paola Minaccioni), decides to rent a big old house in need of repair, but soon realizes that the place is occupied by amiable ghosts of several actors who belonged to a famous theatrical company called Apollonio, mysteriously disappeared during the wartime. The first signs of fear vanish when Pietro realizes that his hosts just want to leave the house for good, but also can be of great help in order to achieve his dream: to become an actor. Turkish director residing in Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek, continues to refuse stressful or disturbing plots, preferring instead charming dramas with hints of romance or light comedies as this one. Offering some good humor and bouncing performances from Germano and Maccioni, both winners of an Italian Golden Globe, “A Magnificent Haunting” is far from being essential, but provides good laid-back moments with its gentle and spirited aura. The film was well received in Moscow, winning the audience award, as well as the Russian Film Clubs Federation Award.

It Was the Son (2012)

It Was the Son (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Daniele Cipri
Country: Italy

Movie Review: Confrontational and witty, “It Was the Son” makes a deliciously poignant look into a Sicilian family marked by the misfortune of an accidental death and its own greediness. Presented as a story inside a story, the film manages quite well in combining drama and humor, which is carry out in a subtle and peculiar manner. Toni Servillo is brilliant in the role of Nicola Ciraulo, a father who lost his young daughter, Serenella, shot accidentally by the Mafia. After the first impact, Nicola decides to ask for a State’s compensation for his loss, being granted with 220 million lire after a long wait due to bureaucratic issues. For this same reason, the money was put on hold for another eternity and Ciraulo family got almost anything to eat, sank in more and more debts. Surviving with the help of suspicious loans, Nicola becomes desperate. But right after the money has been transfered to his bank account, he came up with an ironic solution: to buy a blue Mercedes, protected with determination by all the family members. The disgrace came when Nicola’s son, the apathetic Tancredi, convinced by his exemplar cousin Masino, decides to drive the car to the local cinema. Some details in direction deserve good attention, and the same is applied to the acute cinematography given in glossy tones (Golden Osella at Venice). The identity of the man who tells the story didn’t cause any surprise but the story’s denouement created a staggering impact. An effective tale of greed based on the novel by Roberto Alaimo.