Ciao, bella! The Italian Film Festival is upon us once again. Here’s a brief selection of just some of the films that are on offer.
The Space Between
Director: Ruth Borgobello
Starring: Flavio Parenti, Maeve Dermody & Marco Leonardi
Bellissimo! What a beautiful way to headline the Lavazza Italian Film Festival with the very first Italian-Australian co-production feature film.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Space Between highlights a strong debut for Australian director Ruth Borgobello and sets the scene for falling in love in luscious Italian landscapes.
Returning to his hometown in Northern Italy, Marco (Flavio Parenti) takes care of his aging father and tries to overcome the loss of his mother. In spite of being a talented chef, he now works in a dispirited job as a factory worker and is comfortable being uncomfortable. Marco soon encounters a young Australian in Olivia (Maeve Dermody), who’s youthful exuberance wistfully begins to stir life in him once more. Slowly but surely, a deeper friendship grows and both begin to realise what it takes to bridge the gap between loss and love.
Whilst being a somewhat simple story, The Space Between still managed to shock and surprise me. It’s a film best experienced without as little prior knowledge as possible. The process of learning how to deal with loss and to move on to achieving our dreams is an issue at the heart of many, films but one that is dealt a fresh setting in The Space Between. Borgobello cleverly uses the Italian location to relay a subtle cultural commentary, drawing parallels between how the Italian people are suffering similarly to Marco and this is what elevates the film above a cliché.
As a love story, it’s not as witty or captivating as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, for example, however it still remains charming enough to watch. Flavio and Maeve bounce off each other nicely, with particular praises going to Borgobello once more for her hand in the dialogue. It’s one of the more authentic love stories I’ve seen recently and one I wanted to know more about by the time the credits began to roll.
A simple but beautiful story that echoes in the fine cinematography of the Italian landscapes by Katie Milwright, The Space Between is a perfect start to your Italian film festival watch list.
Director: Roberto Andò
Starring: Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino
Murder, silence and paranoia are at play in Roberto Andò’s lacklustre thriller.
The Confessions has a whiff of complex allegory. As I sat watching, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was missing the point of it all; that the characters, both important and redundant, were concealing truths and ideas that the almost poetic dialogue only hinted at. I was afraid I was letting the film pass me by.
But now that I’ve had some time to digest it, I am certain it is merely a movie designed to bore and confuse. What starts as a murder mystery slowly unravels as a suspense thriller without the suspense or the thrill, and by the end, I had either forgotten half of what everyone had said or I just didn’t care. There is an entire scene involving Lambert Wilson that could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor without anyone noticing.
Toni Servillo plays Father Salus, a priest invited to an idyllic hotel that shall act as the setting for an important economic summit. Also in attendance is Claire (Connie Nielsen), a famed children’s author whose presence at the summit is dubious at best, for she does little except swim and snoop. One of the economists is found dead, and now the others are afraid his dying confession to Padre Salus will lead their devious plot to ruin. What their devious plot is I’m sure I don’t know, but every character treats it with the utmost respect.
The Confessions spends a lot of time with Salus, whose vow of silence is the code the economists can’t crack. I couldn’t crack the movie, which is populated with more characters than it knows what to do with and fails to punch through with a mystery worth our time.
Director: Paolo Genovese
Starring: Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta, Marco Giallini
Paolo Genovese’s Perfect Strangers is the film equivalent of a rich Italian lasagne with multiple layers of character-driven drama.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This hilarious comedy sees three married couples and a bachelor, all long-time friends, get together for a sumptuous dinner party. As the night winds on, one of them suggests that they play a game to test their trust in one another. Each person is required to place their smartphone in front of them on the dinner table. For the entire night, any phone calls and text messages that arrive must be shared publicly with the group. Of course, not everyone sitting at the table is squeaky clean and it soon becomes clear that the seven friends didn’t know each other quite as well as they originally thought.
Perfect Strangers’ strongest element is undoubtedly its award-winning screenplay; perfectly paced and overflowing with razor-sharp dialogue, we’re gently introduced to each character before being teased with secrets that they may or may not be harbouring.
After this slow-burn first half, the surprises land hard and fast, like a chain of dominoes that speed around the dinner table. It’s an impressive build towards a series of twists that subvert expectations without feeling implausible. Most impressive is Genovese’s ability to traverse both earnest sentiment and crushing pathos in this tricky second half; he certainly doesn’t skimp on the gut-wrenching emotion, but underneath it all is a unifying message of friendship, acceptance and understanding in a thought-provoking final scene that ties everything together.
Director: Ivan Cotroneo
Starring: Rimau Ritzberger Grillo, Valentina Romani, Leonardo Pazzagli
A realistic depiction of teenage life doesn’t stop One Kiss from being an unfocused amalgamation of similar movies.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Lorenzo (Rimau Ritzberger Grillo), a foster child, moves to a new town and forms a friendly trio of outcasts, consisting of himself, Blu (Valentina Romani) and Antonio (Leonardo Pazzagli), but as they get closer, tensions rise that begin tearing them apart.
Lorenzo and Blu become the first members of the group and the first 30 minutes of One Kiss is solely dedicated to them mucking around together. Their rebellious antics almost become the film’s entire plot until Antonio is dragged in just because Lorenzo thinks he’s cute. The connection between the two boys quickly overshadows Blu as a character, and after an unwarranted sexual action, a conflict finally forms with Lorenzo and Antonio. This occurs well over an hour in, leaving Blu to mope in the sidelines with her own unrelated issues.
It’s clear that One Kiss should have been about a stern sportsman attempting to resist the advances of another boy in school. The ensuing awkwardness between them feels sincere and could have easily carried the film, and since the title is based on a later encounter with them, that appears to have been the movie’s intention. It’s a shame the viewer has to wade through so much of Blu and Lorenzo’s shenanigans to get to the meat of the story, and even after enduring that, its melodramatic climax is completely uncalled for.
One Kiss displays great chemistry between the three friends, especially with their concerned parents, but its fuzzy story and egocentric main characters remind me too much of high school.
The Italian Film Festival screens at Cinema Paradiso in Perth from September 22 to October 12
Images courtesy of Palace Films