I was very impressed by the selection of films at the Italian film festival this year. Most of my 6 choices proved to be good, and even the worst was not so bad. I saw all 6 at the Palace Westgarth, which continues to baffle me with its lack of organisation. For the first few day no one was checking tickets; anyone could have easily walked into the cinema foyer and then into a session and no one would have ever known. The old front doors were closed most of the time, even for people exiting sessions, which made everyone come and go via the new door near the bar, which is a cramped and congested space.
They continue to use allocated seating at the Westgarth, which is rubbish and pointlessly bizarre when there are only 20 people in a session (such as when I saw Giulia doesn’t go out at night (Giulia non esce la sera) on a Saturday afternoon). I was allocated the same seat for every session and yet chose to sit in a different place each time, which is how people prefer to behave in cinemas. Anyway, although disorganisation at the Westgarth is constant, the films change, and these are the films I saw.
The best film for me was The right distance (La giusta distanza), which was a coming of age story, a murder mystery and a tragic love story all in one film. Valentina Lodovini is sublime and the misty Po river region is an atmospheric setting.
Each year I chose one cheesy romantic comedy and I usually regret it. This year’s mistake was Many kisses later (Tanti baci dopo, or Ex), which is similar to Manual of love and every other film in this genre. The cliched situations and tepid farce never work for me. The genre is popular though, as this was the best attended session I went to.
Giovanna’s father (Il papa di Giovanna) was enjoyable but too long. It’s about a socially naive but seemingly normal teenage girl who kills a rival for the affections of a boy at school. Set in the 1930s and 1940s the story spans the war years and focuses on the devotion of her father in supporting her through her trial and years in a mental institution.
As a longtime Michale Winterbottom fan it was exciting to see Genova, which is a touching depiction of family grieving. I was surprised that this was not sold out. Perhaps the serious film people saw it at the Como?
Because I’m deeply shallow I tend to chose European films as much for the cast as for the plot, and this has unpredictable results. The man who loves (L’uomo che ama), featuring Monica Bellucci, was a tedious drama about pharmacist Roberto and two of his romantic relationships. He and the film seemed to have no passion or personality and there was not enough screen time for Monica.
Fortunately my final film, Giulia doesn’t go out at night (Giulia non esce la sera), was wonderful. We meet the charming novelist Guido, whose marriage is failing and whose mind wanders between fantasy and reality. His fictional characters come to life around him and watch him sleeping, slumped over his desk, while they read his half finished stories about themselves over his shoulder on his laptop.
Guido is devoted to his daughter, who complains about her swimming lessons and wants to stop. Having paid for a year already, and not being able to swim, he takes her place. So would I if my new swimming teacher was Giulia, played by the stunning Valeria Golino. He’s too modest to compete for media attention to win a prestigious literary prize and begins to spend more time with, and to fall for, Giulia, who has a tragic past.
Giulia had abandoned her young daughter and husband to run off with a bad boy type, who then dumped her. She killed him response and now drifts through life grieving for the relationship she lost with her now 16 year old daughter, who refuses to speak to her. She is allowed to work at the swimming pool on day leave from prison, where she is serving a long sentence. I won’t reveal the ending. Golino is totally believable as Giulia. I hope this film gets a release here as I’d like to see it again.
While bigger and more popular than the Greek film festival, the Italian film festival is a cultural curiosity. I’m not the only obvious skippie attending, but the audience is predominantly Italian-Australian, and the audience is mostly women friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s in 2s or 3s, women in their 20s and 30s with their mothers or both parents, and couples in their 40s, 50s and 60s. There’s relatively few younger men there.
On a continuum from MIFF audience (multicultural film obsessives) to the Greek film festival audience (mostly the Greek-Australian community), and regardless of size, the French and German film festivals are closer to MIFF and the Italian film festival is closer to the Greek. Cheesy romantic comedies are evidently popular with an older Italian-Australian audience, but why don’t fine contemporary dramas like The right distance and Giulia doesn’t go out at night attract a greater general audience? Why do skippies watch foreign films at MIFF but not at these film festivals?