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.

giustadistanza a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

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.

manykisseslater a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

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.

ilpapadigiovanna a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

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.

genova-poster-0 a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

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?

LUomo_Che_Ama a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

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.

giulianonescelasera a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

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?

a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

5 thoughts on “a review of the 2009 Italian film festival

  • 8 October 2009 at 6:52 am

    Since I was born in Genova and lived there until the age of 22, it was a surprise and a delight to see my city taking centre stage in Michael Winterbottom’s film. Although I do not think this is one of Winterbottom’s best movies, the city looked fantastic although a bit scarier than it is in reality. I agree with the lack of organisation at the Westgarth but the night I attended the crowd was rather big and the atmosphere was electric.

    • 8 October 2009 at 12:09 pm

      It was mostly full the night I was there, but I wonder how many general film fans knew it was part of the festival?

  • 8 October 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Nice festival summary, Brian.

    I also adored Giulia Non Esce La Sera and La Giusta Distanza (loved the blurring of fact and fiction in the former, and was pleased with myself that I guessed whodunnit in the latter), and quite enjoyed Genova too. For a film so focussed on grief, it didn’t feel exploitative or manipulative, which I think is a testament to Winterbottom and the fine performances he obtained from his actors.

    The other one I saw on opening night, Vincere, was an odd little futurist film that didn’t quite work but had the saving grace of gorgeous cinematography and a helluva performance by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, one of my favourite Italian actresses.

    I admit that many of my French and Italian film fest choices are based on the eye candy of certain actresses and actors too :-)
    How was La Bellucci looking in L’Uomo Che Ama? I walked out of the screening of Sanguepazzo last year (a) because the film was utter crap and (b) because I was so disturbed by how she has butchered her face and body by plastic surgery…

    • 8 October 2009 at 2:33 pm

      Giovanna Mezzogiorno is a favourite of mine too :-) Monica Bellucci is such a puzzle. When we talked about the naturalness or otherwise of her breasts before I could not remember the film that I thought she looked very unnatural in, but it was probably either Combien tu m’aimes? (How much do you love me?) or Ricordati di me (Remember me), where the camera angles were very odd and her breasts looked very plastic.

      She now looks more natural (there was a brief topless scene when we first see her) in L’Uomo Che Ama. Her face looks slightly different from her last ‘natural’ role (which may have been Malena?), but what I like about the films we’ve just seen is how natural the lighting and makeup is – the people have imperfect skin, pores, freckles etc and they look real, unlike people look in most current English langauge films. In this film she looks her age, and she is beautiful. She’s not young, she’s not thin, and she’s more attractive because of it.

      It’s unlike me to want to consume any celebrity gossip but in this case I almost want to overcome the morbid sadness of it and know the truth about Bellucci. The warped beauty aesthetic really saddens me. In my opinion surgery is disgusting, and I can’t understand how possibly the greatest beauty of her generation in European cinema could damage herself in this way. Surgery cannot possibly ‘improve’ someone like Bellucci. Am I the only man who think it makes women look less attratcive? In addition, am I the only man who sees the neurotic vanity behind the desire for cosmetic surgery to be psychologically unattractive?

      Fortunately Valeria Golino looked not only natural but fabulously gorgeous in her swimsuit. It may sound strange but there’s something sexy about sad films.

  • 10 October 2009 at 11:00 pm

    “Am I the only man who think it makes women look less attractive? In addition, am I the only man who sees the neurotic vanity behind the desire for cosmetic surgery to be psychologically unattractive?”

    No, and I hope, Brian, that we’re the majority as opposed to the minority.

    Plastic surgery for purely vain reasons is a psychological illness as far as I’m concerned. An ultimately futile exercise in defying nature which generally results in, ironically, unnatural ugliness. The fact that the seemingly voracious appetite for celebrity culture and photo shopped perfection shows no sign of abating scares the shite out of me.


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