Saturday, June 13, 2015

Italian Contemporary Film Festival roundup

by Allan Tong

The Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF)
is enjoying one of its stronger years. From drama to documentary, the films in 2015 are consistently rewarding. Though I haven't seen a terrible movie yet,  I also haven't found a superb one either. To speak in baseball terms, the ICFF films are hitting singles and doubles, but no homers yet. Here are a few to consider this weekend at screenings in Toronto, Vaughan, Montreal and Quebec City. (Check here for screening times in your city.)

Midnight Sun is an entertaining family film about a boy who befriends a lost cub in frigid northern Canada. Think boy-and-his-dog adventure, except the dog is a polar bear and the terrain is covered in snow and ice flows. It stars Toronto's own Dakota Goyo.

Sin, redemption, family. These are well-worn themes that drive the thriller Perez. It's about an incorruptible lawyer from Naples who defends underdogs until his daughter hooks up with a mobster. Not a smart move. Without spoiling the film, let's say that daddy lawyer Perez has to compromise his ethics by striking a deal with the mobster's boss to help him recover some precious diamonds. Perez is slick and stylish, and lead Luca Zingaretti is a strong, stoic presence as Perez. However, as mentioned above the movie doesn't tread new ground.

In contrast, A Golden Boy is complete surprise. It's a character drama about frustrated writer, Davide, who restores his father's tattered legacy. Papa was a screenwriter of trashy films, but a book publisher (Sharon Stone, dubbed in Italian) wants to release his autobiography. Davide wants to connect with his father by finding the current draft of his autobiography and finish it himself. Already, a dour fellow, Davide darkens further during the writing process and, to make things worse, he falls for the bombshell publisher who happens to be married. Pupi Avati directs A Golden Boy with a sure hand and the movie is darkly compelling, but Davide is hard to like. A strong drama, but not to everyone's taste.

Much sunnier is So Far So Good a comedy about five young roommates who spend their last weekend together partying, reminiscing and pondering the future after they leave their nest. There's nothing bad about this film per se, but there's nothing memorable about it either. The dramatic stakes are never set high enough to test the characters. A nice film, but I expected something meatier.

The same can be said of the documentary Bella Vita which profiles Chris Del Moro, an American surfer who takes a pilgrimage to his ancestral homeland, Italy, where he and his friends explore the burgeoning surf culture there. The film is beautifully shot and well-edited, but it doesn't cut deep. No crisis nor urgent issue to push the story forward. It's a snapshot of surfing in Italy, and at 82 minutes runs a little long.

Barolo Boys is another documentary that explores a more-established part of Italian culture: wine. In the late-20th century the wines made in Langhe in northwestern Italy were among the most celebrated and highly priced in America. They weren't related by blood, but the Barolo Boys were a loose collection of winemakers from Langhe who revolutionized stodgy, traditional winemaking in Italy. Great story, but Barolo Boys doesn't quite pull off a great film. The narration is intrusive and annoying, and the storytelling relies too much on talking-head interviews and not enough visuals. The only character we really get to know, ironically, is the lone female in the Barolo Boys, while the others are kept vague. Emotionally, the audience doesn't connect these character. The dramatic high points in the Barolo story are muted and could've been played up. As mentioned, the story is exciting, but the treatment here undersells it.

One of the better films of ICFF is Just Say Yes, a straightforward documentary about two women getting married. One is Swedish and the other is Italian. Making life interesting for them is the fact that Italy doesn't permit gay unions, and this film is a critique of that law and social prejudice. Maria Pecchiolichronicles the weeks leading up to the big moment, capturing candid interviews and stitching them together with well-edited and economical musical transitions. Just Say Yes, thankfully, doesn't preach. It just tells it like it is, and this approach works just fine.

The ICFF runs June 11-19.

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