by Allan Tong
The best film of this year's Italian Contemporary Film Festival is They Called Me Jeeg (Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot).
To label Jeeg as Italy's first superhero action film is incomplete. It's also a dark comedy with a twisted romance. Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) is a small-time crook who falls into radioactive waste during a cop chase. He's a lonely wanker who eats endless pudding and has no friends. During a botched drug deal which slays a fellow criminal, Enzo discovers these super physical powers that let him survive a fall off a high building and to shove refrigerators across rooms with his bare arms.
Enzo literally robs an ATM by ripping it out of the wall and steals using his newfound powers. That ends when gang leader Zingaro (Luca Marinelli) comes looking for his drugs and cash, and he strong-arms Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli), the mad daughter of Enzo's fellow criminal. Enzo winds up protecting--and falling in love--with the poor, deluded Alessia who believes Enzo is the hero of a Japanese anime called Steel Jeeg Robot. She's been lost in her own world ever since her mother died years ago and/or her father started molesting her.
Meanwhile, videos of Enzo superhuman feats, like lifting a streetcar, go viral on social media and the public and police fear they have a supervillain terrorizing Rome. Ironically, Zingaro wreaks mayhem in the city streets by hunting down Enzo and Alessia.
Lead screenwriter Nicola Guaglianone takes Hollywood superhero conventions (radioactive super-powers, ordinary villain turns superhero) and imbues his characters with touching flaws and the story with left-handed turns. They add up to make They Called Me Jeeg into something imaginative and original. TV veteran Gabriele Mainetti makes an audacious debut, proving he can direct explosive action sequences as good as anyone in Hollywood yet convey humour and tenderness in dysfunctional characters. Santamaria plays Enzo with understated intensity, and Pastorelli portrays Alessia with surprising pathos in a role that is vulnerable to cliche.
Just when I thought that movies were stuck in the toilet, along comes something like They Called Me Jeeg to revive my faith.
Don’t Be Bad (Non essere cattivo) also explores Italy's criminal underbelly but is rooted in hard realism, not fantasy. Shot like a gritty documentary, Don’t Be Bad follows a pair of hedonistic young thugs who live in a world of money, clubs and cocaine in the nineties. Technically, the film is well made and the acting is taut, but Don’t Be Bad left me cold towards its amoral, empty anti-heroes.
Unfortunately, two films, a comedy and a drama, suffer from melodrama, though they're based on superb premises. Ustica dramatizes the 1980 Italian plane crash into the Tyrrhenian Sea that involved terrorism and government cover-up. The film is spoiled by wooden acting and on-the-nose dialogue. Two of A Kind (Ambo) is about a husband and father trying to have a second child, but he discovers he's sterile and his son is not actual son. The film takes a sickly sweet approach with the little boy narrating. Also, many scenes are bathed in soft focus and drowned in a syrupy soundtrack.
A clearer, more rewarding approach is found in Rewind and Reboot (Torno indietro e cambio Vita). Marco is a successful businessman whose marriage of 25 years suddenly falls apart. He confesses to longtime buddy, Claudio, that he wishes he could go back in time and change his life. Boom! A car accident grants them both this wish and Marco meets with his future wife in high school in 1990.
Rewind and Reboot is a time travel comedy. Nothing new, but there are plenty of good laughs and clever story turns to make this a delightful watch. Overall, the acting is fine, particularly Ricky Memphis who is deadpan-perfect as Claudio in a subplot that nicely interweaves with Marco's. Rewind and Reboot is another strong comedy at this year's ICFF.
More ICFF reviews here.
The ICFF screens in Toronto and Vaughan with additional screenings in Hamilton, St. Catharines and Quebec City through June 19. Click here for the schedule and ticketing details.