Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stars Cortellesi and Gullotta shine at the opening weekend of ICFF

Story by Allan Tong
Photos by Sally Warburton

The Italian Contemporary Film Festival opened at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox Thursday night with star Paola Cortellesi (above) presenting the crowd-pleasing comedy, Qualcosa di nuovo (Something New) (see here for review). Ms. Cortellesi also stars in Mamma o Papa? (Mom or Dad?) playing at the ICFF.

The ICFF upheld its tradition of lavish opening parties by featuring delicious food prepared by some of Toronto's finest chefs, a DJ, four-storey video projections and a live soul band which took place at Ricarda's. 

Noelle’s Journey screened Saturday evening to a full house at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Directed by Peter Gentile (left), the documentary is about two immigrants who left southern Italy to pursue a new life in Canada. One of their granddaughters, Noelle Elia (right), traces both family's histories by journeying to Italy from Toronto. The film is part of the program From Bello to Beautiful: The Art and Impact of Italian-Canadian Cinema, to honour Canada's 150th birthday. Screenings are free.

Veteran Italian actor Leo Gullotta seemed to be everywhere tonight (Sunday) at the Lightbox. He received the Award of Excellence (above) before presenting the comedy, L’ora Legale (It’s The Law). Directly above, Mr. Gullotta pals around with ICFF artistic director, Cristiano De Florentiis. 

The ICFF continues through Friday, June 16 in Toronto, Vaughan, Hamilton, Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. Recommended: IndivisibleVisit here for the full schedule.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Indivisibili tops this year's Italian film festvial, ICFF

by Allan Tong

After a decades-long slumber, Italian cinema may finally be waking. It's too soon to call this a golden age or even a revival, but recent films such as They Called Me Jeeg, which dazzled last year's Italian Contemporary Film Festival, and ones this year--starting tonight through June 16 in cities like Toronto, Vaughan and Montreal--offer hope.

Sure, the ICFF boasts a healthy share of mainstream comedies, such as tonight's opening gala, the crowd-pleasing Qualcosa di nuovo (Something New), but the festival has included some films that offer unique voices and imaginative stories.

Orecchie (Ears) is an eccentric film by shot in scintillating black-and-white with a narrow, square-shaped aspect ratio. It's about a supply teacher who wakes up with a mysterious ringing in his ears. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, he encounters one mishap after another, from proselytizing nuns to a mysterious Luigi who has taken his car. Maybe. Director Alessandro Aronadio toys with reality in an episodic, surreal film that's intriguing at times, but lacks direction at others. Despite its flaws, there really is nothing like Orecchie.

More straightforward is Veloce Come Il Vento (Italian Race), a race car drama that brings together two estranged siblings after their father dies. Teenager Giulia (Matilda De Angelis) is an ambitious, headstrong driver taking care of her younger brother, but after their father dies, they need to live with their older brother, Loris (Stefano Accorsi), a former racer turned junkie. She's a fighter; he's a loser. She must win races to pay off family debts and keep the family house. Loris trains her, but his bad habits threaten her goals. Performance by the leads are strong and the story offers enough hairpin turns, though the film needs trimming. It takes an unnecessary long time to set up, and could use some black humour, particularly from Loris. The racing scenes are exciting. Matteo Rovere's Italian Race is one of the ICFF's highlights.

Perhaps the best film of this year's festival is Indivisibili (Indivisible). It's about Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet about to turn 18 who seek to split from each other and their exploitive father. Blessed with sweet voices, the twins are fed up with audiences treating them like singing circus freaks. One day, a Swiss doctor offers to separate them as long as they get to his clinic in Switzerland. That'll cost 20,000 Euros, which the twins have earned, but their father has gambled away. The twins escape home to raise the money themselves, but risk their lives. Twins Angela and Marianna Fontana deliver heartbreaking performances, while director Edoardo De Angelis translates Nicola Guaglianone's delicate story into a haunting fable.

For showtimes and tickets to all ICFF film, click here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Something New at this year's ICFF

by Allan Tong

You gotta love the Italians for opening their film festival, the ICFF on June 8 in Toronto, with a romantic comedy about two older women and a younger man.

In Qualcosa di nuovo (Something New), best friends Lucia (Paola Cortellesi, above right) and Maria (Micaela Ramazzotti, above left) fall for the same younger man, Luca (Eduardo Valdarnini, above center) without knowing it. Luca's finishing high school, and Paolo and Micaela have finished past marriages. They feel exhilarated being with 19-year-old Eduardo, but also uneasy. Sure, the sex is fantastico, but when they try to relate to him outside the bed the differences between them emerge: divorces, children, career. Things don't help when the two good friends discover they're seeing the same younger guy.

Directed by Cristina Comencini, Qualcosa di nuovo is a breezy comedy, a crowd-pleaser and a decent choice to open this year's ICFF. Lucia and Maria offer some dimension, though Luca remains a callow, young man interested only in getting laid. The comedy is more cute than cutting, squarely in the tradition of mainstream Italian cinema. Cortellesi shines, offering some vulnerability to her Lucia. She will grace the red carpet at the ICFF opening gala in Toronto on Thursday, June 8 at 7:00 pm with further screenings in Montreal and Vaughan.

Altogether different, but worth seeing is Fiore (Flower). In this neo-realist drama shot like a documentary, teenage Daphne steals cell phones at knifepoint and lands in a youth detention centre. Most of the film takes place here where Daphne flirts and falls for Josh in the boys' wing, another teenage thief. Daphne also befriends and battles various cellmates and tries to build a relationship with her father, who himself is on parole. He also lives with a woman Daphne can't stand.

Selfish and brutish at time, Daphne is hard to like, but credit director Claudio Giovannesi and his team for keeping the story lean and focused and star Daphne Scoccia (above with Valerio Mastandrea as her father) for her uncompromising performance. There's not an extraneous frame in this movie. It's shot handheld with minimal music. Every scene feels real. Fiore is unapologetic and unsentimental, almost to a fault. Its only weakness is a lack of progression in Daphne. She doesn't really change. Fiore plays in Vaughan, Montreal and Quebec City. Details, tickets and times are here.

A total of 180 ICFF screenings take place June 8-16 at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox as well as in Vaughan, Hamilton, Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. To honour Canada's 150th birthday, the ICFF will host From Bello to Beautiful: The Art and Impact of Italian-Canadian Cinema, seven days of free screenings starting with Noelle’s Journey, a documentary by Peter Gentile about two immigrants who left southern Italy for a new life in Canada.

This year's guest of honour is actor-director Christian De Sica, son of renown director, Vittorio (Bicycle Thief).