Christmas is over, but the indulgence isn’t. When the Italian Film Festival comes to the Vancity Theatre on Friday (January 6), it all begins with the voluptuous excesses of Federico Fellini.
“Fellini is, in a sense, the festival’s unofficial godfather,” says the Vancity Theatre’s Tom Charity, who has programmed the semiautobiographical (and fully decadent) Roma as this year’s festival opener. “We have always featured at least one Fellini film in each of the festivals. Roma is less well known than, say, 8 1/2 or La Dolce Vita, but it’s unmistakably and gloriously Felliniesque.”
It’s also a key point of context for a festival that has aimed, since its inception in 2014, to weigh the country’s classic cinema alongside its contemporary works. If 2016 wasn’t necessarily a “peak year” for big-screen Italia, it was still strong enough, in Charity’s estimation, to give him pause over that opening slot.
“To be honest, we were torn about whether to open with Roma or They Call Me Jeeg, which is showing right afterwards on Friday night,” he tells the Straight. “The two films have one thing in common: Rome. And it made sense to start with the maestro’s vision of the Eternal City from 1972 and then to look at [director Gabriele] Mainetti’s very contemporary take on it in what is a radically different kind of Italian movie: a superhero fantasy.”
Jeeg killed at the box office back home before sweeping Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars, the David di Donatello Awards. It’s a true mongrel of a film—“Too weird to live, and too rare to die,” as Hunter Thompson would have it—based on a Japanese manga and then primed to do asymmetrical battle with its overfunded American counterpart. Charity wonders how it will be received.
“For a start, there is less CGI than you would expect to find in the U.S. equivalent, obviously for budgetary reasons,” he says. “But that forces the filmmakers to work harder to make the punches land. And while you would never call this a neorealist film, it does have a raw, rough edge to it that makes it more compelling than pure escapist fantasy.
“What I hope, of course, is that at least a fraction of the multiplex audience who flock to these kinds of movies might be curious to come and check out the Italian version of a comic-book movie.”
Only marginally less outlandish are some of the other new titles coming to Vancouver this year, most notably Edoardo De Angelis’s operatically emotional tale of conjoined twins, Indivisible, and the sweeping melodrama of Claudio Cupellini’s The Beginners. Charity also points to “a surprisingly progressive, youthful, and feminist outlook” in features like the lesbian drama Me, Myself & Her, and to the images of migration and economic despair seen in Banat.
From a historical perspective, meanwhile, the IFF distinguishes itself with an expert appreciation of a vast and somewhat intimidating canon. While Roma (1972) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone (1961) are both revived for the six-day event, so is Francesco Rosi’s masterful, if relatively obscure, political thriller Hands Over the City (1963).
“The idea is that the mix enriches appreciation for the achievements of the past and sheds light on where new Italian cinema is coming from,” Charity says. “At the same time, we have always tried to dig deeper than the dozen or so established landmarks in Italian cinema history to remind audiences of older films that might otherwise risk being forgotten.
“Films like L’Amore Molesto , based on Elena Ferrante’s early novel; Nanni Moretti’s mid-’80s comedy The Mass Is Ended; or Ettore Scola’s Splendor , with Marcello Mastroianni, a film which is, to my mind, much better than Cinema Paradiso.”
Copresented by VIFF and the Italian Cultural Centre, with the participation and support of the Italian Consulate, the Italian Film Festival runs at the Vancity Theatre from Friday (January 6) to January 12. More at the VIFF website.