Saturday, June 3, 2017

Film Series Review—Open Roads: New Italian Cinema

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2017
Series runs through June 7, 2017
Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY

The annual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series—now in its 17th year—has always been a valuable addition to New York’s cinema calendar, but nowadays it’s even more so because it may be the only way to see new films from Italian masters like Ermanno Olmi (whose Greenery Will Bloom Again was a highlight two years ago) or Marco Bellocchio (whose Dormant Beauty headlined in 2013) in this fractured world of releases where even streaming isn’t a guarantee of seeing what one wants to.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Gianni Amelio's Tenderness
Bellocchio is back this year with Sweet Dreams, which I haven’t seen, but another great director, Gianni Amelio—best known for an unbroken string of excellent films from Open Doors and Stolen Children to Lamerica and The Way We Laughed in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s—has returned with his subtle and probing psychological study, Tenderness, that provides insights into the complicated relationships of an elderly father and his two emotionally distant adult children with Amelio’s customarily acute sensitivity. He’s aided by incisive performances by Renato Carpentieri (father), Arturo Muselli (son) and the always impressive Giovanna Mezzogiorno (daughter).

Another director, Marco Tullio Giordana—he of the absorbing epic underworld chronicle The Best of Youth—comes a cropper with Two Soldiers, a flimsy and underwhelming drama about a young woman grieving over her fiancé’s battlefield death in Afghanistan who finds herself caring for a wounded thug holed up in her empty apartment. Aside from the expressive Angela Fontana’s sympathetic heroine, Two Soldiers is as clunky and obvious as its title.

Other forgettable entries include Irene Dionisio’s debut feature Pawn Street, a by-the-numbers melodrama revolving around the people who work at and go to a local pawn shop: its many characters who are scarcely differentiated and end up not being worth remembering. Equally scattershot is Ears, Alessandro Aronadio’s absurdist comedy about a man who runs into ever more lunatic characters and situations; but even Aronadio’s increasingly desperate visuals—including shifting aspect ratios—can’t cover up its fatiguing laboriousness.

Much more successful is Deliver Us, an eye-opening documentary by Federica Di Giacomo, who follows a Sicilian priest as he performs rites of exorcism to try and toss out the “demons” that inhabit many of the Catholics who seek him out as a hope of last resort. Without any condescension or commentary, Di Giacomo intelligently shows how religion, whatever its flaws, can provide needed spiritual and psychological comfort.

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