Italian cinema is in the midst of a very exciting moment. Over the past few years so many fantastic new films have come out of Italy that one feels on the cusp of something great, perhaps a return to form for a national cinema that had frankly been lagging a bit since the mid-1980s. Brilliant work along the lines of 2008’s “Il Divo” and “Gomorra” is emerging from the European festival circuit, and in increasing quantities. Yet it can be hard to see a lot of these films, many of which don’t get much of a release stateside. Starting June 1st, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will be presenting a series entitled “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema,” which will afford NYC audiences a unique chance to catch some of this year’s most successful Italian films.
It also happens to be the 150th anniversary of the Italian nation, formally proclaimed in 1861 as a kingdom under Vittorio Emanuele II. Not that it’s exactly the kind of celebratory event one might expect. Many Italians look back with a sense of anger rather than patriotism, and the nation’s long history of regional discord makes the Risorgimento sesquicentennial fascinating to watch. “Open Roads” includes not only “We Believed,” Mario Martone’s hugely successful epic set during the events of the 1860s, but also the 1934 film “1860” by Alessandro Blasetti. The latter was made during the height of Mussolini’s power and a comparison between the two films is bound to be intriguing. Anyone even remotely intrigued by Italian politics and national identity should check those out.
There’s a nice balance of exciting new voices and long-tested talent. Debut director Aureliano Amedei’s “20 Cigarettes,” which had an impressive showing at the Venice Film Festival last year, will be presented by the filmmaker to kick things off on June 1st. It follows a young pacifist activist who gets caught up in the Iraq War, touching on both violence and the role of the media in warfare. Meanwhile, old hands Marco Bellocchio and Giuseppe Salvatores are represented by their new features, both of which look back to cinema’s history for inspiration. Bellocchio’s “Sorelle Mai” is a return to the site of his extraordinary first film, “Fists in the Pocket,” while Salvatores uses old RAI TV archives to tell a personal story of Italy’s economic boom in “1960.”
The younger filmmakers in the series also seem to get much of their inspiration from that Golden Age of Italian cinema back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Giovanna Taviani in “Return to the Aeolian Islands” brings her camera to Sicily and the setting of “L’Avventura” and “Stromboli” in order to relate a cinematic memoir. “The Salt of Life” and “Whatsoeverly” hearken back to the tradition of 1960s Italian comedy with its romantic entanglements, catchy music and bombastic sense of humor. Both also feature effective leading performances, aging men who simply cannot accept their own limitations or mortality to hilarious effect.
I’ll definitely be heading up to Lincoln Center to catch “We Believed,” “Sorelle Mai” and “Return to the Aeolian Islands,” though it’s hard to pick just a few films from this mostly strong line-up. Check it out.