3 posts categorized "Italian Cinema"

February 07, 2017

LUNA

LunaBernardo Bertolucci willingly falls into every cinematic pitfall any film artist could make in this follow-up film to “1900,” an epic masterpiece that seamlessly shifts from formal to neo-realistic to sweeping romance in a wartime setting before tilting into magical realism.  

“Luna,” however, is a kitchen-sink melodrama that seems to proffer that it’s okay for a mom to jerk off her teenage son so long as she does it while he’s in a heroin-induced state. Never mind that mom scored the smack to keep her son’s habit in check. Mother and son also kiss passionately once in public, but at least the abused boy refuses to eat out his mom when she pushes his head into her panty-clad crotch. It’s better to get these dicey plot points out of the way in order to properly address, analyze, and critique the taboo subject that puts Bernardo Bertolucci in waters far above his head.

Bertolucci has said that, because he had given the patriarchy so much mileage with his previous films, he wanted to do something for the matriarchy. If anything he sets matriarchy back to the middle ages. Informed by the Freudian archetypes of psychoanalysis he was undergoing at the time, Bertolucci co-wrote “Luna” with his wife, brother, and regular script collaborator Franco Arcalli. The hodgepodge script that results is infuriating for a host of reasons not limited to Bertolucci’s seeming endorsement of sexual mother/son relations.

The film is clouded with overworked (artificial) obfuscations that run the gambit. Jill Clayburgh gamely plays Caterina Silveri, an American opera singer whose husband (Fred Gwynne) dies from a heart attack just before the couple is set to fly to Italy for Caterina to perform in a Verdi opera. As a result of the death, Caterina takes her 16-year-old son Joe (Matthew Berry) with her to Italy where he instantly develops a heroin addiction with the help of a local girl. Joe’s tortured mental state is exacerbated by the discovery that his biological father is an Italian guy in love with his own mother.

“Luna” is an indefensible film because it is built on unsupported narrative clichés that Bertolucci never resolves. Bertolucci is said to have asked if all boys didn’t “sleep with their mothers.” Whether he intended “sleep” to be literal or figurative (sexual) is a question that casts unfavorable light on his relationship with his own mother.

LUNA

It seems clear that Bernardo Bertolucci was attempting to work through personal psychological demons by making “Luna.” In so doing, the filmmaker exposes self-referential tendencies that cheapen every artistic impulse that went into masterpieces such as “Last Tango In Paris” or “1900.” When Fred Gwynne’s character pulls a piece of gum from underneath a balcony railing, the not-so-subtle nod to “Last Tango In Paris” comes across as an inappropriate piece of narrative filler. Later in the film, Caterina and Joe drive through the Parma farmhouse that featured prominently in “1900.” What was once full of life is now a socially barren landscape that mother and son view from their incestuous emotional perspective. Their taboo reality is a nightmare that will not resolve. The worst part of it is that we, the audience, don’t care.

ction with the help of a local girl. Joe’s tortured mental state is exacerbated by the discovery that his biological father is an Italian guy in love with his own mother.

“Luna” is an indefensible film because it is built on unsupported narrative clichés that Bertolucci never resolves. Bertolucci is said to have asked if all boys didn’t “sleep with their mothers.” Whether he intended “sleep” to be literal or figurative (sexual) is a question that casts unfavorable light on his relationship with his own mother.

It seems clear that Bernardo Bertolucci was attempting to work through personal psychological demons by making “Luna.” In so doing, the filmmaker exposes self-referential tendencies that cheapen every artistic impulse that went into masterpieces such as “Last Tango In Paris” or “1900.” When Fred Gwynne’s character pulls a piece of gum from underneath a balcony railing, the not-so-subtle nod to “Last Tango In Paris” comes across as an inappropriate piece of narrative filler. Later in the film, Caterina and Joe drive through the Parma farmhouse that featured prominently in “1900.” What was once full of life is now a socially barren landscape that mother and son view from their incestuous emotional perspective. Their taboo reality is a nightmare that will not resolve. The worst part of it is that we, the audience, don’t care.

Rated R. 122 mins. (D) (One Star — no halves)

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August 27, 2015

YOUTH — CANNES 2015

Youth

CANNES, FRANCE —Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” features Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as a couple of old friends facing down the last days of their lives while vacationing at a luxurious hotel spa in the foothills of the Alps. If watching this dream pairing of actors doesn’t sound like the best thing since the invention of ice cream, then this film is not for you. Don’t bother; you’re not worthy of it to begin with. If, on the other hand, you have a penchant for vibrant international cinema that goes out on an intricately composed limb to discover veiled truths about friendship, love, loyalty, and the creation of art, then settle in for a refined cinematic treat.

Substantial emotional proportions extend out over the physical and metaphorical horizons that Sorrentino puts crisply into view.

Fred Ballinger (Caine) and Mick Boyle (Keitel) are lifelong pals who have come together once again to relax and reflect on their lives in a familiar idyllic location. Fred is a highly esteemed composer and orchestra conductor still recovering from the loss of his much beloved wife. Michael Caine’s deceptively effortless embodiment of his musically gifted character echoes with an openness of spirit that fills the viewer with a simmering sense of passion. A painfully obsequious emissary from Buckingham Palace doggedly revisits Fred at the spa to beg that he conduct his cherished “Simple Songs” cycle for the Queen, for which Fred will receive a knighthood. Fred wants nothing to do with it, but won’t give a reason for his staunch refusal. It’s too personal. Fred’s justification contributes to the film’s elegiac climax with a delicate grace note.

Writing his latest screenplay, entitled “Life’s Last Day,” with the help of a group of young collaborators, keeps Mick busy between dips in the sauna. He wants the film to be a “testament” but can’t articulate the object of his praise. He really just wants to celebrate himself. Mick has a casting ace up his sleeve in the guise of Hollywood diva Brenda Morel, played with caustic aplomb in a scene-stealing cameo by Jane Fonda. In just three short scenes, Fonda gooses the story with the juice it needs.

Youth2
Aside from at least one woman they both dated in their youth, Fred and Mick share an in-law brotherhood. Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) is married to Mick’s playboy son Julian (Ed Stoppard). Lena is left heartbroken after Julian tells her he is leaving her for another woman, Paloma Faith (playing a version of herself), an annoying pop singer celebrity with a reptilian brand of sex appeal. Mick is none to pleased with his son’s shenanigans. However, the breakup has a positive effect of bringing Fred closer to his daughter.

Youth3

Sorrentino draws connecting meanings from unifying supporting characters such as Paul Dano’s quietly observant actor-character Jimmy Tree, who has been pigeonholed by a role he played as a robot in something called “Mister Q.” Jimmy’s preparations for his next role involve a public-space rehearsal performance of Hitler that is amusing as it is spot-on.

“Youth” is a perfectly tuned chamber piece that resonates in waves of humor, regret, lust, and thoughtful expression. Like Sorrentino’s last film “The Great Beauty,” it is a lushly composed film worthy of repeated viewings.

Youth

Not Rated. 118 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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April 22, 2015

BLACK SOULS

BLACK_SOULS

Mafia movies have changed since Francis Ford Coppola’s Hollywood-epic “Godfather” trilogy. Matteo Garrone’s brilliant 2008 gangster picture “Gomorrah” was a take-no-prisoners look at how the mob in southern Italy abuses and enslaves its citizens, corrupts its culture, and poaches its natural resources. Now Francesco Munzi is taking a more personal approach, via Gioacchino Criaco’s novel about a decades-old rift reopened between rival “'Ndrangheta" mafia families in Calabria. As the world’s most influential criminal organization and one of its most lucrative (it brings in $72 billion annually) the 'Ndrangheta mafia far outweighs the more widely known Sicilian "Cosa Nostra" Mafia that has folded into the 'Ndrangheta.

The Barracas and Carbone families are connected by the murder of a Carbone padrone by the Barracas several generations earlier in the bucolic region of Africo Vecchio. Teenager Leo Carbone (Giuseppe Fumo) chafes under the yoke of sheepherder father Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane); he longs to join the family business with his Uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi) in Milan. Leo sews a few wild oats by shooting up a local bar before leaving for Milan to seal his plan, hopefully with Luigi’s blessings. Little does the tough-minded Leo realize the imminent consequences that his thoughtless actions against the local club will have on his family’s relations with the Barracas clan. Leo’s ember of hostility will soon engulf his family.

Black_Souls_2

The brilliance of “Black Souls” lies in its minimalist approach to elucidate the mafia mindset of intimidation and long-held grudges. This seemingly low-key picture provides a historic context of the dichotomy between the mafia’s past of traditional values and the sped-up expectations that the modern world demands. As much as Leo’s sensible father attempts to distance himself from the violence of his family members, he is just as apt to reach for a gun when circumstances seem to demand it. 

Francesco Munzi exerts a graceful restraint in the way he constructs the story (Munzi was a co-screenwriter), and how he frames the Italian landscape with a sense of dramatic vérité to reflect the impoverishment of the characters’ backgrounds. Munzi exemplifies the influence of the late Francesco Rosi, whose commanding use of Italian terrain contributed to the lasting effect of such majestic films as “Salvatore Giuliano.” The scrupulous Munzi also matches Rosi’s talent for casting naturalistic actors whose subtle performances leave indelible impressions that resonate with hostile silence. “Black Souls” hurts.

Not Rated. 103 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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