4 posts categorized "Italian Cinema"

September 01, 2020

CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

Christ stopped at eboli

Francesco Rosi’s 1979 filmic adaptation of Turinese political activist Carlo Levi’s popular 1945 memoir, about his year spent in political exile suffering Draconian punishments under Mussolini’s fascist regime, is a fluid masterpiece of social realism.

The film’s evocative title is taken from that of Carlo Levi’s chronicle of exposure to Fascism's harsh effect on a specific group of people.

Although you might suppose from the title that Christ visited the small southern Italian town of Eboli, however the context is something more; Christ never went beyond Eboli, which is to say he never witnessed the tragic condition of the remote village of Aliano — renamed as “Gagliano: in the book and film.

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Levi wrote, “Christ stopped at Eboli where the road and the train abandon the coast and the sea, and venture into the wastelands of Lucania. Christ never came here. Nor did time, the individual soul, or hope, nor did cause and effect, reason or history.”

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In 1929, Carlo Levi — not to be confused with his fellow Turinese anti-fascist peer Primo Levi — co-founded the anti-fascist movement Giustizia e Libertà with Carlo and Nello Rosselli. Although Levi graduated with a degree in medicine in 1924, he was inspired to become an artist. Painting allowed Levi private time to carry on private political discussions with activist friends who would sit as portrait models in his studio. The ruse only worked so well for so long. In 1935, Carlo Levi was arrested and exiled to Aliano, in Italy’s Lucania region. The deprived village relates to a similarly poor remote Spanish settlement in Luis Buñuel’s 1933 bold documentary “Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan” (“Land Without Bread”).

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Aliano presents a “land of disease, poverty, and distrust — from a people abandoned and forgotten by the state.” Clearly, Mussolini’s intent was that Carlo Levi might not survive a year spent in a remote place plagued by malaria and fellow political exiles whose attitudes didn’t necessarily coincide with those of Levi. Rather, Levi was compelled to assist the community up to a point in spite of his less than charitable countenance.

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Francesco Rosi buries significant subtext in situational reality. For example, Levi adopts a stray dog at the beginning of the story only to silently abandon the canine soon thereafter. No mention of the dog ever comes up again. Rose elucidates through silence and absence. Less is more. Rosi’s eye for detail shines as when Levi meets his sister when she comes to visit; the siblings walk in perfectly matching steps together. Their DNA is the same. Rosi's deceptively simple detail speaks volumes about the honest and direct nature of the siblings's relationship, something that is revealed during their private discussions.  

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Rosi’s uncanny ability to incorporate a specific Italian region’s locals (playing themselves) provides a foundation of authenticity that underpins the complex narrative with understatement and grace. Even the film's one flash of anger occurs as a substitute for seduction during a scene where Levi's maid bathes him. To watch "Christ Stopped At Eboli" is to go back in time. Politics be damned, life is where you are. Physical exile is real. Intellectualism suffers; culture suffers.

Francisco Rosi remains criminally neglected it the pantheon of great filmmakers. Rosi is right there with Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti even if Rosi isn't as well known. The dynamic naturalism that Rosi captures and observes under his trained vision is astonishing if you take the time to savor it.  

Criterion treats this film with the respect it deserves. Lovely. If you dig collecting Criterion films, this one is a beauty.

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Not Rated. 220 mins. Five Stars

February 07, 2017

LA 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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PATREON BUTTON

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.

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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.

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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)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

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