I would like to take back my previous disparaging statements about contemporary Italian cinema. I've seen a lot of cinema lately, on the job and off. I've seen in the past few weeks, five Italian films, four of which were excellent, in fact, a few candidates for Il Sette Bello's "Best of 2006" designation. Sadly, there is not much demand for these films outside of Italy so you may have to wait until they come out on DVD, or check your art house listings.
They are (in no particular order):
La Stella che non c'e -- this one was shortlisted for the Golden Lion at The Venice Film Fest. Still, it's distribution outside of Italy is meager. It's a great tale about the creepy side of Globalization.
NuovoMondo - The New World. A Sicilian family, dirt poor and barely educated, strike off for America at the turn of the last century. Che magnifico! There are scenes I won't ever forget, including the creepiest marriage-arrangement scene on the grounds of Ellis Island. Extra props for the Nina Simone soundtrack.
Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio - A sweet documentary about the mixed-race community of Piazza Vittorio. The filmmaker and a musician assemble a group of African, South American and Asian musicians to form an orchestra. This is a low-budget doc, but the characters are brilliant and the music is really catchy. I particularly liked it as Rome seems, at times, to be the least multi-cultural city I've ever lived in.
N. Io e Napoleone. This one made a big splash at the RomeFilmFest, then fizzled at the box office. It's an historical pic about a mad chap from Elba obsessed with killing Napolean. Instead, he becomes the exiled dictator's personal secretary. Some great performances, great scenery and great story. And Monica Bellucci? Small role, but larger than life in person.
The Unknown ("La Sconosciuta") - Another FilmFest premiere, this one scored big reviews. I won't be so charitable. The cast is great, but director Guiseppe Tornatore (Malena, Cinema Paradiso)really has a problem with subtle suspense. The score was painful at times. This one though will likely get a good look from overseas distributors, but doesn't stand a chance in the ISB year-end "Best of" roundup. Sorry, Tornatore.