20th century historical dramas feature in Italian Film Festival

The annual Italian Film Festival celebrates the rich cinematic tradition of Italy and brings some of the country's newest directors and films to audiences throughout New Zealand.

The range of films means audiences get an overview of what is happening with contemporary Italian cinema and collectively they provide an insight into how Italians present and perceive themselves.

The 17 films in the season include comedies, dramas and thrillers. One about the life of Puccini is set in the early years of the 20th century, one is incidentally concerned with the career of Benito Mussolini and one set is on Lake Maggiore in 1943.

“Vinere” (Victory) is a film which probably couldn’t have been made until recently as it exposes aspects of the life of Mussolini which many people would prefer remain undisclosed.

Director Marco Bellocchio’s film details the life of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who was the mother of Benito Mussolini’s only acknowledged, illegitimate child. The couple began their relationship in Milan in 1914 and Ida who owned a beauty salon and house sold up everything to support Mussolini in founding a political paper.

Mussolini however, marries someone else, dumps his socialist views. Ida and his son. Ida becomes obsessed to the point of madness. Tragically aware of what she is doing. she fights to be acknowledged and as a result is forcibly interned until death.

The film which features a stunning performance by Mezzogiorno as a woman grossly wronged, is like as a grand opera, gracefully employing historic newsreel footage, inventive montage techniques and an extraordinary score to give the film a surging symphonic stature.

Another historical drama is “Puccini e la Fanciulla” (Puccini and the Girl) which is about the scandal in Puccini’s life which led to a young girl driven to suicide by Puccini’s wife. She had alleged that the girl who was a maid in their household had an affair with Puccini.

It was later proven that this had not been the case and Puccini had to make reparations to the family of the girl.

The film is presented almost as a silent movie with virtually no dialogue with elegant long takes, careful framing and hints of the early film noir. It is not a silent movie but rather a soundless one and most of the dialogue is taken form the texts of letters and documents. The few interchanges which occur are often whispered which means the subtitles make it much easier to know what is happening.

The film is also clever in the way that it mirrors the story of the opera which Puccini was writing at the time “La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). The tragedy of Minnie and Johnson in the opera grows out of the tragedy of the young maid.

“Hotel Meina” is based on a book by Marco Nozza detailing the true events that occurred at Lake Maggiore, Northern Italy, in September 1943. It tells of a group of 16 Italian-Greek Jews who were among holidaymakers at a luxury resort when Italy signed its armistice with the Allied Forces.

Sudden joy that the war is over is quashed when an SS unit led by Commandant Krassler (Benjamin Sadler) marches in, takes over the Jewish owned hotel where they are staying and orders the Jews to be interned on the top floor. The non-Jewish guests are allowed to continue their vacations and many do so rationalising that they have already paid and the war is over so surely everything will be all right.

So begins a week of waiting and terror, peppered with brief moments of hope, and whilst an anti-Nazi sympathizer attempts to orchestrate an escape for the Jewish families, Krassler smilingly imposes his ruthless authority.

Italian Film Festival Venues

Rialto Cinemas, Newmarket
September 29 - October 17

Bridgeway Cinemas, Northcote Pt
September 30 – October 17

Wellington, Paramount Cinemas
October 13 – October 27

Christchurch, Rialto Cinemas
October 20 – November 3

Dunedin, Rialto Cinemas
October 27 – November 10

Nelson, Suter Theatre
November 3 – 17

Napier, Century Cinema
November 10 – 24


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