Category: Italy


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(As some of you may remember, I made a vow to stop reviewing all of the movies that I watched for my blog a while back. And that still holds true. I decided to only review films that I give an “A” or an “A+” too because I just don’t have time to write 1000 words about all of the other movies that I watch. And the “A” and “A+” films are films that I’m going to have plenty of substantive and, hopefully, interesting things to say about. Anyways, this is the first film to get an “A” since I made that decision, so here we go. I’m probably rusty at this.)

I’m only 25 years old, and I have already lost countless of hours of sleep thinking of what could have been and what I should have done differently. I don’t necessarily believe that my life is one charted primarily in regret, but there is much in my life that I would do different given the chance. Life is short, and it’s getting shorter every day; throw my innate impatience into the mix, and it’s easy to see why I am tortured by every day that I don’t achieve something magnificent. Plenty of films (and an occasional great one) deal with the disappointment of old age and life poorly spent. But few films deal with the emptiness of that revelation in such stark and powerful terms as 2013’s The Great Beauty, the Best Foreign Language Academy Award winning film from Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino. A visual and emotional tour-de-force, The Great Beauty is a modern Italian masterpiece in the Fellini vein.

After three years of running this blog, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about great Italian cinema, it’s that narrative is secondary to “experience.” Emotions and the evocation of a specific state of mind or place is what defines much of the great Italian cinema. The Bicycle Thief is a transcendentally melancholic experience that evokes the crushing poverty of post-World War II Rome.  Cinema Paradiso captures the wonder films can instill in us when we’re young as well as the beauty (and poverty) of Sicily. And no film has captured the mercurial charm of the creative process as well as Fellini’s 8 1/2. And, The Great Beauty is one of the great cinematic statements on regret and old-age packed with some of the most gorgeous cinematography this side of Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.

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Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is a celebrated Italian journalist and novelist that has just celebrated his 65th birthday with a hedonistic extravaganza of Rome’s social elite that would rival any of Ancient Rome’s most debauched orgies. But despite his life of luxury and total ease, Jep is not a happy man. He wrote his first novel, an instant classic, when he was a young man and has written another book since. And his interviews may be among Italy’s most read and in its most respected magazines, but it also involves him interviewing “artists” who act simply involves stripping naked and running head-first into brick walls. After the woman who inspired his first novel dies, Jep suddenly realizes he hasn’t done anything meaningful with his life in thirty years, and that all of the people he associates himself with are as empty and shallow as he is.

What makes The Great Beauty different from other films that deal with an old man who gets old and realizes his life has raced him by is that there’s absolutely nothing feel-good or redemptive about this film. The Great Beauty is not a film about Jep’s attempts to regain control of his life. It’s about his slowly dawning realization that his life has become without meaning and that he doesn’t really have the energy to correct this course. The only person he finds in his life with any emotional honesty and sincerity is the 43 year old stripper daughter of a heroin-addicted old friend. And, Jep quickly discovers that he can’t find the redemption in Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli) that he needs. The Great Beauty, like Synecdoche, New York, before it is a film that forces the viewer to confront his own mortality and that when we die, none of the things we’ve done will be there to comfort us. We will only have the things we haven’t done there to cause us pain.

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Toni Servillo’s masterfully understated performance is the glue holding this whole film together. When The Great Beauty begins to meander (rarely to its detriment), Toni Servillo’s natural mercurial charm combined with his deep reservoir of melancholy makes him one of the most arresting screen figures of the 2010s. Jep is what would happen if La Dolce Vita‘s Marcello lived to be an old man and had even less to keep him happy. Servillo understands Jep so well that it doesn’t seem remotely incongruous for Jep to verbally lash a socialite at an otherwise friendly dinner party and to then suggest to that same woman later in the film that they should sleep together because it would give him something beautiful left to look forward to in life. Jep has an innate joie-de-vivre but if he stops moving for even a second, he realizes that these pleasures add up to nothing, and there is never a second in the film where Toni Servillo doesn’t remind us of this.

The Great Beauty deserved an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, and the fact that it didn’t get one is a crime. It takes nearly twenty minutes before The Great Beauty begins to develop a plot (which is less of a linear narrative and more a series of thematically connected episodes), and it managed to hold my attention in a vise that entire time because The Great Beauty is stunning to look at. Luca Bigazzi’s camera becomes a testament to the eternal beauty of the city of Rome, and Cristiano Travaglioli’s frenetic editing captures the delirious disconnect these wealthy hedonists have from the real world. But, when the film calls for long takes and unbroken meditations on the action at hand, Bigazzi’s camera is there to soak it all in glorious detail and color. The Great Beauty is a must-see because of its cinematography alone.

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The Great Beauty‘s complex understanding of the way that we deal with regret and the notion that there isn’t always a magic solution to live in the moment is going to be off-putting to viewers who require happy solutions and clear-payoffs (or, even, in The Great Beauty‘s case, a cohesive narrative). The film demands that the viewer consider that we’re slaves to our behavioral destinies and that, beyond that, the suffering required for great art may be more pain than the art itself is actually worth. Much like Happiness and Amour, The Great Beauty is a film hiding a cynical and painful world view beneath an inviting title. Although The Great Beauty didn’t leave me nearly as emotionally devastated as Amour, it continues the tradition of the Best Foreign Language Academy Award winners being much better than the American films that win the same title, and it is certainly worth the time of any one who loves powerful and ambitious foreign cinema.

Final Score: A

 

 

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Narrative elegance has become something of a lost art. With the notable exception of Kenneth Lonergan, the idea of a simple story, exceptionally told, rarely graces the silver screen.  The idea that you don’t need a high-concept logline but, rather, just exquisitely drawn characters providing a fresh perspective on the human condition. I don’t mean to dismiss complex narratives or metatextual storytelling (my adoration of Synecdoche, New York should speak to that) or films of the Terrence Malick stripe that nearly abandon plot all together. I simply year for easier access to films with a more natural and understated approach to observing life, in all its forms. And 1948’s The Bicycle Thief is an undeniable masterwork of that species of film-making.

Vittorio De Sica was one of the fathers of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, a post-World War II school of filmmaking rooted in a realistic portrayal of lower-class suffering (Fellini’s La Strada is the closest I’ve come to reviewing a Neo-Realist picture on this blog before, but more accurately, that was a transitional film for Fellini to his later, surrealist works). Neo-Realist films often utilized non-professional actors so the movies would look even more authentic, and they intentionally avoided the glitz and glamour of Hollywood-style film-making. And in De Sica’s magnum opus, The Bicycle Thief, the tenets of Neo-Realism are on full, heart-wrenching display as one man’s quest for survival is chronicled in all of its tragic (non)glory.

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In a post-fascism Italy, unemployment is endemic, and Rome, one of the shining jewels of Europe, is awash in crippling poverty. Jobs are given away by lottery, and on one fateful evening, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggioriani) has his name chosen to place posters around the city (of a Rita Hayworth film which is a particularly clever joke about this film’s non-glamorized nature). Antonio has been unemployed for so long though that he and his long-suffering wife have been forced to pawn most of their possessions including the family bicycle. And, in the first of many ironic twists throughout the film, Antonio’s new job requires him to own a bike.

Of course, Antonio doesn’t have enough money to get the bike out of the pawn shop and he and his wife are forced to pawn their sheets, which were part of the wife’s dowry on their wedding. And, in another brilliant visual in the film, we see a mountain of sheets that other families in the Riccis same position have had to sell. And so, Antonio finally has his bike and for the first time in ages, he can provide for his family. But, the cruelty of an indifferent world has other plans in mind when Antonio’s bike is stolen at the beginning of his very first day of work, and so he and his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) are forced to go on a day-long mission to find the bike because if they can’t, they won’t have enough money to even eat.

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And, in what I hope isn’t too massive a spoiler considering the brutal nature of the film, they don’t get the bike back but that’s far from the most upsetting element of the film’s denouement. From a plot perspective, that’s all The Bicycle Thief is. It’s a story about a father and son’s failed quest to retrieve a stolen bicycle. But beneath that simple surface is a series of complex statements on the relationship between father and sons, the quiet desperation of the working poor, and the lengths we will go to provide for those we care for. What is Glengarry Glen Ross but The Bicycle Thief with a new coat of Reagan-era, “Me”-Generation  paint?

The Bicycle Thief joins Rachel, Rachel and A Single Man as being one of the most overwhelmingly sad films that I’ve watched for this blog. From beginning to end, the sheer weight of retrieving a stolen bicycle feels like the matter of life and death that it has become. And Vittorio De Sica shoots the film with such honest detail and confident assurance in the audience’s ability to understand the plight of the Ricci family that The Bicycle Thief never has to resort to ham-fisted melodramatics to get its point across. It simply presents this family’s life as it is and it lets the audience come to the natural conclusions.

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The Bicycle Thief has been accused of being political propaganda (particularly that it was some type of Marxist allegory), and though I can understand that interpretation, my response is “So what if it is?” and that the film has so much more going than that. Clearly, Vittorio De Sica is overwhelmed by the poverty and desperation that was destroying his country. And, by taking one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rome, and reducing it to its poorest elements (only once contrasting it with an upper-crust bourgeois life during the restaurant sequence), De Sica shows the reality of the 99%. But, the film takes pains to not mythologize or romanticize poverty which leads to the film’s most famous sequence, which has now become one of the most powerful film scenes I’ve ever watched.

As I said earlier, Antonio doesn’t get his bike back, but that’s now where his humiliation and degradation ends, and it’s part of what makes the film so powerful. If The BIcycle Thief were made today, Antonio would get his bike back or some kind stranger would help him find a way out of his situation even without the bike. Here, Antonio is pushed so far past the brink of despair that in a moment of weakness, he tries to steal another man’s bike, making the circle of poverty and desperation complete. And, as he’s chased by an angry mob and Bruno watches his father with shameful tears in his eyes, you realize that whoever took Antonio’s bike was likely pushed there by the same cruelties that led Antonio to the same situation.

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And though the film is stripped of a lot of cinematic artifice, it’s black and white photography is still gorgeous though the most impressive technical aspect of the film was editing. The print on Netflix Instant is a fairly miserable transfer job, but there were moments of montage and transposition that were at an Eisenstein-level of brilliance. In fact, I imagine that during the lead-up to Antonio’s failed attempt to steal the bike, De Sica was heavily influenced by the “Odessa Steps” sequence from The Battleship Potemkin. The interplay between the world, not of wealth but merely getting by, against Antonio’s existentialist battle to survive does more to cement what drives him to steal another man’s bike than any amount of exposition ever could.

Lamberto Maggiorani was a non-professional performer as Antonio but his performance was better for its almost total lack of theatricality. A great director can get star performances from the most unlikely sources, and Vittorio De Sica hit a home run with Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio. Not simply because he looks like the type of man who would be in Antonio’s position, Maggiorani hits the right notes of frustration, desperation, and wounded desire at every corner. Antonio is a man constantly bullied by the cruel whims of fate, and Maggiorani always makes you feel his heartbreak. Enzo Staiola is also excellent as Bruno’s young son particularly when his visions of his father are forever shattered by Antonio’s decision to steal the bicycle.

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But, above all, what makes The Bicycle Thief such a masterpiece is its complete refusal to talk down to its audience or gild the linings of the movie whatsoever. Even before Antonio decides to steal another man’s back, he is pushed to the edge time and time again. He follows an impoverished old man into a church and harasses him during mass on the off-chance the man will help him get his bike back. At one point, he thinks his son has drowned in a river but when it turns out to be another boy that has suffered, he can’t even suppress his smile that at least it’s someone else suffering. If there’s a political statement in The Bicycle Thief, it’s that society can not be surprised if we begin to sociopathically care only for our own needs and desires if there is absolutely no safety net waiting to ensure that we survive.

I had never seen The Bicycle Thief before yesterday, and even after one viewing, it has already leaped its way into being one of the top ten films I’ve ever seen. Occasionally, the films that I idolize for this blog are particularly cerebral and are only appreciable by a niche crowd (The Tree of Life or Through a Glass Darkly). The Bicycle Thief is simple yet so elegant that I can’t imagine anyone not finding something to love in this marvelous picture. For film-lovers, it is the definition of required viewing.

Final Score: A+

 

Where do we draw the line between an artist and his art? Through the works of Woody Allen it is easy to tell that the man loves and loathes his home of New York. He is a neurotic and nebbish man who both worships women and alienates them. If you watch any Quentin Tarantino film, you should come away knowing that he knows more about genre cinema than perhaps any other man on the planet. Considering the number of Scorsese films that deal with religious guilt and the sexual degradation of the male psyche, it is not much of a stress to feel that Scorsese was torn as an artist by his Catholic upbringing. If you can summon basic powers of perception (with some psychological intuition) and have seen a large swath of any directors filmography, you can learn a lot about not only the art but the artist. The scripts they choose to direct, the direction they choose to take the subject matter, the consistent (or perhaps telling inconsistent) tone of their films all speak leagues to who the artist truly is. It’s a fun game for students of film to play as we attempt to gleam little tidbits about her celluloid heroes, but rarely do filmmakers themselves ask these sorts of questions. Yet, the battle between art and the men who make it and the psychological forces that shape said art lies at the very center of Federico Fellini’s masterful 8 1/2 which makes for one of the most cerebral and rewarding films I’ve seen in months.

In an obviously highly autobiographical film (of Fellini’s career/childhood), Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, an Italian film-director who has retreated to a remote resort in the hopes of getting some peace and quiet so he can work on his next film. His rest is short-lived when his film’s producers, his mistress (Sandra Milo), and even his wife (Anouk Aimee) arrive at the resort and begin tearing him in opposite directions. As Guido’s writer’s block and creative slump worsen, we are ushered into the unfiltered recesses of his mind where glimpses of his childhood, sexual fantasies, and reality all intertwine. Guido reflects on the many, many women in his life (from his mother to the first prostitute he ever visited) as well as the role of the church and religious sexual oppression all while trying to find the inspiration to make his next film which he hopes will include all of these elements. To sum up the film as simply (though perhaps misleadingly) as possible, it is a semi-autobiographical film about a director trying to make a semi-autobiographical film while simultaneously destroying every accepted rule of structure and style up to that point.

With certain directors (Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, etc.) it’s impossible to take any one film of their library as a completely separate entity and not as part of their entire canon. I’ve reviewed three films (including 8 1/2) from Fellini’s library now. I have also written about 1954’s La Strada and 1969’s Fellini Satyricon which places 8 1/2 more in the art-house category of Satyricon than the neo-realism of La Strada. While I haven’t seen La Dolce Vita, it was the last full-length film that Fellini wrote and directed before 8 1/2, and in many ways, 8 1/2 is Fellini attempting to follow-up his most commercially and critically successful film yet, failing to do so, and ultimately realizing that he could make a metatextual commentary on the creative process of delivering a follow-up to a rapturously beloved film. The fact that Fellini turned this head-spinning tale of his own attempts to make the movie he’s currently working on into a psychological study of his relationship with women adds the substance that would be missing if Fellini were simply chronicling his own writers block (in an admittedly clever, “meta” way). . This was one of Fellini’s first real art-house films and while it doesn’t totally embrace the surrealism of Fellini Satyricon, Fellnii still masterfully fuses the dreamlike and the real (often in the course of one scene) in what can only be deemed a technically masterful cinematic accomplishment.

In the entire time I’ve ran this blog, I’ve never been so at a loss for how to describe a film on its artistic or technical merits. I finished watching it over four hours ago and I still find new things to mull over in my mind. I’ll recall an overt religious or sexual symbol in a scene that only really clicked when the reason for its import was revealed later in the film. I’ll realize that something happening in one scene probably wasn’t really occurring and was part of one of Guido’s fantasies. I’ll mentally click that the artificial and overtly theatrical nature of early scenes was part of Fellini’s overall commentary on the film-making process. There is so much to talk about in this movie that I desperately crave a dialogue with another person to truly engage with the material. I know that I enjoy the postmodern, dreamlike quality of the film, and I can articulate why I think that makes Fellini such an ambitious and artistically significant (and immensely influential) director, and while those sort of statements are pat enough praise for a lesser film, 8 1/2 deserves an almost academic level of analysis and I don’t see how I can deliver that in this post.

Regardless, this is the format I have and I’ll try to stick to the avenues of praise that I know. Marcello Mastroianni is essentially playing an idealized and semi-fictional version of Federico Fellini himself, and while I don’t know much about Fellini’s personal life other than he married La Strada star Giuiletta Massina and she was to him what Liv Ullmann was to Ingmar Bergman, I can tell you that Marcelo Mastroianni fully inhabited the deeply sexual and ultimately confused hedonist, artist, and lover that was Guido Anselmi. Guido is a slightly pathetic man, unable to make any real decisions over the course of the film, and Mastroianni shows the way he’s being torn apart at the seams in intimate detail. Yet, he’s also a man capable of so much life and passion, and through Guido’s fantasies and his (more rare) happier moments with the women around him (such as his muse Claudia [the breathtaking Claudia Cardinale]), Mastroianni has a chance to explore one of the most dynamic characters of Fellini’s career. Anouk Aimee gave the most impressive performance of the film though as Guido’s long suffering wife Luisa. It’s ironic because I felt the exact same way about the terrible, terrible, terrible musical remake of the film, Nine, where Marion Cotillard (playing Anouk’s character) was the film’s sole saving grace. For a character that was as much caricature as a fully-formed creation in her own right, Anouk Aimee breathed a fire that only a woman scorned can deliver.

Because I feel so ill-equipped to eve discuss this film in a worthwhile manner until I’ve had the chance to discuss it with someone else, let me just state that for a movie that is nearing its 50th anniversary (next year), it’s aged remarkably well. The black-and-white cinematography is as striking in this film as it was in La Strada, and Fellini’s visual flair is really matched only by Bergman, Kurosawa, and Malick. There’s a reason why this film is viewing 101 for every film student in the country, and as someone who regularly bemoans the over-rated status of many “classic” dramas (i.e. dramas before the mid 60s when films were too idealistic and romantic for my tastes), this film hasn’t lost an ounce of its magic even if its inspired an endless stream of less creative imitators. I mentioned that the film was remade into the absolutely terrible, soulless film Nine earlier, and my undying hatred for that film couldn’t even stop me from appreciating how brilliant Fellini’s form is in this picture. It took me about halfway through the film before Fellini’s goal became clear (and I’m sure this film will require several more viewings to fully appreciate), but once I realized what Fellini was trying to accomplish and once the barrier between reality and fantasy in the film became even more thin, it was a non-stop voyeuristic ride into the psychology and creativity of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. If you like foreign cinema or truly challenging (but ultimately rewarding) film, 8 1/2 is required viewing.

Final Score: A+

Since the blog was originally dedicated solely to movies (before it expanded to include other fields0, it should hopefully come as no shock that movies are a fairly integral part of my life. I always loved movies as a youth, but my status as a movie aficionado didn’t really set in until my first trip to Disney World the summer after my 9th grade. While I love virtually every inch of Disney World, MGM Studios remains my undisputed favorite of all of the parks (after three separate visits over the last decade), and even though it’s essentially a glorified tour, MGM Studio’s Great Movie Ride is also my favorite ride at the whole of Disney World. Sitting through that (and to a lesser extent, the Backlot tour) opened up a love of classic and modern cinema that has only gotten stronger with each passing year. During that initial trip, I bought a trivia book about AFI’s Top 100 American movies and tried to devour as many of the films on the list as I could, and when I returned as a freshman in college, I bought not one, not two, but three books on movies, including a comprehensive Oscar history book, a massive coffee table book that is an illustrated history of cinema from the late 1800’s to the early 2000’s, and the NY Times 1000 greatest movies ever made.

When all of the other pleasures of my youth (politics, poker, and countless other hobbies) lost their flavor, movies only grew in stature. I don’t think I could ever participate in the production of the film (though I’ve started on several unfinished screenplays), but watching and writing about the movies I love gives me more pleasure than anything else out there. The first time I was bowled over the gorgeous cinematography of Ran or had my mind blown by a David Lynch film or stood amazed when I saw Daniel Day Lewis act for the first time, those are all memories as tangible and important as anything in “real life”. Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 1988, and for anyone with a deep and heartfelt love of cinema and whose heart has been touched by those fleeting images on screen, this is your story brought to life in as haunting and beautiful a way possible. The film drags at times and I occasionally felt lost in cultural references I didn’t fully comprehend, but for all movie lovers everywhere, this is for you.

Cinema Paradiso is the heavily autobiographical and personal tale of director Giuseppe Tornatore’s childhood in Sicily. A successful director, Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita (Jacques Perrin), has lived in Rome for the last 30 years without once returning to his childhood home of Giancardo, Sicily. One night, he comes home to find a message from his mostly estranged mother saying that his childhood mentor, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), has passed away. The movie then flashes back to Toto’s childhood (played as a child by Salvatore Cascio) in post World War II Sicily with his impoverished mother and a father who in all likelihood died fighting the Russians. Toto befriends Alfredo, the middle-aged projectionist for the local theater, where Toto instantly falls in love with the world of movies (and it seems the town spends most of its time in the theater). As Toto grows up, he eventually takes over the projectionist duties into his teenage years (Marco Leonardi) where he falls in love, spends his time in the army, and eventually grows beyond Giancardo. Alfredo encourages Toto to leave his hometown and pursue his dreams, and Toto doesn’t come back until 30 years later to pay respect to the memory of his departed friend and witness the way his town has changed.

If that sounds like I described essentially the entire story of the film there, I did, but it’s not the plot here that matters. It’s the gorgeous, minute details (which are on rare occasions, excessive). Before I looked up to see whether this film was based on the director’s real life, I could already tell simply because of how honest and genuine this story felt. There are plenty of films out there about making movies (Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Inland Empire spring immediately to mind), but I’ve never seen such a beautiful tribute to movies themselves. The film is abound with footage from classic films, and every detail of the lighting and the framing of the shots reminds you simply of how much Giuseppe Tornatore loves classic cinema. It shows the way films brought communities together before they were a million ways to entertain yourself cut off from the rest of the world (a fact that is already being bemoaned in this film made in the 80’s). It shows how a passion for art and entertainment can transform not only your own life but of everyone else around you. It does all this and manages to avoid maudlin sentimentality and cheap emotional tricks for the entire running time which is a feat in and of itself.

With the possible exception of the youngest incarnation of Toto who goes back and forth between an astonishingly natural performance for a child actor and then a more common state of more obvious child acting, the performances here are simply spectacular. Despite being an uneducated and unsuccessful man, Alfredo is turned into an eloquent and emotionally complex individual through Philippe Noiret’s rich characterization. He quickly became one of the best adopted father figures in cinema history that I have seen and I was even more impressed here than I was with Omar Sharif in a similar role for Monsieur Ibrahim. Marco Leonardi nailed the angst, ennui, and frustration that was eating away at the Toto who was becoming increasingly trapped in his small little world when he was clearly meant for so much more. Jacques Perrin however was the real scene-stealer. He had the fewest lines of all of the incarnations of Toto, but his effortlessly emotive face and marvelously subtle renderings of Toto’s grief and nostalgia upon returning to his hometown made the final thirty minutes of the movie the truly legendary scenes they’ve become.

That isn’t to say that this movie is perfect. Unfortunately, the film can occasionally be scattershot in its approach, and it’s spend a significant portion of its time developing the character of the town Giancardo and its various eccentric figures, such as the priest who bans any scenes of kissing in the theatre (which is originally in his church) or the homeless man who believes the town square to be his or the rich man who spits on the socialists in the theatre when they boo bourgeois characters; however, there doesn’t seem to be much pay-off for any of these characters expect for perhaps one whose details I won’t go into for fear of spoiling one of the few parts of the plot I haven’t explained. The film is only a little over two hours but you often feel like it’s much longer (and I hear the director’s cut adds another hour which would just ruin the film for me), and while it’s ending is perfect and turned me into a sobbing mess of emotion, the rest of the film could have used some steadier editing so that the story could have stayed focus on Toto and his relationship with the loveable curmudgeon Alfredo.

Cinema Paradiso is simply a film made by a movie fan for movie fans. It captures the lost innocence of childhood better than any film I’ve seen in ages, but it gives hope to so many of us out there who may be afraid to pursue our passions. Beautiful acting, beautiful filmmaking equate to an unforgettable cinematic experience. It is a foreign film and therefore subtitled in Italian as a warning to those who find this review compelling enough that you would wish to watch this. Though at this point, I give up on people that can’t watch foreign movies. If you’re at least in high school and can’t sit through subtitles, you are making a conscious (and poor) decision to eliminate the possibility of seeing so many classic foreign films that often make our trite American productions seem embarrassingly amateur-ish in comparison. For anyone with even the slightest interest in deeply emotional storytelling and the great selection of movies from overseas, I have no reservations in recommending Cinema Paradiso to you.

Final Score: A

Watching this blog affords me the opportunity to watch a large number of movies that I would have never seen before, and quite often, those films turn to out to be spectacular movies that I would have been sad to miss if I had known how good they were. The Girl With the Pistol is not one of those movies. In fact, it’s easily a movie that I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing and I regret the loss of nearly two hours of my life that I spent watching this film. To be completely honest, after about an hour, I stopped watching it solely and began looking over my Netflix queue praying that the next films on my list will be more interesting than this film. While a glaring and technical problem (that I’ll get to shortly) caused some of my vast irritation, it was mostly that this was an incredibly boring and unfunny movie that I really wish hadn’t been on my list.

The plot of the film is such. Asunta is a young and beautiful Sicilian woman (she looks like a Sicilian Barbara Streisand) who is kidnapped by local mafiosi Maccaluso Vincenzo whose cronies think she is a different woman. They have sex on the promise that Vincenzo will marry Asunta. However, Vincenzo flees the next morning to England. In order to reclaim her lost honor, Asunta follows him with the titular pistol hoping to kill him. Nothing funny happens the whole film. God it was so boring. Also, for God knows what reason, this film was dubbed. So it was like watching a cheesy kung fu without the awesome kung fu. The only reason this isn’t getting a straight F is the possibility that the terrible dub job covered up good writing in the original Italian. Otherwise, this film has legitimately no redeeming factors and is easily the worst film that I’ve watched for this blog and one of the worst movies that I ever watched.

Final Score: D

Two of my favorite directors of all time are Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Pound for pound, I don’t think there are two more artistic and stylistic directors out there. They ram more symbols and activity into one frame of a movie than most directors have in their entire oeuvre of films. When I watched Fellini’s earlier film La Strada, I got the impression that he was a director in a similar vein to those two artists, but I never expected I would watch one of his films that I would put int he same league as classics like A Clockwork Orange or Mulholland Drive. I was wrong. I just finished Fellini Satyricon, and though (much like when I first watched the two films I mentioned earlier) I feel the need to watch this film four or five more times to know completely and grasp the fully the film I just watched, I also knew when the final credits rolled that I had watched a brilliant masterpiece.

Fellini Satyricon tells the story of Encolpio, a young Roman (in ancient Rome) and his many, many trials and tribulations. Encolpio’s former best friend is Ascilto, though they are no longer friends because of Ascilto stole Encolpio’s (for lack of a better word) sex slave Gitone, a young, very handsome boy. Encolpio and Ascilto (like most Romans) are openly bisexual and pederasts. I would be lying if I didn’t say upfront that this is one of the most homo-erotic films that I have ever seen. The film continues through escalating troubles as Encolpio is captured and enslaved, kills a demigod, fights a mintoaur in a labyrinth, and must find a cure for his impotence.

As gripping and interesting as the plot gets through its many different episodes (which are often as epic as one of Homer’s poems), the real strength of the film rests in Fellini’s direction and his sense of visual style. There are the times when one’s senses are almost unable to grasp everything that is happening on screen quickly enough to register them the way they must be experienced. Fellini does not let your brain rest. Nearly every scene is filled in both the fore- and background with so much activity and little detail that you find yourself paying attention to pretty much every aspect of the film. It was one of the most visually inventive films I’ve ever watched, and it managed to accomplish in the 1960’s without the aid of computers. Fellini just composed his film like a masterful painting and simply let reality do the talking.

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the way in which Fellini composes the movie much as if it were a stage play and being the master of surrealism, combines the two mediums seamlessly. The film’s opening scene could have been Shakespeare had not been about two gay ancient Romans. From the expository nature of the dialogue literally explaining what the characters were doing on screen at the second to the grand poetry of the lines themselves, it seemed as suited for the stage as well as the silver screen. There are times later in the film a well where stories within stories occur and Fellini manages to combine “reality” with “fiction” in marvelous and original ways.

The only reason I can’t recommend this film to everyone is for the same reason that I can’t recommend A Clockwork Orange or Eraserhead to everyone. It takes a certain intellectual capacity to be able to pay attention for the length of this film in the way it deserves and to constantly be processing all of the sensory information that Fellini throws at you. However, if you think you are up for the challenge of this film and you have a history of being able to handle films by artists like Lynch or Kubrick, then you simply have to watch this movie. It’s one of the best movies that I have seen in a good, long while.

Final Score: A+

If you were to ask really movie buffs to name the most influential directors of the non-English speaking world, three directors’ names would invariably be mentioned: Akira Kurosawa of Japan, Ingmar Bergman of Sweden, and Federico Fellini of Italy. I haven’t seen any Bergman pictures yet (although there are many to come for this blog), but I’ve seen several Kurosawa pictures, and they are always spectacular. La Strada marked my formal introduction to the films of Federico Fellini, and when the final credits rolled, this incredibly complex and artistic film left me confused as to what it is that I had just watched.

The plot of the film is simple enough and is not where my confusion lies. Gelsomina is an impoverished country girl that is sold by her mother to traveling circus performer Zampano (played marvelously by Anthony Quinn). Gelsomina is quite dim-witted but generally innocent and pure. Her facial expressions and physical gestures give the obvious impression of an attempt at a sort of female Charlie Chaplin. Her actress Giulietta Massina is not given many lines but she is capable of expressing a wide range of emotions simply through her physical expression which is an impressive feat. Zampano, on the other hand, is a dim-witted womanizing brute and drunk who puts Gelsomina through an incredible amount of suffering throughout the course of the film. Rounding out the primary cast is Richard Basehart as The Fool, another traveling performer who gets entangled in a doomed love triangle with Gelsomina and Zampano. The film basically follows Gesolmina’s life as she is dragged from place to place with the menacing Zampano, and that is really the entire film.

This film feels so much like the biggest possible spiritual predecessor to any sort of modern indie art house film. Symbolism is rife throughout. Nothing really major ever happens through out the entire film. There isn’t any sort  of grand statement to be made about life or politics or the world. It just follows the minutiae of its two main characters (and the one major supporter) and lets their lives do the talking. That’s where my confusion with the film lies. I’m not entirely sure what in the hell the point of the film was. Nothing important or significant enough ever happens (with one glaring exception) to ever be able to wrest any sort of higher meaning away from the film. All of the scenes contain their own sort of beauty and power, but I still haven’t been able to figure out what is the over-arching thread that ties them all together.

The cinematography and direction of the film was outstanding however. You can clearly see the influence that Fellini’s camera working would have on generations of future film-makers and it was really ahead of its time. That was probably the aspect of the film (along with the acting) that managed to keep me engaged with the material even after I’d decided I was completely lost on where this film was taking me. This film really, really, really isn’t for everyone. But if you enjoy artier pictures and you don’t necessarily need a plot that is coherent or even important, you should check it out for its role in cinematic history as a product of a man considered to be one of the all time greats.

Final Score: B