The renaissance of Italian cinema

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Italian cinema is undergoing something of a risorgimento at the moment, with this autumn’s winners ‘Gomorrah’ and ‘Il Divo’. Dave Calhoun wonders whether we have Silvio Berlusconi to thank for it

It’s not often that new Italian films play in London’s cinemas beyond festivals and special seasons. It’s even rarer that we’re able to see Italian films that are both politically groundbreaking and stylistically daring – films which have a pertinent, bold and loud message about the country and its people. This autumn Londoners will be able to catch a pair of extraordinary new works that suggest that at least two filmmakers are rising to the challenge of dramatising Berlusconi’s Italy – warts and all – and are doing it with a flair and intelligence not seen for years.

The first to hit screens isGomorrah. The name plays on Camorra, the Neapolitan crime syndicate whose stranglehold on waste disposal has been giving Berlusconi a hard time, and Gomorrah, the Old Testament town famously twinned with Sodom. The drama – which follows several separate stories – is a breathtaking and unglamorous look at organised crime in modern Naples and came within a hair’s breadth of winning the Palme d’Or in Cannes this year.

Gomorrah’ is a composite portrait of corruption and crime set against the backdrop of an impoverished Naples. In front of a bleak suburban landscape by the sea, two young hotheads run about with guns quoting ‘Scarface’, while elsewhere a textile factory manager regrets moonlighting for a Chinese rival, a benign-looking businessman doesn’t bat an eyelid while burying toxic waste in a disused quarry and a sweet-faced pre-teen begins his apprenticeship for local hard men by running errands and keeping his smart, impressionable eyes open to the rituals and codes that surround him. The director, 39-year-old Matteo Garrone, drew his script from a best-selling book by Roberto Saviano – a young investigative writer who’s now under police protection.

The other film that’s exciting followers of the Italian cinema scene is Il Divo, the third offering from 38-year-old auteur Paolo Sorrentino after ‘The Consequences of Love’ and ‘The Family Friend’. It’s a crazy, witty, playful musical of an ad hominem assassination job which turns the life and controversial career of former prime minister Giulio Andreotti into a grotesque carnival of prosthetic ears, deathly make-up, incongruous music, striking tableaux, creepy caricatures and an ever-travelling camera which delves into the nooks and crannies of Italian politics. But the beauty of ‘Il Divo’ is that the details don’t matter; the mood alone does the job of drawing the dodgy links between the state, the church, the Mafia and big business.

Could it be that Berlusconi’s Italy, derided as it is by the left, is inspiring a more hard-nosed, daring Italian cinema than we’ve seen for a long while? I’ve been at international film festivals where the inclusion of an Italian film in the line-up has elicited groans from fellow critics. Which means that anything fresh, invigorating and politically incisive is both welcome and long overdue.

Gomorrah’ opens Oct 10. Il Divo’ screens at the London Film Festival and opens Jan 23 2009.

Author: Dave Calhoun



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