New Italian Cinema
In 1994, Wim Wenders railed against U.S. demands for greater access to European movie screens: "The Americans not only sell their films, but with them a way of life -- music, fashion, clothes, a whole stars and stripes culture!" U.S. films were then occupying 80 percent of European theaters, and still do. Festivals like NICE -- "New Italian Cinema Events," eight films at the Delancey Street screening room this week and next -- remind us that there is still strong, worthy regional cinemas outside our borders.
Edoardo Winspeare's Pizzicata, an audience favorite at the SFIFF this year, is a veritable ethnography of Italian rural life, set in the desolate Salentino Peninsula circa 1943. At the center of this gripping drama about a doomed love affair between a wounded American fighter pilot and a peasant girl is the pizzica, a wonderfully sexy dance, shown in rich detail, that mocks the Catholic repressions of the culture. Matteo Garrone's Land in Between is set in an equally barren landscape, this time the off-roads of modern Italy where Nigerian whores and Albanian day laborers eke out a living. In Satisfaction or Your Money Back, director Sandro Baldoni skewers corporate culture in a black-comic look at an ad agency's attempts to market a dog food called "Vermito" that consists mainly of maggots -- I mean, "Argentinian pampas worms." Perhaps the high point is Roberto Faenza's Marianna Ucria. Based on a best seller about the grim lot of an 18th-century Sicilian noblewoman, this Baroque melodrama has all the elements of a classy bodice-ripper -- wealth, class conflict, a mute heroine, rape, incest, lepers, madness, and murder -- but gains pathos and power from a feminist subtext and a florid set design that suggests a kind of brooding hysteria even in the quiet scenes. In addition to its innate charms, this film surely validates Wenders and suggests that an immediate overhaul of the import-export ratio of American and European films is in order.