PUTTING aside Virgil, Ovid, Petrarch, Vitruvius, Galileo, Garibaldi, Rossini, Verdi and a few others, one could be forgiven for thinking that Italy’s greatest contribution to world culture has been in modern cinema.
The Lavazza Italian Film Festival, brainchild of the Zeccola family who owns the Palace Electric Cinema chain, will demonstrate that this fine tradition continues into the 21st century, with an eclectic selection of the best movies and an opening night awash with Lavazza coffee, Prosecco, Peroni and gourmet ice cream.
That opening night will feature the box-office comedy “Welcome To The North” (“Benvenuti al Nord”) (M), where the weird and wonderful postal workers from the hit film “Welcome to the South” reverse direction, in a slapstick cultural encounter, complete with Cilentan (Southern) and Milanese (Northern) dialects.
The closing night film, “Passione”, sounds like a Neapolitan version of “Rom”, as director John Turturro makes a musical journey through the back streets of Naples.
The festival has been curated by Elysia, the daughter of Palace founding father Antonio Zeccola, who put together a wildly eclectic mix of movies before going on maternity leave.
Not just wild, the festival manager for Palace, Genevieve Kelly, points out, but top class, since the Zeccolas are fastidious about their inclusions, which range from farce, to political intruded, ghost story, human studies of multiculturalism in Italy, rom-com and, in what Kelly believes is the greatest coup of the festival, prison-style Shakespeare.
In the 2012 Berlin Gold Bear winner, “Caesar Must Die,” Shakespeare scenes are enacted in prison cells and prison courtyards by real inmates of the high security Rebibbia jail.
“It seems to balance itself out,” Kelly says of the variations. “Elysia selected the best films from Italy and ended up with a cross-section of the best-quality Italian cinema that’s come out recently.”
I’ve seen four of the movies on DVD already (it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it). My favourite was Andrea Segre’s London and Venice award-winner, “Shun Li and the Poet”, where a Chinese immigrant woman befriends an elderly Italian fisherman and encounters hatred and prejudice.
Then there’s Italian-Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Magnificent Presence,” which takes a spooky look at a gay man’s angst through his encounters with a group of vaudevillians from the past.
Canberrans will doubtless warm to a tale of conspiracy in high places in Marco Tullio Giordana’s “Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy”, which looks at the notorious 1969 bank bombing in Milan.
Finally, “One Day More” is an old-fashioned comedy where 40-year-old bachelor Giacomo faces love for the first time.
And there are five more films we haven’t even mentioned!
Lavazza Italian Film Festival Canberra, Palace Electric Cinema, Nishi Building, New Acton, February 5-12. Bookings and information to italianfilmfestival.com.au or palacecinemas.com.au. Tickets at the box office. Win tickets at citynews.com.au/win