Monday, 4 June 2018


Seeing Hell to Eternity again after nearly sixty years was a curious experience, not least because the copy that Channel 9 ran late night (how did that happen?) was considerably longer than the one I’d seen in 1960.

 Two hours and eleven minutes was a hopelessly ambitious length for a black and white B movie that was going to end up on bottom halves of programs.

This one was one of the US action movies of the day which had their after-life in flea pit
re-issues. I thought I was their only fan in the world till I made it out of Australia and
found the crumbling movie palaces at the Central Railway end of Sydney had a
counterpart in London’s Biograph and Tolmer, Dublin’s Ballsbridge Ritz, 42nd. Street’s
grindhouses or Paris’ Studio Actions and Le Mambo where the interval curtain had local
trader decals like a turn of the century music hall. As with the Hong Kong Films of the
Seventies, their re-cycling double feature programming encouraged repeat viewing and hammered the material into memory.

The product had curious limits. Hoppy and Roy Rogers were too juvenile. The newly
accessible European skinflicks were too adult. One distributor described the ideal product
as "a colour Western with a G Certificate" - to which were added the Black and White
Crime, Monster & War movies. I remember the editor of Films and Filming saying his
writers watched too many films. These were the ones he meant.

The hunt pack of Films & Filming writers and the Paris cinéphiles placed these at the
centre of their movie going experience. More conversations turned to them than James
Bond, Tom Jones, l’Aventura and the London Film Festival. Instead of Taste of Honey,
La Chinoise
and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance we soppped up the exploits of
Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun, Joel McCrea, Dan Duryea, Sterling Hayden and of course
Randolph Scott. A feature performers like Allan Ladd, Glenn Ford and Richard Widmark
were welcome visitors. Women didn’t have the same profile, with Maria Montez and
Maureen O’Hara past their zenith and Yvonne De Carlo and Shelley Winters kind of
peripheral. Julie London maybe.

Bob Stevens' Never Love a Stranger: Milan & Barrymore

The notion of authorship had a good innings though, showing up no no directors like Ray
Nazzarro, Lee Sholem,  Herman Strock or Joe Pevney - like Gerd Oswald better on TV.
The best work among the thousand or so contenders was near to always attached to a
regular suspect director. Along with the western Holy Trinity of Anthony Mann, Delmer Daves and John Sturges, Andre de Toth and later Bud Boetticher generated the Randolph Scotts, Jack Arnold did No Name on the Bullet and It Came from Outer Space, Maury Dexter Woman Hunt and House of the Damned, Joseph H. Lewis Lady Without a Passport, The Big Combo and Terror in a Texas Town, Bob Stevens The Big Caper and Never Love a Stranger, Hugo Fregonese Apache Drums, The Raid and Black Tuesday. Don Siegel followed Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Baby Face Nelson and The Line Up and Sam Fuller, demoted from his Fox features, contributed Underworld USA, The Crimson Kimono and Shock Corridor to match Jacques Touneur’s Night of the Demon and Wichita. Killer’s Kiss and The Killing came from a young still photographer named Stanley Kubric.

Which brings us to Phil Karlson not honored in his own country or any place else until it
was all over and he got to share a book with Joe Lewis. Karlson clambered up the ranks
of B movie gophers in the thirties emerging as a director with A Wave, a WAC and a Marine in 1944. Not all of the poverty striken second features he had his name on were masterpieces but a determined viewer would have spotted that his entries in the Shadow series (Behind the Mask 1944) and the Charlie Chans (his very noir The Shanghai Cobra 1945) outclassed their running mates and by 1949 his Down Memory Lane compilation from Mack Sennet footage, The Big Cat in subdued Technicolor and Iroquois Trail canibalising the Randolph Scott Last of the Mohicans all showed him pulling away from the pack. Columbia started giving him more ambitious product which he handled professionally. Valentino imitator Anthony Dexter and Tony Quinn in The Brigand was fun.

However our man found his niche in the fifties crime movie. 99 River Street, Kansas City
Confidential and Tight Spot (Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers and Brian Keith) led to The Phenix City Story, Phil Karlson’s signature work. Filmed they told us under police protection it was an extraordinarily violent, extraordinarily plausible account of murder and corruption the proximity of an army camp brought to the community. Richard Kiley minus his hair piece and John MacIntire, in the real suit of the mob killing victim, headed up an excellent cast. This was a film with idea content and that didn’t become buried in the action.

Mixed in with some TV work, the excellent Gunman’s Walk and The Scarface Mob (The
pilot) followed, before Hell To Eternity, not Karlson’s most expensive project but his most thematically ambitious.

When they decided to film the story of Guy Gabaldon, WW2’s "the Pied Piper of Saipan", the backers probably expected they would get something like To Hell and Back. The State Department was urging Hollywood to play nice with their new Japanese allies and a few films like John Sturges’ great Bad Day at Black Rock or Robert Pirosh’ Go For Broke were already in circulation.

Hunter, Vic Damone, Janssen & Galbadon
Gabaldon, unlike star Jeffrey Hunter fresh from playing Jesus in Nick Ray’s abominable King of Kings, was Hispanic. He had been fostered by a Japanese family though not as extensively as the film suggests. He was not as fluent in Japanese either and not rejected for military service for a perforated eardrum. That was something they borrowed from the WW1 war record of co-star Sessue Hayakawa.

The film is a fictionalised version of Galbadon’s WW2 exploits preserving the shape that made them notable. Steered away from delinquency by his school’s Japanese sports coach, the character finds himself in the cross hairs when America enters WW2. An effective scene has Hunter at the drive in lunch counter with his adoptive brother’s Japanese fiancée. One of the diners, who has just heard the broadcast of the Pearl Harbour attack, abuses the girl starting a fight but the man’s friend has a clearer view of events and warns Hunter “Get that girl off the streets!”

The Karlson film spoke out on racism in WW2 America quite explicitly in a touching scene of the Japanese family rounded up by the military from their tract home for “a concentration camp” and querying why German and Italian Americans are not being collected in the same way.

There is a brief scene in a minimally detailed Manazar, the camp subject to a more thorough examination in Alan Parker’s 1990 Come See the Paradise. At this point the film shifts into more traditional ground with scenes of marine training under Sgt. David Janssen. After some strenuous R&R in the Islands, the Americans land at Saipan overcoming Japanese resistance and witnessing civilians flinging themselves off the cliffs after hearing of the barbarism of the invaders. (this is detailed in Ken Burns brilliant  documentary The War) Galbardon uses his skills to negotiate the bloodless surrender of more than a thousand of the already defeated enemy.

Hell to Eternity can’t avoid the defects of it’s schizoid form. The two scenes which stuck
Owens : Hell to Eternity
in my memory are more useful to trailer makers than to the film’s idea content. We get War Correspondent Patricia Owen’s stripping at the drunken party. Though Japanese dancer Reiko Sato, whose act precipitates the scene is the more skillful performer, it is Owens who registers, partly because of the way she is presented as buttoned up and severe, with references to “the iron petticoat.”  The scene still carries its erotic charge. It somehow gets disproportionate representation in the advertising.

In her relatively short career Owens had quite a profile in Grindhouse repertory with this film, The Fly and Sturges’ The Law & Jake Wade.

The other vivid memory episode was Janssen’s last scene, with its propulsive trackings and
savagery. It is more connected to the film’s main drive; Galbaldon / Hunter’s vacillating in
his perception of the Japanese as a civilized nurturing culture and bloody handed aggressors.

Karlson manages all the action material effectively, notably the amphibian landings, his
limited budget running to a few pieces of war machinery and a generous number of uniformed extras, presumably the contribution of the 3rd Marine Division from Okinawa
who collaborated on this film. I’m told military detail is scrupulous. By contrast the Corps had refused aid to Stuart Heisler's Beachhead which was perceived as grisly enough to discourage recruiting

Hell to Eternity
sneaks in imaginative touches - reflecting the naval barrage on General
Hayakawa’s field glasses, showing the body strewn aftermath of battle in total silence or
having the performers who played the family in the early scene re-appear as suicidal
Japanese Islanders. This last has been blunted in post production by superimposing their
earlier appearance on the scene which played more effectively without it. More
daring, Hayakawa does his big speech to the troops in Japanese without translation -
remarkably impressive. This gets around the big ask of making the effect of his oration credible to non speakers. Compare betrayed Yul Brynner angrily dictating his memo in Russian in 1959’s The Journey.

Hayakawa was coming to the end of an international star career stretching back to 1914,
of which regrettably little is accessible. His performance outclasses the film’s other
elements, despite the limitations of script and staging which put him at the mercy of
carbine waving Jeffrey Hunter (“Shot by a lousy P.F.C. There’s no honor and glory in
Hell to Eternity : Hayakawa and Hunter
Hayakawa is right on top of his game here, his shaded performance evoking an
anachronistic notion of military valour, in conflict with the brutality of the situation - the
banzai frenzy he has generated in his troops. His part was the major casualty of the condensation which, while it may even have improved the film, robbed it of this richest ingredient.

Sessue Hayakawa matinee idol

Sessue Hayakawa in Hell to Eternity

Also notable is the only sound appearance of Hayakawa’s wife and silent movie co-star
Tsuru Aoki who registers vividly as Mother Une, generating motivation that the writing
has trouble matching.

Outside of a dreary score, the production values and Karlson’s deployment of them have professional excellence. Notice the speedy wind up, characteristic of the best of the cycle - films like The Big Heat or Black Tuesday.

Karlson at very least understood what the film was about, defying that denigration which Hollywood personnel apply to colleagues they don’t respect. Touches like the one shot of the stateside bar where men are swilling their drinks under the realisation of the war situation or the ambivalence allowed Hayakawa are not what you expect from the thick ear environment of Allied Artists making a grind house feature.

Karlson had more ambitious work ahead of him, films with Robert Mitchum and Elvis Presley. His endearingly trashy The Silencers re-cycled the backwards shooting gun from The Brigand. His The Young Doctors was a main stream feature anyone would have been proud of and Walking Tall made him a fortune.

Now we can see Hell To Eternity in there with Cornel Wilde’s Beach Red, as a step towards the greater sophistication in war films like Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan or the Clint Eastwood Letters from Iwo Jima with which Eternity shares a number of elements. It puts earlier Major Studio efforts like Battle Cry and Between Heaven and Hell in the shade, despite their prestige and more substantial resources. This one bookmarks a whole class of film making that has never been properly appreciated.

Eventually the stars would retire with only Lee Van Cleef managing the transition by
becoming the Italians’ Mr. Ugly. For a while there Steve Reeves and Franco Nero filled
the ranks of the fallen but the cowboys were gradually replaced by Shaolin Masters and
Karate Kids. The theatres fell victim to the once despised exploitation films. I remember
traveling out to Islington newly become the Screen on the Green to see Girl on a
e in what had till recently been an action double bill house. One of the old
regulars was sitting in the row behind me and muttering to himself “Sex, sex, sex. It’s all
sex now!” Comes the scene where Marianne Faithful and Alain Delon get it on and, as
they climax and the image freezes, he looked up and added “All over now.” He was right.
I was so sorry to see it go.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Cinema Reborn - FYI

Full Program

THU 3 MAY 6.30PM
Sans lendemain_PHO08_217_3
Edwige Feuillère, George Rigaud | Sans Lendemain | Photo: Gaumont
Dir: Max OPHÜLS, France, 1939, 82 mins, b&w, sd., DCP (orig. 35mm), French with Eng. subtitles, UC/18+.
Sans Lendemain was the penultimate picture cosmopolitan director Max Ophüls made in pre-war France before leaving for Hollywood. Evelyn/Babs works as one of four topless dancers at “La Sirene”. Babs has a fateful chance meeting with an old flame, Georges, and fate throws up an opportunity she should not take, but memory and desire compel her forwards. Australian premiere. Introduction by David Hare. [Read notes on the film here]
4K restoration by Gaumont.
 FRI 4 MAY 10.00AM
Paul Cox
Paul Cox
Dir: Peter TAMMER, Australia, 2015, 61 mins, ProRes, col., sd., Eng., U/C18+
Shortly before film director Paul Cox died, he received a visit from his friend Peter Tammer and they spent an afternoon discussing Cox’s life. A remarkable record of that day and a fitting final tribute to Paul Cox’s life. Sydney premiere. Introduced by the director, Peter Tammer. [Read notes on the film here]
 FRI 4 MAY 11.45AM
Dir: Dave JONES, Australia, 1974, 86 mins, ProRes, (orig. 16mm), b&w, sd., English, UC/18+.
American Dave Jones came to Australia in 1971. Yackety Yack was made in La Trobe University’s film studio by Jones, students and staff (including legendary film critic/actor John Flaus) , with Jones himself in the lead role as Maurice an aspiring, egomaniacal film director. “the Hellzapoppin’ of poor cinema, a frequently hilarious spoof on the low budget film… a sheer delight.” (David Stratton). Introduction by Rod Bishop.
Restoration by the Library of the University of Technology Sydney. Restoration supervised by Margot Nash. [Read notes on the film here]
 FRI 4 MAY 2.00PM
Soleil-ODir: Med HONDO, France/Mauritania, 1973, 98 mins, DCP (orig. 35mm), b&w, sd., French with Eng. subtitles, U/C18+
Mauritanian-born Med Hondo’s experiences, trying to make a living in a range of menial jobs in 1960s Paris, infuse his first film, Soleil Ô.From the stylized and surreal opening sequence to the episodic adventures of a particular man, the director presents a series of imaginative set pieces, linked by voice-over narrative, that investigate and dramatize a complex of interrelated themes.  A scathing attack on colonialism, the film is also a shocking exposé of racism…” (Harvard Film Archives notes).
Introduction by Peter Hourigan.
Restoration Australian premiere. Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L’immagine ritrovata laboratory in collaboration with Med Hondo. Restoration funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project. [Read notes on the film here]
 FRI 4 MAY 4.15PM
Dir: Max OPHÜLS, France, 1939, 82 mins, b&w, sd., DCP (orig. 35mm), French with Eng. subtitles, UC/18+. [Read notes on the film here]
FRI 4 MAY 6.30PM
Dir: OZU Yasujirō, Japan, 1957, 140 mins, col., sd., 4K DCP (orig. 35mm), Japanese with Eng. subtitles, U/C18+
For quite some time this film was almost the missing masterpiece of Ozu’s career. More recently it has been released in the US and UK and now had its full flowering, with a 4K restoration recently premiering at the 2018 Berlin film festival. It tells of two sisters (Arima Ineko and Ozu’s emblematic lead actress, Hara Setsuko), and follows their parallel paths as they reunite with a mother who abandoned them in childhood. Introduction by Jane Mills. Restoration Australian premiere, courtesy of Shockhiku International
[Read notes on the film here]
 SAT 5 MAY 10.00AM
Dir: Lester James PERIES, Sri Lanka, 1970, 110 mins, DCP (Orig. 35mm) col., sd., Sinhalese with Eng. subtitles., U/C18+
Sri Lankan cinema’s still living cinema legend, Lester James Peries commenced making films in the 1950s, regularly premiered at the major European festivals and made the first Sri Lankan film to get an Oscar nomination. Winner of the Silver Lion at the 1972 Venice film festival, The Treasure is his most acclaimed work, frequently topping best Sri Lankan films of all time polls. “My most controversial film… holds a strong social and political value in denouncing the system. The character is trapped between two cultures: the Western/British one and his culture of origin….” (Lester James Peries). Introduction by Adrienne McKibbins.
Restored in 2013 by the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project at Cineteca di Bologna /L’immagine ritrovata laboratory. In association with Lester James and Sumitra Peries, the National Film Archive of India and the National Film Corporation of Sri Lanka, Cinemas Ltd. Additional restoration elements provided by Degeto Films. Restoration funding provided by Doha Film Institute.
SAT 5 MAY 1.00PM
Session approx. 50 mins.
The new CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia talks to producer Sue Milliken about his new agenda and the long-standing challenges for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia in preserving and restoring Australian cinema heritage.
SAT 5 MAY 2.30PM
between-warsDir: Michael THORNHILL, Aust., 1974, 100 mins, 35mm, col., sd., Eng., M.
The collaboration between filmmaker Mike Thornhill and writer Frank Moorhouse was a rare, but also uniquely creative partnership in Australian cinema. Their now neglected debut feature is also one of the most unexpectedly cerebral of the breakout films from the Australian New Wave; a contrarian’s read of 1920s and ’30s Australia, rich with paradoxical ideas, unexpected tableau and tantalizing ellipses. Imports Corin Redgrave and Gunter Meisner give striking performances in a film demanding revival, restoration and re-evaluation. Preceded by The American Poet’s Visit (Dir: Michael THORNHILL, Aust., 1969, Digibeta, 20 mins, U/C18+): Thornhill and Moorhouse’s first collaboration, satirizing the Sydney Push and based on the writer’s short story. In the anticipated presence of Michael Thornhill and Frank Moorhouse. Session hosted by Mark Pierce.
35mm archival print of Between Wars courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive. The American Poet’s Visit courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
[Read notes on the film here]
 SAT 5 MAY 5.30PM
pomegranates2Dir: Sergei PARAJANOV, USSR, 1969, 77 mins, DCP (orig. 35mm), col., sd., Armenia/ Georgian/ Russian with Eng. subs, U/C18+.
Sergei Parajanov was exiled to Armenia where he made The Color of Pomegranates. Confiscated and recut by Soviet censors, it was not until 2015 that the director’s original vision finally emerged. It depicts the life of revered the 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova. “If The Colour of Pomegranates were a building, it would be a world heritage site.” (Tony Rayns).
Introduction by John McDonald.
Restored in 2014 by Cineteca di Bologna/L’immagine ritrovata and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, in association with the National Cinema Centre of Armenia and Gosfilmofond of Russia. Restoration funding provided by the Material World Charitable Foundation and The Film Foundation. [Read notes on the film here]
 SAT 5 MAY 7.30PM
Dir: Francis COPPOLA, USA, 1982, 98 mins, 35mm, col., sd., English (M).
One from the Heart was originally envisioned as an intimate endeavour, a tender look at a subject Coppola had never addressed: romantic love. In the end he decided to make an old-fashioned studio picture using cutting-edge technology and sleight-of-hand visual trickery. The score is by Tom Waits and sung by Waits and Crystal Gale. Introduction by David Stratton.
35mm copy from Francis Ford Coppola’s personal archive.
[Read notes on the film here]
franceDir: Rainer Werner FASSBINDER, West Germany, 1978, 124 mins, DCP (orig. 35mm) col., sd., German with Eng. subtitles U/C18+
Fassbinder’s 38th film was made near the end of his tragically short career. Made as a reaction to the suicide of the director’s former lover ,Armin Meier, it follows the last few days in the life of transsexual Erwin/Elvira, paying one last visit to people and places with personal meaning. Probably the most intensely personal film Fassbinder ever made, its brutal honesty has caused it to be described as a film which makes Salo look like Mary Poppins. “Its only redeeming feature is genius” (Vincent Canby, The New York Times). Introduction by David Hare.
Restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. Courtesy of StudioCanal. [Read notes on the film here]
 SUN 6 MAY 12.45PM
Dir: Jane CAMPION, Aust., 1986, 78 mins, DCP (orig. TV), col., sd., Eng., M.
The course of an intense, but short-lived New-Best-Friend-ship between two girls growing from ‘tweens into ‘teens is plotted in reverse – from its cooling to its first days when school friends were certain that they’d be friends for life. Jane Campion’s first (although made-for-ABC-TV) feature drew on an original script from writer Helen Gardner, based on her insights as a high school teacher. Introduced by Jan Chapman.
Restored by the ABC, preserved by the National Archives of Australia. Courtesy of Jan Chapman and ABC Content Sales.
 SUN 6 MAY 2.30PM
Dir: Ian DUNLOP, Australia 1966/1969, b&w, sd., DCP (orig. 35mm), English, UC/18+.
Session approx. 150 mins.
Master Australian ethnographic documentary filmmaker Ian Dunlop introduces a selection of episodes from his milestone film series. Newly restored through a partnership between Australia’s two major national audiovisual archives, People… remains a unique and beautifully photographed celebration of the traditional customs and way of life of the Ngaanyatjarra people, as still followed in the late 1960s and in the country around Warburton, WA.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are advised that these films contain the images and voices of those who have since died.
In anticipation of Ian Dunlop introducing the session. Hosted by Rachel Perkins.
From the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s Film Australia Collection. Presented in collaboration with the National Archives of Australia. With thanks to NGMedia and traditional custodians Roma Butler and Colin Nelson.
SUN 6 MAY 5.15PM
crime-de-monsieur-lange 2
Jules Berry in The Crime of M. Lange (Courtesy of StudioCanal)
Dir: Jean RENOIR, France, 1936, 82 mins, DCP (orig. 35mm) b&w, sd., French with Eng. subtitles, U/C18+
Renoir’s first out and out masterpiece, made under the aegis of the French Popular Front, tells of the life of the residents of a working class courtyard and their travails in the nearby printing shop owned by the evil Batala. The restoration now shows off Renoir’s most fluid film of that era, with its dynamic editing and use of depth of field. Introduction by Geoff Gardner
Restoration Australian premiere, courtesy of StudioCanal. [Read notes on the film here]
SUN 6 MAY 7.15PM
woman on the run 41
Dennis O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan, Woman on the Run – Courtesy Film Noir Foundation
Dir: Norman FOSTER, USA, 1949, 82 mins, b&w, sd., DCP (orig. 35mm), Eng., UC/18+.
Produced by and starring Ann Sheridan, this long unseen B-noir from director Norman Foster’s (best known as Orson Welles’ assistant) is now getting praise for cinematographer Hal Mohr’s luminous, black and white San Francisco nocturnes, Foster’s no-nonsense yet expressive visual style, plus a storyline – and a performance from Sheridan – full of continual surprises. Introduction by Eddie Cockrell.
Restoration Australian premiere. Restoration by UCLA Film Archives/The Film Noir Foundation supported by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Courtesy of Flicker Alley. [Read notes on the film here]
in this life's body
Dir: Corinne CANTRILL, Australia, 1984, 147 mins, b&w, sd., ProRes (orig. 16mm), English, UC/18+.
Corinne and Arthur Cantrill have long occupied a place as Australia’s leading experimental film-makers. In 1984 Corinne made one of the most extraordinary films ever made locally, a recreation of her own life’s journey. It is a film of unrelenting truth and a major work in Australian experimental film. Introduction by Margot Nash
Restoration by the Library of the University of Technology Sydney. Courtesy of Corinne and Arthur Cantrill. [Read notes on the film here]
NOCY4Dir: Shadi Abdel SALAM, Egypt, 1969, 102 mins, col., sd., DCP (orig. 35mm), Arabic with Eng. subtitles, UC/18+.
The Night of Counting the Years, which is commonly and rightfully acknowledged as one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made, is based on a true story: in 1881, precious objects from the Tanite dynasty started turning up for sale, and it was discovered that the Horabat tribe had been secretly raiding the tombs of the Pharaohs in Thebes.  A rich theme, and an astonishing piece of cinema.” (Martin Scorsese). [Read notes on the film here]
eloquent peasant 1Preceded by The Eloquent Peasant (Dir/Sc: Shadi Abdel SALAM, Egypt, 1970, 21 mins, col., sd., Digibeta (orig. 35mm), Arabic with English subtitles, UC/18+): Shadi Abdel Salam’s only other dramatic film work, adapted from the ancient Egyptian Pharaonic Literature of the Middle Kingdom, 2200 BC.  Australian Premiere. [Read notes on the film here]
The Eloquent Peasant introduced by Rod Bishop. The Night of Counting the Years introduced by Phillip Adams.
Restoration of Shadi Abdel Salam’s films undertaken in 2009 and 2010 by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project at Cineteca di Bologna /L’immagine ritrovata laboratory in association with the Egyptian Film Center. Restoration funding provided by Armani, Cartier, Qatar Airways, Qatar Museum Authority and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Sprocketed Sources: THE YEAR 2017.Yes, I’m still doing it. After ano...

Sprocketed Sources: THE YEAR 2017. Yes, I’m still doing it. After ano...: THE YEAR 2017. Yes, I’m still doing it. After another year of movie going I notice that the fringe operations are edging out the multiple...
THE YEAR 2017.

Yes, I’m still doing it. After another year of movie going I notice that the fringe operations are edging out the multiplexes as the major source, though whether you can count as fringe the Asian movies in a Chinese owned city center complex is speculative.

The films which impressed me when I saw them for the first time this year in some sort of order were LA LA LAND (Dominic Chazelle just getting into the new year and nobody fiddled the cards for this announcement), KONO SEKAI NO KATASUMI NI (In ThisCorner of the World, Sunao Katabuchi’s Hiroshima manga), THE VIETNAM WAR (another great Ken Burns & Lynn Novack TV series),  AUS DEM  NICHTS  (In the Fade - Fatih Akin with Diane Kruger), SILENCE (reverence from Martin Scorsese), DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan in 70mm.), The YOUNG POPE (Paolo Sorrentino TV), La TENEREZZA (Tenderness - top flight Gianni Amelio), BACALAUREAT(Graduation - Cristian Mungiu, Rumanian), WONDER WOMAN (Patty Jenkins pick of the strip catoons) WO BU SHI PAN JINLIAN (I Am Not Madame Bovary - Xiaogang Feng), The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig), Zhan lang II (Wolf Warrior II /Jing Wu), Felices 140 (Happy 140 - Gracia Querejeta), Incendies (Denis Villeneuve), Churchill (Jonathan Teplitzky) Wind River (Taylor Sheridan), Terra madre (Alessandro Blasetti 1931 ), El ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen - Gastón
Duprat, Mariano Cohn, Argentia), Trinadtsat (The Thirteen - Mikhail Romm 1936), Dvoryanskoe gnezdo (A Nest of Gentry - Andrey Konchalovskiy 1969), Patriots Day (Peter Berg), Fang hua (Youth - Xiaogang Feng, El destierro (The Exile - Arturo Ruiz Serrano), Bahubali 2: The Conclusion 

Bahubali : Prabhas
(S.S. Rajamouli), Que Dios nos pardone (May God Save Us -  Rodrigo Sorogoyen),  Les premiers les derniers (The First, the Last  - Bouli Lanners), Wilson (Craig Johnson), Capitan Kóblic (Sebastián Borensztein), Tarde para la ira (The Fury of a Patient Man - Raúl Arévalo), L’intrusa (The Intrusion - Leonardo di Costanzo), Dangal  (Nitesh Tiwari),  Sanpo suru shinryakusha (Before We Vanish / The Strolling Invaders - Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Plan de fuga (Escape Plan - Iñaki Dorronsoro), Visages, villages  (Faces Places - JR, Agnès Varda), Denial (Mick Jackson), Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve again), Naples '44 (Francesco Patierno), Mugen no jûnin (Blade of the Immortal - Takashi Miike), Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd), Railroad Tigers (Ding Sheng), Khaneye dokhtar (The Girl's House - Shahram Shah Hosseini Iran), Cerca de tu casa  (At Your Doorstep - Eduard Cortés), Otôto (About Her Brother/ Younger Brother - Yôji Yamada). 

Tenerezza - Carpentieri & Germano
The Spanish and Italian film events made a disproportionate contribution (thank you). Nearly as many Hispanic as Hollywood films listed. A few people are getting to be repeat offenders on these lists - notably Woody Harrelson, Feng Xiaogang and Ricardo Darin. Add in the novelty of  Hun Jang’s Korean Taeksi Woonjunsa (A Taxi Driver) and Saman Moghadam’s surprising Iranian Sperm Whale 2 :  Roya's Selection which I seem to be constantly referencing.

A lot of material admired in other places will take years to get to me here. Look at old overseas ten best lists and notice how many no shows there are. Also, since the theatres stopped listing their programs in the press and apathy and lack of support dismantled the enthusiast groups word of moth network, it’s easier to miss the oddities that do make it.

WO BU SHI PAN JINLIAN : I Am Not Madam Bovary : Fang Bingbing.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


 Opening night at the Italian Film Festival you scored Francesco Amato's Lasciati andare/Let Yourself Go which, like too many film festival selections, must have been chosen because it wouldn't scare away paying customers. This opened for an extended run the week after.

It is a conventional comedy where it’s a surprise to find current face of the Italian serious film Tony Servillo doing Woody Allen. He plays a Jewish psychoanalyst who is too mean to pay for a divorce from the appealing wife still doing his laundry and living in the next flat in the ghetto block where Tony is infuriated by the Observant neighbour who leaves the top floor lift door open on Sundays to avoid breaking shabbat.

The patients from Tony's practice keep on turning up in the film’s plot developments. They include Giacomo, of the great Aldo, Giacomo and Giovanni team, who dates the wife and is more in his element.

Tony’s told by his doctor to get into shape or he’ll get diabetes, listing the consequences, and that bringing his mum’s exercise bike up from the cellar won’t help. He won’t stick with that the way he would with a gym membership. That’s using psychology on the shrink.

In the gym, Tony collides with sex pot Verónica Echegui running her jazzercise class in her spandex pants and when she hides from the owner’s jealous wife in the steam room with Tony, she convinces him he needs her as a personal trainer - predictable jokes about him running and working out with her as he gradually gets into shape.

Her whacked out sex life intrudes, with her black son setting fires, including one on
Tony’s jacket. 
She is working Tony as part of the scheme where her psycho prisoner boyfriend Luca Marinelli wants to be hypnotised into remembering where he put the jewel store robbery loot. We've forgotten about him pacing out and burying this at the start of the film. When Tony finally gets him on the couch the piece moves deeper into knockabout. The session puts pistol waving side kick Vincenzo Nemolato to sleep and recovering the loot involves dropping an owl cage on the hapless Slav's head.

The handling is brisk and the bright colour scheme attractive. Mixing Jewish jokes, shrink jokes and slapstick crook comedy is occasionally amusing but we’ve been there before and might have hoped they’d come up with a more substantial vehicle for Servillo.

Simone Godano figured the personality swap idea could stand another go round as her first movie Moglie e marito/Wife & Husband. I wasn’t so sure. To start with macho Pierfrancesco Favino (Suburra) and elegant Kasia Smutniak (Perfetti Sconosciuti) seem unlikely contenders for a gender swap but that’s the thing that drives the film. Inner Favino having to come to terms with kissing outer Favino with three days growth of beard is in the same dodgy area as Hal Roach’s old Turnabout  but they embrace the possibilities and the leads enjoying making out is one of the funniest parts of the film.

Moglie e marito ; Smutniak e Favino 
He’s a scientist trying to produce a machine which will transfer memories from one individual to another and she’s a sleek wannabe TV personality. Their marriage is on the rocks when his experiment swaps them over. There is the now familiar uneasy comedy of her acting butch and him fluttery but they do manage to get laughs out of inner Favino sitting with legs apart revealing his panties on her TV show and moving into startled Valerio Aprea’s flat while Kasia is outraged that he is putting junk food into her trim body and letting the baby breast feed after she had weaned it.

Best glossy European production values put the characters into plausible home, laboratory and TV industry settings. The piece gains a bit more traction when the pair have to use their old skill sets to sort out the problems they have caused but the ending when both have to articulate what they’ll miss if the transfer is reversed is actually quite touching.

Amori che non sanno stare al mondo/Stories of Love That Cannot Belong to This World is intensely female, like writer-director Francesca Comencini’s 2009 Lo Spazio bianco, so much so that a bloke viewer is likely to feel uncomfortably like an eavesdropper.

We kick off with thirties-ish Lucia Mascino waking up and immediately sending of needy texts to her ex-lover, who says he’d rather be put to the rack that resume their association. After chatting with her female neighbours, each with their own relationship dramas, needing a fifty Euro recharge for her smart ‘phone is a major crisis.

The film stays with the intensely irritating Mascino, pulling of the considerable feat of enlisting the audience to her point of view.

We see her as a disruptive speaker on a panel with white fleck bearded Professor Thomas Trabacchi. Her interruptions get her into his bed for a protracted relationship where they move in together. After make outs and inexplicable Black & white inserts, they reach the point where she wants to discuss feelings and he wants to rest up for the paper he has to complete the next day.  His lack of commitment (“I will not be prisoner of a dream I don’t share”) triggers their break up “Take a suitcase. It’s humiliating to be left by a man with a back pack.”

The separation is rough on Mascino despite the comforting of her friends and meetings in the university wash room where women compare experiences. However, Mascino finds consolation in an encounter with a glamorous pole dancer which comes with some striking naked lesbian love making.

Trabacchi meanwhile has paired with an appealing girl student who makes it clear she wants a ring on her finger. Trabacchi pictures Mascino criticing his conduct. News of the marriage gets back to Mascino who faints but rallies.

The former lovers later have a brief meeting and discuss the direction of their lives. We are given the impression that Mascino has the firmer grip on coming realities.

Some academic background, discussions of female orgasm and lots of skin pore close close-ups in wide screen are part of the film’s intense scrutiny. This one takes a lot of concentration. It’s not for everyone but I would imagine it will enthuse an audience that will identify with its female protagonist.

Daniele Vicari’s Sole, cuore, amore and Sergio Castellito’s Fortunata - a couple of  grim accounts of struggling working class mothers weren’t equal to their ambitions, though surprisingly Leonardi di Constanza’s L’intrusa without name stars and technicians covered the same area remarkably well. 

Fortunata : Trinka

Director Sergio Castellitto was determined to jam everything into Fortunata - mother love, abusive husband, police brutality, kids’ birthday parties, Chairman Mao, drug use, burka women, racial slurs, loan sharks, a raunchy make out, a Chinese women’s synchronised tai chi routine in the rain and of course, being an Italian film, ‘vergogna’.

Castellito is an actor and his first loyalty is to his players who get to give bravura performances. Bleach-blonded Jasmine Trinca does the whole Anna Magnani thing as the beautician mother of young Nicole Centanni trying to keep custody despite the rough handling she gets from cop husband Edoardo Pesce. She also has to work it out with immigrant lover Tattooist Alessandro Borghi, who is helping build the salon where she can do heads without having to trundle all over the city.

Borghi’s life is further complicated by his dotty mother who no longer recognises him, a nice raddled turn by Hanna Schygulla. Her  presence prompts several nice visual touches. Borghi has the image of her, young and glamorous, inked on his shoulder and her floating umbrella is good movie short hand.  Some hope emerges when the child psychologist Centanni is referred to for spitting turns out to be simpatico Stefano Accorsi. His job is driving him spare. Accorsi's description of tracking down his deadbeat dad in Africa is one of the film’s highlights.

The film is effectively located in the urban fringe. Trinca trying to find a ‘phone booking on the outlying high rise intercom on the wrong side of the ring road gets asked if she gives massages.  The hairdressing salon with the blue neon sign reading “Lucky” is working it too hard however.

The film is a glum soaper not really lifted by its ambitions and strong cast. Castellitto’s best contribution to the Italian Film Festival has been showing up dubbed up in that nice Lavazza commercial. “In life there is always more to taste.”

Vicari’s 2012 Diaz - Don’t Clean Up This Blood! (title in English) is so imposing that I homed in on his new Sole, cuore, amore / Sun, Heart, Love with some enthusiasm. While it has strong characterisations, convincing locations in the Ostia region and the significant subject of the working poor, I came away disappointed.

The film is unrelievedly grim and it is undermined by the rather precious device of cross cutting Isabella Ragonese’s hard lot with the dance performances of her downstairs neighbour Eva Grieco, with their brass instrument accompaniment blaring on the track of both.

Ragonese is a mother of four who finds herself working as a waitress two hours away from her home, getting up at four thirty in the morning, catching an unreliable bus and train with the striking shot of the passengers finishing their trip on foot at dawn to make the point. She finds herself being docked by boss Marzio Romano Falcione for late arrivals. One of the film’s strengths is that both she and the film see his point of view, having hired her on the basis that she would work his seven day week and having to placate his dissatisfied ex cashier wife and expect the same standard of competence from his Arab student counter hand.  Husband Francesco Montanari looks after the kids and provides a spiff to smoke on the balcony of their sea on both sides flat but Ragonese is too exhausted to get involved in sex.

Sole, cuore, amore - Ragonese.
The pressure on Ragonese mounts plausibly but not all that involvingly, piling grief upon grief. Comes the finale and she’s been told to get medical treatment but finds herself sitting on the subway bench as her trains pull out. Throw in a lesbian shower scene and a little girl singing "Sole, cuore, amore" in the cafe.

On the other hand mature director Leonardo di Costanzo's L'intrusa/The Intruder is an agreeable surprise. It comes with a load of social indignation and is the kind of project subsidy hungry film makers turned out with infrequent success in the eighties.

 Di Costanzo had a career in documentaries, did an episode in a portmanteau film to which Jean Luc Goddard also contributed and has made one other dramatic feature. His script is
co-authored with Bruno Oliviero, the director of Silvio Orlandi's 2012 La variabile umana. The approach here is to dispense with sculptured lighting and star performances in a subject that might have made a main stream dramatic feature.

Valentina Vannino, the wife of an arrested Camorra crime syndicate murder suspect, is given shelter in the hut on the scruffy suburban waste land that severe looking organiser Raffaella Giordano uses for a kids playground. She is setting up a Festa, one of the few activities which brighten the drab Neapolitan working class area. Music, a papier maché lizard and a ride on mechanical man made out of bike parts are in preparation.

The parents and school authorities object to Vannino who they associate with a brutal killing that has left one of the children mute after seeing her father beaten to death in front of her. Giordano protests that her project is "per tutti bambini" but there is an incident in which Vannino responds in character and the whole project is jeopardised.

Full of telling realistic detail - the bike repair shop guy who understands how to involve the withdrawn child, the visits of the Camorra wives, Vannino's second thoughts about make-up, the severed human hand that the kids spit at. The Festa makes a nice (ironic) climax. What might have been big dramatic scenes - finding the intruder in the locked kitchen, the meeting between the two little girls or the final understanding of the consequences are not shown. Instead we get loosely framed shots and subdued colour, not unlike news coverage. Mixing between source music and the play-out is about as
interventionist as di Costanzo will go.  The staging with families overlooking the shared ground also sometimes resembles The Wire.

This one is well worth a viewing.

Giuseppe Piccioni penetrates the gumnut curtain more often than most Italian film makers and those movies have been consistently engaging - 1996’s Cuore al verde/Penniless Hearts, 2001’s Luce dei miei occhi/Light of My Eyes, 2004’s  La Vita che vorrei/The Life I Want  and 2009’s Giulia non esce la sera/Giulia Doesn't Date at Night.

His new Questi giorni / These Days is a departure from them. The only one of his regular performers to show is a now mature Margarita Buy who acquits herself impressively as a middle aged mother, becoming a hairdresser, her ambitions sacrificed to raise daughter Maria Roveran. She’s highly critical of her girl’s do.

The plot centres on four young women about to enter adult life. Roveran is diagnosed with a life threatening disease (excuse for one of the film’s boob shots). Orchestra violinist Caterina Le Caselle has become pregnant. Laura Adriani’s love life with Filippo Timi (La doppia ora) is stressful and dissatisfied Marta Gastini (also in
Moglie e marito) has accepted a waitressing spot in Belgrade. The early stages of the film establishing the leads are uninvolving as the audience struggles to remember which back story goes with which unlined face.

However, when Gastini decides to drive to her new Serbian job, the others join her and the piece turns into an engaging Italian Road Trip movie. The girls with their pre-occupations and lack of experience become distinct characters. They encounter a group of English-speaking boys who take an interest, lending them a tent and taking them canoeing at the camp site. One tries to link up with Roveran - shot of him awkwardly sharing the back seat in the car. Gastini takes a dim view of that, sends him for coffee, dumps his back pack and drives off.

When they get to her drab looking Serbian destination they share the flat of her severe friend Mina Djukic, part of a group restoring a Belgrade cinema - which shows The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator over the dance floor. The backpacker is there and lets it be known that his experiences with the girls screwed up his vacation and he is looking elsewhere now - telling small scene.

Finally, a dash to the emergency room unites the friends in a way that makes the film rewarding. It has an uncharacteristic natural feel and reliance on close-ups of fresh featured young women which may (or may not) draw on improvisation

Effective desaturated scope images. The great Sergio Rubini (La bionda) is down to a walk-on.

 The political thriller is one of the best traditions in European film making - Cayatte’s Nous sommes tous des Assassins (France, 1952) Autant-Lara’s Tu ne tueras point (France, 1961), Costa Gavras’ Z (France, 1969), a whole swathe of the work of Gian-Maria Volonte, Bellocchio’s
Buongiorno, notte
(Italy, 2003)  and Diaz, Don’t Clean Up This Blood.

For Annarita Zambrano to move into this company with her first feature Dopo la guerra/After the War (Italy, 2017) with a first time writer and featuring young Charlotte Cétaire in her debut role is a big ask and it’s impressive to see how far they get.

Dopo la guerra - Battison & Cétaire 
The opening is riveting, with a university professor leaving an angry 2002 student meeting, only to be gunned down. The assassin claims to be from The New Armed Faction for the Revolution, a long dormant Italian movement from the “Years of Lead” eighties political turmoil.

This impacts on Giuseppe Battison as one of the movement’s former leaders now sheltering in France under a Mitterand era amnesty. One of his fellow exiles has already been repatriated to face jail in his native Italy and Battison goes on the run, hiding out in a dilapidated Contis des Bains farm with his daughter Cétaire who was about to compete in her school sports contest and sit for her bac.

She sees her life destroyed, particularly when the striking Marilyne Canto arrives to do an interview, which will counter act a damning cover story in L’Express.  The journalist lets slip dad's plan to shift to Nicaragua.

Parallel with Battison’s flight, his sister, the still great looking Barbora Bobulova (impressive in Paolo Franchi’s La Spettatrice/The Spectator and Ferzan Ozpetek’s Cuore sacro/Sacred Heart) finds their association with a terrorist brother she hasn’t seen for twenty years jeopardises her position as a lecturer on the work of Dante, her husband’s election as chief magistrate and the safety of her mother Elisabetta Piccolomini through whose window a brick with the word “assassin” has been heaved. Bobulova discovers that her mother has been in secret contact, cherishing hidden photos of Cétaire.

The weight of the film falls on Battison whose character is given exceptional depth. He killed the judge who had condemned his associates in front of the man’s eight year old child only after he had seen his own brother shot down “sous mes yeux” by police after he had surrendered his weapon. He views the only outcome of his situation being the amnesty of his movement after their war - something the Italian government will never give. Battison has the telling story about meeting his former school mate while on the run and the man admiring his veins, having become a junkie, a casualty of a regime which
would rather see his generation destroyed by dope than given responsibility.

Battison speaking French, (this is a French movie despite its Italian star, subject and place in an Italian Film Festival) is stretched to his limits. The amiable fat man comic of his earlier films did manage an effective serious part, dominating Paolo Genovese’s recent Perfetti sconosciuti/Perfect Strangers but this role would have challenged Volonte at his peak. The ending we are given fails to exploit the possibilities the film has established.

Zambrano’s handling is more at ease with film form, spacing the dialogue with effective locating footage - Bobulova in the street with graffiti like that of the opening, the glimpsed night time fair, Cétaire caressing the kittens in the barn or cycling through the striped shadows the line of trees throw on the road.

With its possibly inevitable shortcomings Doppo la guerra is still an imposing piece of work. It should be seen.

This makes a revealing comparison with Sidney Lumet’s dominant pre-occupation, the grown children of the second half Twentieth Century left. Think Daniel, Running on Empty or Garbo Talks or indeed Ricardo Darin in Kamchatka.

Fabio Grassadonia and  Antonio Piazza’s Sicilian Ghost Story is something new – a genuinely scary movie derived from the case history of a Mafia murder, filmed in an unfamiliar style that fluctuates between realism and fantasy. Romeo and Juliet get mixed in with Dante and a few more high culture references.  - sound like your total festival movie? Well it is but it overcomes that handicap.

We start with a scene of Sicilian school children on their way home with young Julia Jedlikowska following class mate Gaetano Fernandez off the path only to be attacked by a menacing dog whom he distracts with a half sandwich and his back pack. The two go off on the motor scooter he’s under the age to ride to see his steeplechase horse and they have their first kiss. In the background we spot a giant dam and a police car headed towards Fernandez’ house. The girl comes back after dark and Vincenzo Amato her father, while clearly angry, embraces her.

The boy vanishes from the classroom and everybody avoids the subject. There’s no sympathy in either house. The boy’s grand parents won’t talk to her and her mean Swiss mum spends her time in the house sauna and serving dad cold pasta meals from the fridge.

Turns out that Fernandez’ unseen father is a super grass and his former polizia associates have kidnapped his son to pressure him into silence. Both children lose their grip on reality under the pressure of his captivity and her efforts to find out where he’s being held. The film’s most striking innovation is a dream sequence that we assume is one character’s when it proves to be the other's.

Evidence of a decayed society is everywhere. The pet owl fed on the poisoned mice in the barn is one of the film’s nicest double duty bits of business. There are a couple of striking wide angle distorted tracking shots and it is all filmed in a disorienting style with cuts to objects too large in the frame, exaggerated sounds and confusing digressions. This contributes to the considerable suspense.

If the film has a fault, it is the clashing style of the sunny ending. Of the young players making their first film, friend Corinne Musallari sending coded messages by flashlight across the dark hillside village makes the most impression.

Feel good pieces don’t leave you feeling better than Gianluca Ansanelli's bright coloured scenics packed comedy Troppo Napoletano/From Naples With Love.

When his wedding singer dad is killed in a crowd surfing accident (they distracted the audience by announcing the prawn dish), troubled fat kid Gennaro Guazzo is assumed to have made a suicide attempt after school janitor finds him mounting the balcony.  Actually he was trying to get a better look at the girl classmate he has the hots for. Guazzo gets put into therapy with Dottore Luigi Esposito who explains that the kid’s entire extended family can’t attend the sessions. Mum, lush red head Serena Rossi, and an aunt clean his kitchen while he talks to the kid instead.

Troppo Napoletano - Rossi, Guazzo & Esposito
Bonding with Luigi over Papaya gelato, Guazzo tries to set the shrink up as a match for his widowed mother, sabotaging a succession of comic suitors. However, he finds that the object of his pubescent affections is the daughter of an ex-soap star whose drama class mum attends and who looks like pairing with her.

Determinedly Neapolitan, with Guazzo walking through the open air mercato with Rossi , taking the object of his affections on the tour of the church crypt and getting the animated history lesson about Greater Napoli. Lots of nice views of the Bay. The shot of the girl
sitting alone on the beach is a great piece of movie punctuation.

Throw in a load of broad comedy and appealing characters, Guazzi’s fantasies (he pictures taking out a mortgage by plonking his piggy bank on the manager’s table), a couple of great musical numbers - Rossi doing her “La Spagnola” act that the neighbours crowd in to see - and the final Saturday Night Fever kids recital, and the fact that the film is a grotesque rendition of adolescence fades away.

Questione di Karma / It’s All About Karma
looked a likely item coming from Edoardo Maria Falcone of 2015’s Se Dio Vuole/God Willing fame and featuring popular comic Fabio De Luigi (Il peggior settimana /Natale della mia vita and the Aspirante vedovo re-make) and Elio Germani an establish star (also in Ternderness) and it’s cast and presentation can’t be faulted. However all this production value is wrapped around a formulaic script played for predictable laughs.

We kick off with the heir to the coloured pencil factory idolising his dad who jumped out of the top storey window of their home. Grown to be bearded de Luigi who is on the point of having his inheritance taken away by his step father and sister Isabella Ragonese (transformed from Sole, cuore, amore). His Budhist studies send de Luigi off to meet reclusive author Phillipe Le Roy in his alpine retreat.  The sage is more interested in roast potatoes than enlightening our hero on re-incarnation.

Germani shows up as a conman who manages to convince de Luigi that he is his reborn father and in the usual feel good interaction the pair give each other’s lives a new impetus. It takes all the cast’s charm and the best technical finish to make this one go the distance. De Luigi’s transformation from earnest slacker to hard nosed business man is hard to take as a happy ending though the misleading climax of Germani’s plot is agreeable.

Questione di Karma : Germano & de Luigi at Trevi Fountain
Massimiliano Bruno’s Ignorance is Bliss/Beata Ignoranza an attempt to recycle God Willing’s teaming of Marco Giallini and Alessandro Gassman, works out better, despite a change of direction half way through. We start off with teacher Giallini, who confiscates
his kids' cell 'phones at the beginning of his lesson, discovering his old rival Gassman has been appointed to his school with a philosophy of ignoring paperwork because everything
they need is on the Net. They nearly come to blows to the delight of their students whose video of the confrontation goes viral.

We've seen the menace of cell 'phones played out with Giallini before  in Perfetti sconosciuti.  Complications ensue when their shared daughter (yes, we remember Les Compères) arrives pregnant with her "quirky" film crew to have them filmed switching their approaches for her TV documentary. This element gets lost as we explore the leads' character shortcomings - particularly in their dealings with women. The appealing Valeria Bilello is particularly badly used.
There are a few attempts to open up the form, as with the early scenes of turning to the audience or Carolina Crescentini's answering back from the mortuary photo, but mainly the piece coasts on the opposition of the two leads backed by skilled players and brisk film making.

Silvio Soldini has been off our radar most of the time since his 2007 Giorni e nuvole / Days and Clouds and we’ve seen regrettably little of his star, the immensely appealing Valeria Golino  - Rain Man 1988, Giulia non esce la sera / Giulia Doesn't Date at Night 2009 among some remarkable items.

Signora Golino is in top form in the new Il colore nascosto delle cose / Emma playing a blind osteopath crossing the path of  Adriano Giannini, who we know is going to be a soul-less user because we see him working in advertising. Sure enough he is making it with someone else’s wife who immediately unwraps and tells him there will be consequences if he answers his cell ‘phone, as well as fetching blonde Anna Ferzetti, a fiancée he has to keep stalling when he starts moving on Valeria after he sees her buying that bright red outfit. She has developed the ability to smell colours and a couple of other skills he and the audience find puzzling. 

Il colore nascosto delle cose :Giannini & Golino
Of course it all unravels, here in a surprise meeting with Ferzetti in a supermarket where the low life Giannini leaves Golino lost in shallow focus bright lights, passing her off as “A poor blind lady” he’s helping. There’s some by play with the family the low life  didn’t visit when his step father died in the provinces. Both Golino and Giannini get to fill in their characters with involving back stories. For most of the running time this has been a maybe but Soldini manages a final twist which tips the scales in it’s favour.

The film making is unremarkable. It has one curious feature. Now that digital has made it easy, the shape - well size here - of the image keeps on changing, not dictated by obvious thematic (I Am Not Madam Bovary) or aesthetic (Grand Budapest Hotel) choices.

And for the record, I encountered more soulless activity in feature film making than in advertising.

There’s something odd happening with Gabriele Muccino’s  L'estate addosso / Summertime. It’s two years old and the coverage seems to be in Italian which is odd for a film made largely in English. IMDB gives the American support players (Laura Cayouette memorable in Django Unchained and Scott Bakula!) top billing. The copy arrived here without sub-titles, making key passages frustrating, and Palace did not feel they should cut their premium prices for the showing.

Muccino at work with Lutz, Frey, Haro and Pacitto.
The film itself  is disturbingly uneven. Muccino’s been off making Will Smith movies in the ‘States and while Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds are not disgraceful they don’t seem to have helped either man’s careers. Summertime opens with a downwards shot of Roman teenager Brando Pacitto (chiefly notable for playing Jesus on TV) stretched out on the grass possibly deliberately invoking Boyhood and his English language narration provides our old friend alienation. “Days with my friends were all the same.” He completes his finals but is involved in a traffic accent which leaves him battered but the recipient of a compensation cheque and his pot smoking vulcanologist chum Guglielmo Poggi urges him to take a holiday in the ‘States.

Some how he finds Matilda Lutz the girl nobody likes at school coming along too. They call her “the Nun” because she won’t drink, have sex or do dope with them. So far so so.

The pair arrive in San Francisco where accommodation has been set up in a flat occupied by gay couple Taylor Frey and Joseph Haro. She thinks of them as degenerates. Well we know where this is going. Sure enough it becomes a plea for understanding and tolerance. This might be new and needful to some audiences but hardly for people who will turn out for a Muccino film with sub-titles - let alone missing subtitles.

However something exceptional does happen. Going around together in San Francisco, to which the boys arrived in the same way our travellers did from a repressive background, the newcomers lose their restraint. We get Frey’s back story which is presented as sensational. Haro takes them riding, cementing his desire to be with the horses. The boys’ dog sleeping in his bed drives Pacitto into sharing with Lutz’. She finds herself getting about (somewhat nervously) in an itsy bitsy bikini and they hit the gay clubs together - half naked baby oiled bodies.

The film becomes one of Muccino’s lyrical hymns to the group. The stop over stretches and they all go off on a trip to Cuba together (this one is into international flights) which actually convinces us that they are sharing an experience that they all will cherish all their lives.

This section is totally winning and it’s a pity that the film can’t do anything with the impetus it produces. Having the piece narrated by Pacitto, it’s least interesting character, doesn’t help either. Matilda Lutz’ transformation is truly awesome and we can only hope she gets to do that in a few more movies, while Haro and particularly Frey along with the travel footage come across effectively.

It seems that this one is already in there with Bix, Intersections and Jimmy P. as failed European attempts to crash the English language market. At least they are all better than Rossellini’s Ingrid Bergman films. I guess that’s some kind of progress.

I enjoyed this event. It became one of the highlights of my year's viewing. I like to think I’ve kept an eye on Italian films down the years - art house, ethnic cinemas and VHS, SBS, their film weeks and even a few excursions into the home ground. Some of those IMDB entries have only my comments. However when I start checking out the credits of  films like Tenderness' accomplished personnel I become aware of how fragmentary my access to this work has been. That’s something I regret and short of leaving the country for somewhere with a functioning Cinémathèque there's nothing I can do about it. Too bad.