Italy gets its turn on the film-festival circuit.
Toronto’s specialty-festival family gets a new kid brother with the Italian Contemporary Film Festival, which will be having its inaugural edition from June 26 to July 1. The fledgling fest highlights aspects of Italian culture, heritage, and history through a selection of recent mainstream and indie films from around the world.
Diversity is part of the mandate, and a number of offerings accordingly situate Italian culture at various global intersections. One of the most curious of these is the blockbuster What a Beautiful Day (TIFF Bell Lightbox, June 27, 8 p.m.), which recently replaced Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winner Life is Beautiful as Italy’s highest-grossing domestically-produced hit. A free-ranging and dryly funny satire about an incompetent security guard who unknowingly romances an Islamic terrorist from Iraq, the film is probably best approached as Italy’s answer to politically incorrect, xenophobic star vehicles like You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. If the sentimental turn in the last act registers a bit more convincingly than Adam Sandler’s usual efforts to take the edge off his misanthropy, it’s thanks to a relaxed turn from Checco Zalone, a comedian who moonlights as a cabaret act not unlike The Lonely Island.
Those seeking something less caustic might feel more at home with Basilicata Coast to Coast (AMC Interchange, June 29, 8 p.m.), the directorial debut of Zalone’s costar Rocco Papaleo. The domestic hit is about a middle-aged folk troupe’s quixotic road trip —on foot!—through the titular region, accompanied by an acerbic journalist (Vincere‘s Giovanna Mezziogiorno). Their quaint encounters with strangers are boilerplate, and the saxophone-heavy score lays it on thick. Still, the scenery’s nice, and the band’s Bossa Nova-inspired sound makes for some charming musical interludes. More accomplished but about as middlebrow is Nanni Moretti’s We Have a Pope (AMC Interchange, July 1, 5 p.m.). It’s an uneven film, too enamoured with its own cuteness, but French treasure Michel Piccoli impresses as a panic-stricken pontiff.
Moretti’s film is surely the only one with cardinals engaged in a volleyball tournament, but the most visually striking is likely Emanuale Crialese’s Terraferma (TIFF Bell Lightbox, June 27, 6 p.m.), the Special Jury Prize winner at last year’s Venice Film Festival. Following ICFF’s theme of Italy as a transnational hub, the film concerns a Sicilian family caught in a legal and moral quagmire once they rescue a family of Ethiopian refugees on their fishing boat. As with Crialese’s previous film, Golden Door, the focus is on strangers forced to make nice in cramped quarters, an allegory for Italy’s immigration crisis. The melodrama gets a bit strained toward the end, but Crialese’s attention to the grinding work of labourers is admirable, and his tableaus of noble fisherman casting shadows on the region’s volcanic rocks are arresting.
The festival is bookended by a pair of high-profile offerings. Opening the festivities is Kryptonite! (TIFF Bell Lightbox, June 26, 7 p.m.), I Am Love-scripter Ivan Cotroneo’s period piece about a Neapolitan family riding the tumultuous wave of the 1970s. Woody Allen’s omnibus comedy To Rome with Love (TIFF Bell Lightbox, June 30, 6 p.m.) gets its Canadian premiere at the closing night screening, with an appearance by supporting player Monica Nappo.