The summer-long programme offers highlights from heavy-hitters like Rosselini, Fellini, and Antonioni.
TIFF Cinematheque celebrates its 25th anniversary by returning to its roots with Summer In Italy, a diverse, expansive program of Italian classics. A quarter-century after debuting with its complete Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective, the festival’s year-round programming arm comes back to Italy with choice cuts from filmmakers like Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Marco Bellocchio.
As with any programme this wide in scope, it’s tough to get a bead on the retrospective from just glancing at the titles. Programmer James Quandt’s notes helpfully catalogue some emerging motifs — World War II! Incest and suppressed memories! — but we would probably start by focusing on a few major directors instead. It’s fitting, then, that the retrospective should be bookended by films from Italian neorealism forefather (and Isabella Rosselini’s actual father) Roberto Rosselini. The programme kicks off with Rome, Open City, Rosselini’s gorgeous melodrama about a resistance fighter in occupied Rome who, fleeing from his Nazi pursuers, teams up with a friend and his pregnant fiancée. The film, shown here courtesy of a 4K digital restoration, is typically cited as the height of Italian neorealism, a leftist movement that emphasized local settings, nonprofessional actors, and contemporary stories. But we’re also partial to it for its outsized emotions and grand, theatrical performances, particularly from Italian cinema star and future Oscar-winner Anna Magnani.
Anyone fond of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy might wish to take in its strongest inspiration, the retrospective’s closer — and arguably Rosselini’s masterpiece — Voyage in Italy. Made during the filmmaker’s marriage to Ingrid Bergman, who stars, the film follows a long-married, unhappy British couple on their disastrous vacation to Naples, where their petty jealousies and disappointments are finally unloaded amidst a colourful cast of locals and some gorgeous, haunted ruins. We aren’t as big on the redemptive finale as most, owing to a truly sour co-lead performance from George Sanders, but the film is well worth seeing as one of the most insightful and devastating portraits of a transplanted couple working out their drama on foreign ground.
Rosselini is a classy starting point, but to get a proper taste of Italian we’d recommend some of the bawdier delights of Federico Fellini, whose work was the subject of a major exhibition and retrospective at the Lightbox a few short years ago. Fellini isn’t so strongly represented here, but there’s still an opportunity to take in staples like La Dolce Vita, sober realist digressions like Il Bidone, and bloated, decadent experiments like Fellini Satyricon. If we had to recommend just one, though, we’d stump for Amarcord, the filmmaker’s intensely personal, irredeemably dirty, sentimental, and finally quote moving reminiscence of his childhood in Rimini. The film screens courtesy of a restored 35mm print.
If Fellini’s outsized appetite and undisciplined charms should prove too much, there’s always some key work from Italian cinema’s great formalists, Michelangelo Antonioni and Luchino Visconti. Though the two are at opposite ends of the modernist spectrum — the former alienated and frosty and the latter classical and romantic — both are responsible for some of the best European art cinema of the century. We’d be remiss if we didn’t vouch for Antonioni’s gorgeous colour debut, Red Desert, which features one of Monica Vitti’s strongest performances as well as some striking shots of a rural landscape transformed into an industrial wasteland. As for Visconti, you can’t go wrong either with either the underrated mythology-riffing Sandra, starring Claudia Cardinale as the eponymous heroine, or our personal favourite, The Leopard, for our money the most beautifully realized historical romance of all time, which bows out with a young Cardinale and an aging, audaciously mutton-chopped Burt Lancaster engaged in probably the greatest dance sequence in Italian cinema. It’s weird, but we ship it.
Summer in Italy runs from June 27 to September 5. For more information on showtimes, visit the TIFF Cinematheque website.