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19 February 2008 @ 12:03 pm
Los Angeles Italia Film, Fashion, and Art Fest  
One very big perk of living in Los Angeles is the opportunity to visit film festivals.  On Sunday, the Los Angeles Italia Film festival officially opened. It's sponsored by the likes of the Italian consulate, the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, Eni, and LA Weekly. The festival offers free film screenings at the Mann Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and Highland. All you need is to make a reservation for the film you'd like to watch and show up early for a ticket.

Yesterday, I was able to watch three films; two with a few Italian acquaintances.

Wine & Kisses (Come le Formiche) was screened in the late evening, originally scheduled at 8.10pm. However, as my friend snarkily remarked, this was on 'Italian time'. The film actually started something around 9pm. Part of the reason for the delay was the red carpet/photo op featuring the actors outside the room. The other was an introduction to the film by distinguished people, and F Murray Abraham receiving an award, bless. Too bad none of this hype could save the film.

The synopsis as written in the flyer is thus: Sveva, an energetic 35-year-old woman, dreams about producing the Rubro, a wine made from an ancient vineyard she discovers at her mother's winery, who died ten years before. The only hope to save the winery, which has huge debts, is for this promising wine to obtain the best review by a well-known wine guide written by famous Italian sommeliers.

You know there's a problem when there's more backstory provided in the synopsis than in the film. It's also misleading: the only hope is not the best review by the sommeliers, it's actually trying to find more money to prevent the winery and its assets from being seized by the bailiff. It's pretty weak: over the top acting by everyone involved save for F Murray Abraham and the child actor, loose plot ends, a meandering storyline, cheesy emotional scenes, unfunny comedic situations, and Bernadette Peters as an American countess named Mary Ann who wishes to build a Scientology center on Sveva's land. Yeah.

In the lift to the parking lot, one of the party remarked the film would not be a success in Italy and most likely head straight to DVD. Everyone agreed it was terrible, although the lone holdout was a man who insisted he liked silly movies with no sad endings.

Compared to this, Last Minute Marocco was flippin' Citizen Kane. Okay, I kid I kid. It's an alright film, something you wouldn't mind shelling out $5 to rent during a romantic comedy binge. The film's part Harold & Kumar, part romantic comedy, and actually reaches to be part comment on modern Italian society. The Harold & Kumar part stems from a young man's decision to skip summer camp and head to Morocco with his buddies, ostensibly to a Gnaoua music festival and to smoke excellent weed. As the group gets on a ferry, Valerio falls for a young Italian-Moroccan girl - cousin to his dealer/friend. Right, that's the romantic part for the son. Parallel to this main story, Valerio's father is hounded by his ex-wife to retrieve their son from Morocco. Through a series of events, Sergio is left standing with a Berber woman and no way of finding his son. He hires the woman as his guide through the country. Kinda obvious where this is heading too, huh? There are cultural clashes between the first and second generation of Italian-Moroccan immigrants, young people partying, and Morocco is a dustier California.

While Last Minute Marocco is sentimental (omg a scene where the character remarks that the lyrics of a song playing in the background speaks truth) and predictable, it has characters you care for. Valerio's friends are flesh-and-blood characters, funny guys you would automatically recognise. Valerio longs to have a father who would be angry at a son who returns late at night, a '70 year old father', he says. His father longs to be free of his ex-wife and her nagging, to be single once more, but never seems self-absorbed. Just unlucky and sometimes quite spineless when it comes to strong women. Definitely recommended for those who aren't afraid of straight out fluff.

The last film I watched followed Wine and Kisses and was its exact opposite. Ballerina is a short film running about 15 minutes. I don't want to ruin the effect of such a film, so I'll try to describe as best I can without spoilers. Ballerina begins with a voiceover and a black screen. The camera then reveals a studio where the voiceover is being recorded. The lines spoken is the ending of a film, and the crew wraps up. The actor, the director, and another person discuss the story vaguely before the director stares directly into the screen and speaks to the audiences about the importance of the story. It is only after this introduction that the short begins.

A wealthy man reassures an Albanian woman her daughter is doing well in Italy. Behind them, the woman's younger daughter studiously watches a video of the girl discussed, training as a ballerina. The man tells the mother her remaining child has potential and could join her sister. The mother glances at all she has left, fear and doubt flicker in her eyes. Something is not right.

The synopsis of the film, which I had not read before, is major spoilers but anyone who is acquainted with the horror stories of young girls from Eastern Europe will immediately recognise what is going on here. It is a very stylised cautionary tale that could be dismissed as a 'depressing' public service announcement, but is buttressed by great performances by fantastic (and famous Italian actors). It does in 15 minutes what most Oscar wannabes often fail to in 2 hours. For instance, the mother of the young girls does not speak a word but she conveys the conflict and emotions through her eyes.

The film is dark and frightening because it is real. Exploitation of young women from Eastern Europe is a story that is heard again and again. The religious imagery is shocking as well because it forces the audience to remember that the crime is perpetuated by people who ignore the fact that what they're doing is not only against women but against the core beliefs of humanity. It's not surprising that I saw a priest attend the screening.

The best work always makes the audience think, even when they do not want to. Why did the mother believe so willingly? How could those involved, from the pimps, the buyers, and the johns, remain without a conscience? Where are the police? Why has modern society fail these women?

The Italia festival is on between 17 to 23 February 2008. Visit the website for film schedules.

PS To the actress on the television series I love to death: I'm sorry if I frightened you
From the Tom Baker Fourth Dr Who lookalike with the bloodshot eyes (my contacts were making them itch)
 
 
 
(Anonymous) on February 19th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
Ballerina
Thanks for the commentary. I would argue, though, that the religious imagery is not shocking in that it reveals how opposed these crimes are to the 'core beliefs of humanity.' What is shocking is that these 'core beliefs' perpetuate the crime, because these girls and their mother think that holding a picture of Jesus and praying is enough to protect them. No--awareness and political action can protect these women. As we saw. the mother's method--asking Jesus for protection--failed horribly.
honi soit qui mal y pensestinglikeabee on February 21st, 2008 04:46 am (UTC)
Re: Ballerina
Wow, thank you for your comment Beca! This is a good way of looking at it. Personally, I'm quite cynical of religion as well but I couldn't help but wonder at the reactions in the film. Was the ballerina asking Jesus for protection or simply seeking solace? His image was enough to make people pause and reconsider, as the case with the person taking care of the corpse. It didn't change anything, unfortunately.
Happy Friendly Sparkly Toast Club Charter Memberparlance on February 20th, 2008 06:14 pm (UTC)
Would have loved to go to that had I not been out of town.
honi soit qui mal y pensestinglikeabee on February 21st, 2008 04:46 am (UTC)
There's still a couple of days left!