Parky At the Pictures (16/4/2021)
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
(An overview of the 11th edition of Cinema Made in Italy, which is streaming on MUBI between 16-29 April)
One of the few positives about lockdown has been the number of film festivals that have opted to go digital to retain a connection with their audience. This has meant that viewers across the country have been allowed to enjoy events that are usually the sole preserve of those within easy reach of London. Sadly, such access seems set to be withdrawn once things return to `normal', as venues make more money from selling single tickets at the box office than they do from issuing online passes that make films available to everyone in a household for a flat fee. So, make the most of items like Cinema Made in Italy, before the cyber shutters come down.
Returning for its 11th edition, Cinema Made in Italy is sponsored by Filmitalia, the Rome-based promotional arm of Istituto Luce Cinecittà, which is approaching its centenary, having been set up by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime in 1924. The nine films chosen by Film London's Adrian Wootton will be made exclusively available on MUBI between 16-29 April. However, the pre-recorded Q&A sessions with the participating directors will be showing for free on the Italian Cultural Institute's Vimeo channel.
COSA SARÀ/EVERYTHING'S GONNA BE ALRIGHT.
Having suffered a nose bleed after banging his head on a car door while checking out a pretty girl, fortysomething film director Bruno Salvati (Kim Rossi Stuart) is informed by Dr Paola Bonetti (Raffaella Lebboroni) that he has a form of leukaemia that will require a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, neither daughter Adele (Fotini Peluso) nor son Tito (Tancredi Galli) are suitable donors, as they have acquired allergies from their mother, Ann (Lorenza Indovina). However, father Umberto (Giuseppe Pambieri) confesses on a golf course to having fathered a daughter and he agrees to travel to Livorno with Adele and Tito to meet Fiorella (Barbara Ronchi).
She is an estate agent and the apprehensive Bruno poses as a potential client because he doesn't think he can crash land into her life and ask her to make such a sacrifice. Fiorella recognises Bruno from the papers, but is aghast when he reveals their relationship and he returns to Rome convinced that he will have to bide his time until a match can be found on the international register. However, Fiorella has a change of heart and Bruno begins a course of chemotherapy under the watchful eye of nurse Nicola (Nicola Nocella), who shaves his head to the accompaniment of Lou Reed's `Perfect Day' in the opening scene.
Basing this affecting, but uplifting drama on his own experience of serious illness, Francesco Bruni leavens the action with a caustic wit that appears to be missing from Bruno Salvati's films - hence the blazing row with the producer (Antonino Bruschetta) who has grown tired of his sense of entitlement. He is further chastened by a humbling experience when Nicola arranges for one of his pictures to be shown in the hospital's newly opened cinema and one of the patients slips into a coma. But Bruni has no qualms about pitching Bruno on to a steep learning curve, as he makes important discoveries about his family, himself and the world that provides his subject matter.
The dependable Kim Rossi Stuart impressively switches between swagger and fragility, as he not only copes with the indignities of his condition, but also with the legacy of the childhood timidity that made him (Tommaso Rossi) so dependent upon his late mother (Elettra Dallimore Mallaby). Two flashback scenes particularly linger, as the young Bruno entrusts his precious toy cars to a neighbour boy and as he deals with the disappointment of getting a doll for Christmas (an incident that later has a charming pay-off when Fiorella recalls being given a model tank).
Tellingly, Bruni casts wife Raffaella Lebboroni as the no-nonsense haematologist, while the Barbara Ronchi delights in her expanded cameo as the life-saving sister. But all of the female characters show more maturity and compassion than their male counterparts, who keep falling short in the clinches. Indeed, Bruno's progress rather resembles one of the many Inspector Montalbano cases that Bruni has written over the years, as he pieces together the clues that will make him a better man. Yet, while the picture's strength lies in the script and the performances, Carlo Rinaldi's camerawork is also as astute as editor Alessandro Heffler's controlled interweaving of the timeframes that enable Bruno to realise that everything really is going to be all right.
FORTUNA - THE GIRL AND THE GIANTS.
Seven year-old Nancy (Cristina Magnotti) lives with parents Rita (Valeria Golino) and Piero (Libero De Rienzo) in an apartment block on the outskirts of Naples. She is suffering from a post-traumatic stress, although therapist Gina (Pina Turco) doesn't seem particularly interested in the case. Along with friends Anna (Denise Aisler) and Nicola (Leonardo Russo), Nancy believes her real name is Fortuna and that she is an alien princess from Planet Tabbys. Shortly after the trio are bullied on the roof of their building, Nicola falls to his death and Nancy is hurt when Anna turns away from her during the funeral procession. She is even more dismayed when Anna informs her that Nicola fell from the balcony of their apartment and that she is not Fortuna after all.
Following an extended fade to black, the action resumes with Fortuna having a trampoline party on the roof to mark her First Communion. She mixes up her kindly therapist, Gina (Valeria Golino), with her uncaring mother, Rita (Pina Turco), and wakes to find it's all been a dream. Waiting on the landing for the lift, Fortuna overhears elderly neighbour Maria (Luciano Saltarelli) browbeating a disorientated professor (Marcello Romollo), who informs Fortuna that he feels sorry for her generation, as it may never recover what it has lost.
Fortuna has been mute for some time and Rita has run out of patience with her, as she is already having a hard time because her husband is in jail. Gina is determined to get to the bottom of the matter, however, and has Fortuna make drawings of things that have happened to her. After Rita fails to collect Fortuna after one appointment and she slaps her during a row, the girl confides to Gina that she doesn't allow her mother to see her naked because somebody hurt her.
Watchful of everything around her, Fortuna is curious about the relationship between the albino girl who lives opposite and her gruff father. She is also curious about the mobile phone that her friends found in the storage shed on the roof that contains footage of her, Anna and Nicola dancing around in their underwear. Moreover, Fortuna wants to know why Maria and her grandson have one of Nicola's training shoes after he died in a fall from the roof shortly after they had been taunted by a pair of older bullies.
Shortly after receiving a Nancy doll from her father in prison, Fortuna seems to put the pieces together during a trampoline party on the roof, while watching Anna bouncing with her parents, Rosalba (Anna Parierno) and Mimi (Giovanni Ludeno). She asks Anna for the phone so that she can show it to Gina. But Anna is unsure and runs away when she sees Maria climbing the stairs to the roof. Concerned for her friend, however, she doubles back and peers through the half-open door.
On 24 June 2014, six year-old Fortuna Loffredo fell off the roof of a building in the Parco Verde neighbourhood of Caivano in the province of Naples. An autopsy reported that she had been subjected to sexual abuse for some time and that her fall had not been accidental. A neighbour was jailed for life on 7 July 2017. He had also violated the daughters of his partner, who was sentenced to 10 years for covering up the crimes. Following Fortuna's death, the case of four year-old Antonio Giglio was re-opened after it was decided that he had fallen accidentally from the same roof. The woman serving time for Fortuna's death was now charged with the death of her own son. Numerous other cases in the vicinity are currently under investigation.
The context provided by the lengthy caption screed reinforces the bleakness of Nicolangelo Gelormini's debut feature. Co-scripted by Massimiliano Virgilio, it replays events from the perspective of a non-comprehending and deeply traumatised child and viewers will need to pay attention to see the way in which Gelormini tinkers with what we have taken to be the facts of the first version and gives them entirely new or subtly different meaning and/or significance.
Most notably, he has Valeria Golino and Pina Turco switch roles as the mother and therapist trying to fathom the problem that caused Nancy/Fortuna's world to shift from widescreen to the Academy 4:3 ratio after she first wakes from a dream involving a fairground carousel and then reverses after she has an epiphany on the roof at the start of the second iteration. Flitting between stylised static close-ups and skittish handheld footage, Agostino Vertucci's cinematography is accomplished throughout, as is Gelormini's adept editing. As a student of archaeology, he would also presumably have had a say in Marcella Mosca's striking production design, which disconcertingly plays on the deteriorating décor of the rooms, corridors and facade.
But his key contribution is the direction of young Cristina Magnotti, who maintains Fortuna's often expressionless enigmaticism while also coping with the demands of playing several scenes in silence. She's ably abetted by Denise Aisler and Leonardo Russo as her friends and by Golino and Turco as the women competing for her trust. The bold decision to couch this true story in terms of surreal horror doesn't quite come off. Neither does the concluding flight of fancy. But this is an impressive start for Paolo Sorrentino's onetime assistant after a clutch of music promos, the shorts, Caro benzina (2008), Reset (2010) and All the Things (2014) and the `My madre' episode of Napoli 24 (2010), a documentary to which Sorrentino also contributed `La principessa di Napoli'.
In Naples in the early 1980s, Aldo (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Vanda (Alba Rohrwacher) appear to have a happy life with their young children, Anna and Sandro. Aldo presents a book programme for RAI radio and announces after a family outing to a party that he has been sleeping with his colleague, Lidia (Linda Caridi). He admits to not knowing whether it's more than a fling, but Vanda is so furious with him for burdening her with his guilt that she throws him out.
Realising that she might have overreacted, Vanda goes to the radio station and tries to shame Aldo into coming home. Backed into a corner, he declares his love for Lidia and during his next visit with Anna and Sandro, Vanda causes a scene by attacking her husband and his lover while the children look on from the car. Rather than accept his parental responsibility, however, Aldo decamps to Rome and so appals Vanda by letting her have full custody of the children that she tries to commit suicide by throwing herself out of a window.
Vanda recovers and raises the children alone. At one point in the 1990s, however, Sandro persuades his father to meet up in Rome and he realises the impact that his desertion has had on his ex-wife and both Sandro and the emotionally fragile Anna. Feeling ashamed, he leaves Lidia and returns to Naples, where Aldo (Silvio Orlando) and Vanda (Laura Morante) grow old together. They bicker all the time, while Aldo continues to cheat on Vanda.
When they go away for a short holiday, Anna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Sandro (Adriano Giannini) agree to feed their cat, Labès. Sandro is married with children and doing well for himself, but Anna is broke and deeply resentful of the damage that her parents have done to her psyche. So, she talks her brother into joining her in a cathartic house trashing.
Working with Francesco Piccolo from a novel by co-scenarist Domenico Starnone, director Daniele Luchetti made headlines last summer when Lacci became the first Italian film to open the Venice Film Festival since Giuseppe Tornatore's Baaria (2009). Meaning both `bonds' and `shoelaces', the original title is more subtle than the English translation, which refers only to the ties binding the family members rather than also alluding to their deeper-lying connections (one of which actually involved shoe tying). Notwithstanding these fine distinctions, however, Luchetti and Starnone seem content to allow this study of the line between love and loyalty to lapse into melodrama and, consequently, this never feels as substantial as such earlier outings as The Yes Man (1991), My Brother Is an Only Child (2006) or Our Life (2010).
The performances are strong throughout, with the highly-strung Alba Rohrwacher morphing neatly into the defensive Laura Morante and Silvio Orlando refining Luigi Lo Cascio's sense of selfish entitlement. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Adriano Giannini rather gatecrash proceedings with their last-reel fireworks, which contrast with Linda Caridi's adroit reading of the Other Woman who isn't such a bad person after all. Her steadiness epitomises Luchetti's approach, as he and cinematographer Ivan Casalgrandi largely eschew visual flourishes, while his occasionally erratic editing with Ael Dallier Vega is as effective as production designer Andrea Castorina's sets and Massimo Cantini Parrini's period costumes. Ultimately, however, this is more involving and polished than compelling or poignant.
LIFE AS A B-MOVIE: PIERO VIVARELLI.
Born in Siena on 26 February 1927, Piero Vivarelli packed lot into his 83 years. Shortly after his father was killed by Yugoslavian partisans during the Second World War, Vivarelli threw in his lot with Benito Mussolini's Republic of Salò and served as a frogman with the Decima Flottiglia MAS. In 1949, however, he joined the Communist Party and remained so committed to the cause over the next five decades that he became only the second non-Cuban after Che Guevara to receive a party card personally signed by Fidel Castro.
Politics nudged Vivarelli towards the counterculture that started to emerge in Italy in the 1950s and he made a living as a music journalist on BIG magazine. Although his association was brief, he remained sufficiently influential on the music scene to bring Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin to the country. Moreover, he also proved to be a talented songwriter, with `24,000 baci/24,000 Kisses' being a major hit for Adriano Celentano. He also worked in the popular `musicarello' film genre, co-scripting Lucio Fulci's Ragazzi del Juke-Box (1959) and Howlers of the Dock (1960) for Celentano, while also directing Teddy Reno in San Remo: La Grande Sfida (1960) and Mina in Io bacio…tu baci (1961).
While it's claimed that the visual style of these teeny-bop musicals anticipated the pop video, Vivarelli's contribution to the Spaghetti Western is less contentious. Most notably, he collaborated on the screenplay for Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966), naming the coffin-dragging gunslinger after jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Quentin Tarantino testifies in press conference footage to the debt he owes to this picture. But less is said about Vivarelli's teaming with iconic comedian Totò on Rita, the American Girl (1965), exploitation items like Satanik (1968), The Golden Snake (1970) and The Black Decameron (1972), let alone such softcore Laura Gemser outings as Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) and Emanuelle in America (1977).
Not all of these flicks (some of which bore the pseudonym Donald Murray) have been reclaimed as cult classics and Fabrizio Laurenti and Niccolo Vivarelli (Piero's nephew and Variety's Italian correspondent) wisely present them as amusing curios that have spawned a thousand anecdotes, Critics Olivier Pere and Giona Nazzaro largely concur. Yet, despite accepting that Vivarelli was more of a maverick than a maestro, the co-directors have managed to coax such luminaries as Umberto Lenzi, Emir Kusturica, Franco Nero, Pupi Avati, Rita Pavone, Enrico Vanzina and second wife Beryl Cunningham into sharing their memories.
Most touchingly, Gabriele Salvatores reflects on the short life of Vivarelli's addict-actor son, Alessandro, who co-starred in the Oscar-winning Mediterraneo (1991). But, while the analysis never delves too far beneath the surface, there's still room for the odd gossipy titbit about Vivarelli's fabled romantic entanglements. He proves a lively presence through the unearthed archival interviews, but Laurenti's editing doesn't always make it clear who is making particular points, as he cuts between off-screen voices relating a tale. However, this is never anything less than an affectionate and engaging profile of a cultural dilettante, who would have revelled in the digital age. It's just a shame that so many of the intriguing films referenced, including the Cold War saga, East Zone West Zone (1962), are so difficult to track down and see with subtitles.
NON ODIARE/THOU SHALT NOT HATE.
As a child in north-eastern Italy, Dr Simone Segre (Alessandro Gassmann) had been forced to choose a kitten and drown the rest of the litter in a carrier bag in a lake. He had tried to forgive his father (Cosimo Fusco) because he had survived the concentration camps. But he had brutalised the family and Simone had severed all ties long before the old man died and can barely bring himself to sort through his house before putting it on the market.
While out canoeing, Simone witnesses a car crash and rushes to the scene to help the victim who is pinned into the front seat. On loosening his shirt, however, Simone sees a swastika tattoo on his chest and he loosens the seatbelt tourniquet so that the man bleeds to death before the ambulance arrives. The police accept his assurance that he did all he could to help, but he feels guilty when he discovers that the deceased has left three children. Marica (Sara Serraiocco) has left her accounting job to care for teenager Marcello (Luka Zunic) and their younger brother, Paolo (Lorenzo Buonora). But Marcello shares his father's neo-Nazi views and he is furious when Marica takes a job as Simone's new cleaner.
She knows nothing about his altercation with her father and he opts against going to the police when he is mugged by Marcello and a couple of his skinhead pals. Instead, he develops something of a crush on Marica and she catches him watching her at her late-night supermarket job. Anxious not to provoke Marcello, she rejects Simone's awkward advances. However, when she discovers that her father had owed €12,000 to Rocco the undertaker (Lorenzo Acquaviva), Marica accepts his offer to clean his father's house before it goes on sale.
When they fail to meet the payment deadline, Marcello stabs Rocco and Marica brings him to Simone's apartment in the hope he can treat a gunshot wound. Marcello seethes at having to receive a blood transfusion from the Jewish doctor and is livid when he sees Simone being affectionate towards his sister in the street. Aware that Rocco's henchmen will come looking for Marcello, Marica pays for him to stay with a mechanic friend in Lisbon and she stays behind to raise Paolo, who disappoints her when he salutes at his father's grave.
It's taken Mauro Mancini 15 years to make his debut feature, after completing his first short, Our Secret, back in 2005. However, he does a fair job of keeping the lid on this emotive drama, while making it clear that Italy's Fascist past is very much a factor in its response to the ongoing migrant crisis. That said, the opening sequences involving a harsh lesson about survival and a flagrant breach of the Hippocratic Oath are more than a little contrived, as is the fact that Simone would take pity on the offspring of a far-rightist stranger. Maybe the message that Mancini and co-scenarist Davide Lisino want the audience to take away would have hit home harder had the siblings all been boys, as the low-wattage romantic undercurrent has a regrettably enervating effect.
Nevertheless, Sara Serraiocco plays the conflicted Marica with an affecting blend of pride and dread, while Luka Zunic brings a palpable sense of bigoted menace to the role of Marcello, whose readiness to follow in his father's footsteps contrasts with Simone's refusal to have anything to do with his own. Yet, he winds up adopting his father's ferocious Alsatian and discovers a softer side to the animal when he takes it for a walk to the lake where he had first learned that life is about difficult decisions.
As the dourly taciturn and conveniently unattached medic, Alessandro Gassmann gives little away after having conquered his initial qualms about playing God. But he holds this tale of judgement and redemption together, as he struggles to come to terms with the fact that a neo-Nazi could be a better parent than a Holocaust survivor. Often held in Mike Stern Sterzynski's unrelenting close-ups, Gassmann also provides generous support to his co-stars, as he feels embarrassed about the opulence of his home when first showing Serraiocco around and when he recognises something of himself in young Lorenzo Buonora when he takes him to a park playground.
Bookended by scenes set in the present day involving a chance meeting at a railway station, this rite of passage is set in Rome in 1976. Ten year-old Valerio Le Rose (Mattia Garaci) and his younger sister, Alice (Lea Favino), live with their parents, Alfonso (Pierfrancesco Favino) and Gina (Barbara Ronchi), and their maid, Ketty (Eleonora De Luca), in the shadow of St Peter's. They enjoy a cosy existence, with Valerio often retreating to the attic to commune with an invisible friend. One morning, however, Valerio is woken by the sound of gunfire and reaches the balcony in time to see his police chief father being shot by terrorists. one of whom is killed.
With Alfonso in intensive care, Gina tries to prevent Valerio and Alice from watching the television or seeing the papers. However, the boy has lied about what he witnessed and his sense of trauma is exacerbated by bullies at the school where the nuns commend Valerio for his courage. He is grateful, therefore, to make the acquaintance of Christian (Francesco Gheghi), a scruffy older kid, who takes a liking to Valerio's signed football. They mooch around the streets and get chased by a church warden when they are caught stealing from a collection box. But Valerio is glad to have someone in his corner and he produces chalk drawings on the pavement outside his home to show Christian what happened on the fateful morning.
Feeling the strain of coping with the children in the face of renewed threats to kill her husband, Gina is relieved to decamp to Alfonso's family home in Calabria for the summer. She feels safer surrounded by relations, including Valerio's grandparents, Giuseppe (Mario Pupella) and Mari (Anna Maria De Luca, and Uncle Rorò (Francesco Colella). But Christian also shows up (dressed in the same t-shirt and jeans) and Valerio is struck by how his recuperating father interacts with the stranger, while also striving to forge a stronger connection with his son.
Director Claudio Noce was only two when he saw his own deputy police chief father ambushed by terrorists outside his home. Whatever his recollections may be, they surely play less a part in shaping this drama co-scripted by Enrico Audenino than family records and archive material dating from the so-called `Years of Lead', when Italy was beset by terrorist attacks by groups such as the Red Brigade.
Noce and Audenino are careful to avoid political specificity in chronicling Valerio's coming to terms with what he has witnessed and the changing nature of his relationship with a distant father whom he nevertheless idolised. However, the addition of the `imaginary' friend feels like a gambit from the M. Night Shyamalan playbook that seems decidedly out of place, especially when Christian starts to impact on characters other than Valerio. Francesco Gheghi plays him well enough in striking up a poignant rapport with Mattia Garaci. But the blurring lines have an enervating effect on the gravity and credibility of the scenario.
Making his third feature after Good Morning Aman (2009) and The Ice Forest (2014), Noce may be too close to the subject matter to be entirely objective in assessing the efficacy of the Christian sub-plot. But he directs steadily and is well served in recreating an unfetishised 70s look by production designer Paki Meduri, costumier Olivia Bellini and cinematographer Michele D'Attanasio, who deftly contrasts the Roman and Calabrian settings while giving the imagery a restless sense of pre-adolescent energy that is reinforced by Giogiò Franchini's clipped editing.
I PREDATORI/THE PREDATORS.
Shortly after being tricked into paying €1000 for some cheap tat by an Ostia watch seller (Vinicio Marchioni), Ines Vismara (Marzia Ubaldi) is run over by a van while crossing the street. Fortunately, the incident is seen by Dr Pierpaolo Pavone (Massimo Popolizio), who has the elderly woman rushed to hospital. He is married to Ludovica Pensa (Manuela Mandracchia), a well-known film-maker, who is having difficulties with her latest project. Their 25 year-old son, Federico (Pietro Castellitto), has problems of his own, as he is a passionate admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche, but is being prevented by Professor Nicola Fiorillo (Nando Paone) from participating in an exhumation designed to determine why the German suffered from headaches.
Ines's family come from the other side of the tracks and are resolutely Fascist in outlook. Her sons, Claudio (Giorgio Montanini) and Carlo (Claudio Carmilli), run a gun shop and are very much under the thumb of their bullet-headed Uncle Flavio (Antonio Gerardi). When Federico buys a bomb from Claudio in a bid to destroy Nietzsche's tomb, Flavio convinces his nephew that the philosopher will be spared prison because of his family connections, while he will go to jail for having provided him with the device.
However, Claudio decides to spare Federico after discovering that his father had saved his mother's life. Not that Pierpaolo is entirely blameless, however, as he is conducting an affair with Gaia (Anita Caprioli), who is the young partner of his colleague, Bruno Parise (Dario Cassini), who keeps annoying him by playing irritating practical jokes.
Flavio is furious with Claudio for putting the family in jeopardy and is busy fulminating when he is shot dead by Claudio's trigger-happy 12 year-old son, Cesare (Francesco Borghese). His mother, Teresa (Giuilia Petrini), is terrified that they'll both be sent to jail. But, even though Claudio is arrested, they are spared punishment. Shortly afterwards, Gaia leaves Pierpaolo for the watch seller after Bruno dies from a brain tumour.
The son of Sergio Castellitto and Margaret Mazzantini, Pietro Castellitto makes a creditable fist of his directorial debut, considering that he also wrote the screenplay and takes the key role of agitated academic, Federico Pavone. His decision to blow Nietzsche's grave to smithereens provides the second convenient connection with the Vismara clan, after his father ministers to Ines at the roadside. Such contrivances aside, however, the families largely remain unhappy in their own ways in inglorious isolation and, as a result, any socio-economic points that Castellitto seeks to make tend to fall between the cracks.
Nevertheless, he keeps the storylines rattling along and provides each cast member with a quirky hook on which to base their character. Massimo Popolizio and Manuela Mandracchia deliver the most rounded performances, but there is something cartoonish about Giorgio Montanini and his gun-toting kinsmen. The peevish Federico is also rather broad and Castellito cuts himself plenty of slack in his hyped-up portrayal. Carlo Rinaldi's restless camerawork and Gianluca Scarpa's clipped editing reinforces this sense of brisk brusqueness, which goes some way to atone for the narrative convolutions and lack of satirical edge.
VOLEVO NASCONDERMI/HIDDEN AWAY.
Born in Zurich to single mother Elizabeth Costa on 18 December 1899, Antonio Laccabue (Leonardo Carrozzo) was a much-troubled child, whose physical and psychological problems resulted in him spending lengthy periods in institutions. Often seen with a metal funnel in his mouth, he was entrusted to Elise Hanselmann (Dagny Gioulami), who did her best to raise him, but his temperamental outbursts prompted her to return him to the authorities and it was decided to repatriate him to his mother's homeland.
Billeted in Gualtieri in the Emilia-Romagna, Toni (Oliver Ewy) is bullied by the local boys and subjected to terse inquisitions by the doctor of the sanatorium in which he is lodged. When he hears the director of his elementary school (Peter Hottinger) casually reading a news story about a woman and her three sons dying of food poisoning, Toni recognises his mother's name and is crushed. He hides out in a shack by the River Po and remains there in cold, hungry misery as Fascism seizes the country. Forced to scavenge for food, he feels like a wild animal and starts to channel his fury into simple paintings that improve to the point that he is able to charge locals to look at his image of a naked woman.
Around this time, he changes his name to Antonio Ligabue (Elio Germano) and is given sanctuary by sculptor Renato Marino Mazzacurati (Pietro Traldi) and his kindhearted mother (Orietta Notari). They watch as Antonio gets himself into the mind of the animal he is about to paint and encourage him to work with clay. He makes a doll for a small girl, who is delighted with it. However, it breaks and Antonio curses himself for not repairing it when the girl dies in the night.
Thanks to Mazzacurati, Antonio's paintings start to sell and he is beginning to believe in his own ability when the war breaks out and his patron and his mother leave for Rome. Although he suffers a relapse, Antonio is supported by Andrea Mozzali (Andrea Gherpelli), a sculptor specialising in cemetery monuments from Guastalla. Peace brings a degree of prosperity and he is not only profiled by a newspaper reporter, but he is also hired by a director making a documentary about life in the Po flatlands. Co-star Pina (Paola Lavini) isn't enamoured of the idea of sharing the screen with a man she considers ugly and unkempt, but she is won over when Antonio takes her for a ride in his new car.
He also has a red motorcycle and enjoys riding through the countryside. On one trip, he finds a ruined abode in the middle of nowhere and Mozzali helps him turn it into a home, even though Antonio is constantly denigrating his own work. With Narone (Denis Campitelli) now acting as his chauffeur, Antonio feels important and has to fight off Pina's advances when she hears that he has been offered a prestigious exhibition in Rome. As he works on his new pictures, Antonio becomes besotted with kitchen maid Cesarina (Francesca Manfredini), only for her mother (Daniela Rossi) to oppose the match and do her darndest to keep the pair apart.
Swept off to the capital, Antonio feels out of place at the gallery and slips away during the opening speech to hang out with a homeless man on Ponte Sant'Angelo. He is brought back to enjoy his moment in the spotlight, but is stricken by paralysis soon afterwards and spends his time between visits from his friends lying in bed dreaming about the life he might have had with Cesarina.
With non-experiential performances increasingly drawing wokusations on social media, it's somewhat surprising that Elio Germano won the Best Actor prize at the Berlin Film Festival for a performance that sets him alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot (1989), Krystyna Feldman in Krzysztof Krauze's My Nikifor (2004) and Yolanda Moreau in Martin Provost's Séraphine (2008). Based on hours of studying existing footage of Ligabue (which includes images of `El Tudesc' wearing a dress, as shown somewhat puzzlingly in the film) and abetted by Lorenzo Tamburini's prosthetic designs, Germano's impersonation is skilled and sincere. But it does leave the impression that Ligabue's art should be celebrated less for its intrinsic merits than for the tumultuous issues he had to overcome to produce it.
A cruel twist meant that the picture debuted in the same week that saw the passing of Flavio Bucci, who had played the lead in Ligabue (1977), a three-part RAI mini-series that had been directed by Salvatore Nocita and written by Arnaldo Bagnosco and the theoretical father of neo-realism, Cesare Zavattini. Writing with Tania Pedroni and Fredo Valla, director Giorgio Diritti has opted for an episodic approach that overlooks incidents like Ligabue's stint as a translator for German soldiers in Italy during the war. He also avoids specific timings and leaves the audience to date events from the details in Ludovica Ferrario's production design and Ursula Patzak's costumes. As in his remarkable debut, The Wind Blows Round (2005), Diritti also makes evocative use of the countryside, as he seeks to draw attention to the slow disappearance of the traditional Po Valley lifestyle and the aversion that insular societies have towards the immigrated and the marginalised.
Resisting the urge to replicate the Ligabue style that has been compared by some to that of Vincent Van Gogh, Diritti and cinematographer Matteo Cocco frequently achieve a painterly effect, as in the sequence in which a stone lion peers over a cornfield until it comes to an unceremonious stop because the tractor pulling it has run out of petrol. The fact that Ligabue decides to carry the maned face on his shoulders and walk to the distant town sums up his pride in his work and his refusal to suffer fools gladly. His stock in the world of Naive Art remains high and it's a shame that this striking film will only reach a restricted UK audience. But credit to Cinema Made in Italy for its inclusion in the lockdown programme.