Friday, November 18, 2011

Italian Film Festival's Closing Weekend;
Thumbs Up for 'Quiet Life' & 'Habemus Papam'

The latest edition of the San Francisco Film Society's annual survey of new Italian cinema concludes this weekend, and I have some advice regarding three of the films. All films are being shown down at the Embarcadero Cinema.

This evening "A Quiet Life" screens at 6:30, and it's a taut crime thriller highlighted by a terrific performance from Toni Servillo in the lead role of Rosario. Two youthful, quick-tempered Italian criminals show up at the elegant lodge and restaurant in Germany where Rosario works, and they lie about their true intentions.

Rosario keeps them at arms-length because of his own past full of secrets, and tensions mount as the young criminals plan and carry out a murder against a local businessman. Desperate to hold on to his new identity, wife and son, and the comfortable life he's made for himself, Rosario schemes to prevent the criminals from ruining his life and harming his family.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout, as the motivations and true identities of the male leads are gradually revealed. One narrative distraction is a subplot involving a waitress at the restaurant, but it doesn't take up much screen time. The cinematography stands out in its virtuosity, with an excellent tracking shot early in the film at the lodge and a crane shot showing the isolation of the more hot-headed young Mafiosi enhancing the the story.

A very satisfying film, one I highly recommend.

Also showing tonight is "20 Cigarettes" at 9:30, and it receives thumbs-down from me and I need to disclose I didn't watch all of it.

Starting in Rome in a comedic vein, we are introduced to  Aureliano, a young cameraman and political activist hanging out with his pot-smoking college buddies, as he prepares for what he expects to be a fun-filled gig working on a documentary in Iraq. Once in the war-torn country, the reality of armed conflict rears its ugly head and Aureliano is seriously wounded in an attack by insurgents.

Using a hand-held camera we're shown Aureliano's bloody and torn body, as he cries out for help to stop his bleeding and intense pain. I watched the film on DVD and had to fast-forward past these gruesome scenes, and quickly lost interest as the storyline shifted back to a lighter tone and stopped watching the movie.

"20 Cigarettes" was not my cup of cappuccino.

The closing night film "Habemus Papam" ("We Have a Pope"), plays on Sunday at 6:30 and 9:15, starring Michel Piccoli as a new pope questioning his faith and ability to serve as  head of the Catholic church.

Mixing some laugh-out-loud comic situations with dramatic internal Vatican political power plays, the film takes a few confusing turns but the acting by Piccoli and writer/director Nanni Moretti as the psychiatrist brought in to help the pope is beautifully constrained and enjoyable to watch.

The lavish sets and gorgeous costumes are top-notch, providing a fabulous eye-pleasing backdrop to the film. All of the subplots are not plausibly resolved by the end, but getting there is much fun.

Despite its flaws, "Habemus Papam" is quite entertaining and recommended.

Click here for information on tickets to these and the other Italian films playing at the Embarcadero Cinema today, tomorrow and Sunday.

(All photos courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.)

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