It seemed like the usual debacle surrounding Italian films at the Berlinale. Then, fortunately, in the home stretch, it was announced that a small contingent of a few good (great, even) Italian filmmakers would be going to Berlin: Gianni Amelio with Felice chi è diverso, Edoardo Winspeare with In grazia di Dio, both in the official Panorama section; and debut filmmaker Fabio Mollo with South in Nothing (Generation 14plus sidebar). For their personal stories, ages and interests, they are very different filmmakers, yet this time at least what they do share are micro-budgets and adventurous production paths.
It seems that Berlinale selectors like our less “official” arthouse cinema (surely we wouldn’t want to presume that more ambitious films with more ambitious budgets only strive for Cannes; an age-old question).
We wrote about In grazia di Dio when shooting had just begun, about its unusual and complex financial structure: a tight budget (€500,000) that came from RAI Cinema (for TV rights, negotiations of which are still underway), the Banca Popolare Pugliese (via an external tax credit), a private investor, the Apulia Film Commission, the Agricultural Policy Council of the Apulia Region (through product placement of food and wines of the Quality Products from Apulia brand), and various sponsors, most (though not all) of which were Apulian food and wine companies (including main sponsor Pasta Granoro) that gave products that became “packages” that were bartered for various services (e.g. location fees) on the film. (Bartering – that ancient and magic word – may have fallen out of practice, but it has made a necessary comeback today.)
But back to the film: In grazia di Dio centers on a family that, after losing their business to the crisis and their home to foreclosure, returns to rural living and farming, and quickly resorts to bartering in order to survive. It has been called a “kilometer zero” film.
Shot in Winspeare’s beloved Salento, the cast features four non-professional female leads – the director’s wife Celeste Casciaro; her daughter Laura Licchetta; Anna Boccadamo, the wife of a fisherman from Porto Tricase; and barista Barbara De Matteis – alongside co-producer Gustavo Caputo, the director’s childhood friend.
The three co-producers (Winspeare, Caputo and Alessandro Contessa) were right when they said the film was too local to aspire to, or even want to aspire to, domestic distribution, yet suitable for the international market. While no Italian distributor has picked it up yet – “Which won’t stop us, it just means we’ll distribute it ourselves, door to door, cinema to cinema,” says Winspeare – there is hope the film will be seen beyond national borders.
“Just one hour after the film’s selection [at the Berlinale] was an- nounced,” Winspeare recalls, “five foreign international sales companies contacted us.” Sales, however, were already in the hands of Paola Corvino’s Intramovie. “In grazia di Dio tackles a universal theme: crisis begets metamorphosis, but it can also be seen as a new beginning. And farming is a metaphor for our need to appropriate our cultural roots,” adds Winspeare.
Production-wise, Gianni Amelio’s new documentary is also small. Felice chi è diverso comes from the first line of a short poem by Sandro Penna (Happy to be different/By being different/But woe to the man /who is different/by being ordinary), which inspired the director to take viewers on a journey into the clandestine, gay Italy from the 1920s to the 1980s. It started out as a simple found footage film (of Istituto Luce archive material), not unlike Amelio’s documentaries on immigration (Poveri noi) and military service (L’onore delle armi). But this time, he says, “the subject literally exploded in my hands. There’s still so much to be debated today, there’s still such a long way to go with in terms of respect and freedom for everyone.”
In the end, Amelio juxtaposed the archive material – which testifies to the “violent, vulgar, derisory, denigrating and insulting” attitude towards homosexuals in newspapers, newsreels, television and cinema – with approximately 20 interviews with people who experienced firsthand the years of homophobia and marginalization. Mostly everyday people, along with a few artists and celebrities, including Paolo Poli; journalist and former Italy correspondent of Screen International, John Francis Lane; Ninetto Davoli, who speaks about Pasolini; and an old interview with Umberto Bindi. Penna’s words were a gauntlet to those who used their “diversity” (read: homosexuality) as a tool for triumph, an “in- centive to prove their strength and character to others, not allowing themselves to be oppressed by their handicap,” says Amelio.
Felice chi è diverso is distributed domestically by Istituto Luce Cinecittà, as was Fabio Mollo’s film (released in December on few screens in few cinemas, it was promptly crushed by the Christmas blockbusters).
For South is Nothing, selection in the Berlinale rounds out a successful festival run that began in September at Toronto before heading to Rome (in the Alice in the City section), giving the film strong international visibility.
Case in point: the European Film Promotion chose the film’s young female lead, Miriam Karlkvist (who has an Italian father and Swedish mother), to represent Italy in the prestigious and talented group of young Shooting Stars (the latest to join those ranks were Isabella Ragon- ese, Luca Marinelli and Michele Riondino).
With the additional bump the film will receive at the Berlinale, would it be too much to hope for a second distribution chance, perhaps in a few specialty theatres in Italy?
CULINARY CINEMA /A world of Wine from Italy
Italy could hardly be absent from the Berli- nale’s Culinary Cinema section of films that offer an interesting intersection between food, pleasure and the environment. The 15 films se- lected for 2014 include I cavalieri della Laguna, Daniele Bencini’s documentary on a coopera- tive of fishermen on the Tuscan coast, and Raffaele Andreassi’s short film I maccheroni. Also Italian is the subject of Natural Resistance (in competition in Panorama-Dokumente) by Jonathan Nossiter, who ten years after mak- ing Mondovino takes us to ecological vineyards and illustrates the damages caused to the land by industrial vineyards, in an astute analysis that blends film history (through archive im- ages from the Cineteca in Bologna) and win- emaking.