Italian cinema, the wellspring of neorealism and Fellini’s, Antonioni’s, and Rossi’s searingly original visions, has fallen into stock global genres: romantic comedies, coming-of-age tales, family dramas in which painful secrets and buried conflicts erupt and bring reconciliation. Plus the odd road movie, as much an Italian as an American specialty: Fellini and Antonioni wandered the backroads of Italy and the human condition years before Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, and Gianni Amelio (Lamerica, The Missing Star) is cinema’s current king of the road.
Those genres dominate SIFF Cinema’s New Italian Cinema Festival, which wraps up tomorrow. One, Eighteen Years Later, showing tonight at 9, hits the road as well: Two brothers (played by the film’s coauthors, Marco Bonini and Edoardo Leo, who also directed) haven’t spoken since they survived the car wreck that killed their mother 18 years earlier. One has escaped to become a highflying bond trader in London; the other hides behind a stutter and a wrench in the family garage. Then their babo dies and leaves them the death car—a classic Morgan convertible—and orders to bear his ashes to their mother’s grave. In the Morgan. Together. You see where this is going.
Eighteen Years Later is watchable enough, and it delivers some treats: good performances by the co-creators; a now-grizzled Gabriele Ferzetti, star of Antonioni’s great L’Avventura, as their grandfather; the Calabrian land and seascape; funky roadside characters; a coffin’s-eye-view of interment. But it’s spoiled by overbearing, heartstring-plucking music and general mawkish predictability, punctuated by occasional flourishes of jittery camera and Felliniesque circus music, as though Leo’s trying to say, Wait, this isn’t really the same old thing. But it is.
Better to go earlier and catch Isotta Tosso’s much fresher Clash of Civilization Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, at 7. Based on an Italian-Algerian novel, it’s hardly a road picture; it centers, claustrophobically, around the eponymous apartment elevator and a weird murder-by-fire-hazard upon it. Each tantalizingly cryptic stage in the tale is bracketed by one of the building’s residents confessing, in voiceover, to the crime. They’re a cross-section of the new, globalized Rome: Ecuadoran, Algerian, and Iranian immigrants in various degrees of concealment, two grumbling old romane befuddled at their city’s polyglot transformation, one old-school gentleman who of course proves to be gay. Plus the feuding brothers (again!) at the picture’s heart, one a dispirited lawyer, the other an embittered Jim Morrison-channeling punk, both beaten down by the systemic corruption that destroyed their father.
This is the Italian equivalent of Zadie Smith’s and Hanif Qureshi’s postcolonial London; what do you expect when all roads again lead to Rome? Of course the motley neighbors find a solution, suggesting Italy might do so as well. The end may seem a bit facile and, again, the strings too lush. But it has nice poetic-comic echoes of Fellini’s Amarcord, the quintessential paean to the insular old Italy. Rome is eternal after all.
New Italian Film Festival, SIFF Cinema
Friday, Nov 19
7pm: Clash of Civilization over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio
Director Edoardo Leo is expected to attend.
9pm: 18 Years Later
Director Isotta Tosso expected to attend.