Cinema Italian Style brings the best in Italian contemporary film to Seattle

Paolo Genovese's newest film, "Perfect Strangers," won top awards for best film and best screenplay. (Ali & Colapietro)
Paolo Genovese's newest film, "Perfect Strangers," won top awards for best film and best screenplay. (Ali & Colapietro)

The dark days and rainy nights so common to the Pacific Northwest in November are tailor-made for movie-going. Seattle’s popular Italian film festival, Cinema Italian Style, could not come at a better time.

Now in its 8th season, Cinema Italian Style, which runs November 10-17, features the very best in Italian contemporary film. Presented by Seattle International Film Festival, the event will showcase 14 films over eight days, attracting an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people. 

So what’s on tap for this year’s festival? As usual, a little bit of everything. There are dramas, romantic comedies, an action flick and two documentaries. 

Director Paolo Virzi follows up his 2013 drama "Human Capital" with the film "Like Crazy," which has been a huge runaway hit. (Alchetron)Director Paolo Virzi follows up his 2013 drama "Human Capital" with the film "Like Crazy," which has been a huge runaway hit. (Alchetron)

One of the festival’s most anticipated entries is Like Crazy (La Pazza Gioia), which tells the story of two women who go on a road trip Thelma-and-Louise style. The comedy-drama was directed by Paolo Virzi, known for his 2013 drama Human Capital, which was Italy’s entry for best foreign language film at the 87th Academy Awards. His new film, Like Crazy, won five Nastri d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) awards from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists this year—the most of any entry.

Fiore, directed by Claudio Giovannesi, is a prison drama that combines a dose of social realism with a coming-of-age story.  Giovannesi films have been particularly well-received in Seattle. “Giovannesi has shown several of his films at our festivals in the past, including the popular Ali Blue Eyes, which we screened in 2013,” said Beth Barrett, SIFF’s interim artistic director. 

Paolo Genovese’s latest film, Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti), has been a critical and commercial success, winning two David di Donatello awards for best film and best screenplay. The film’s premise is a reflection of today’s ultra-connected lifestyle.  During a casual dinner party, seven friends decide to share every text message and phone call they receive during the evening. Not surprisingly, the revelations expose more than the friends expected.  With its clever screenplay and all-star cast, the film also received a Nastro d’Argento award.

Although the festival focuses on the latest Italian releases, there is always one archival feature in the mix. This year,
the archival selection is A Special Day (Una Giornata Particolare), released in 1977, directed by Ettore Scola and showcasing two extraordinary performances by Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. The version to be shown in Seattle is a newly restored 35mm print coming direct from Rome. 

The festival’s November time frame works well, not only to combat the seasonal blues but also to give organizers access to films that played at festivals in Venice or Rome or were recently released for Oscar consideration. “The films we offer are usually brand new to North American audiences or have not been shown a great deal,” said Barrett. “They give a range of what is happening cinematographically in Italy and span all films types. There’s something for everyone.”

To help SIFF identify what films should be considered, the staff relies on an international team of cinema experts. One of the festival advisors is Dr. Claudio Mazzola, senior lecturer in Italian studies at the University of Washington.

For Mazzola, developing a short-list is a complicated process. “We work closely with Luce Cinecittà which presents Italian cinema abroad,” he said. “We may find a film we like but it may not be available through Cinecittà. Or perhaps a film cannot be shown because the director or cast members are not available. SIFF likes to have as many guests in town as possible.”

Mazzola has several criteria he uses when suggesting films for the festival. “First, of course, are those that I personally like,” he said. “Then I look for films that expose American audiences to issues that are important in Italy now. Today, those issues overwhelmingly focus on immigration or unemployment. 

“Lastly, I try to find movies that will appeal to an international audience. Many Italian films are region-specific, so it is difficult for a foreign audience to understand them. In fact, it is sometimes difficult for an Italian audience to understand them! I think that is why Italian films are not as successful in the U.S. They are often too regional and speak to too small an audience.”  

One film that will likely buck that trend is Matteo Rovere’s Italian Race (Veloce Come Il Vento). Loosely based on the true story of rally race car driver Carlo Capone, this action-packed movie plunges the audience into the world of GT (Gran Turismo) racing―and traces the story of one family who have been racing cars for generations.  

Two documentaries also made the cut: Sexxx and Libera NosSexxx, which Barrett characterized as edgy and experimental, is based on a ballet by Matteo Levaggi that explores human sexuality and movement. 

Libera Nos (which means “deliver us” in Latin) is a documentary about Italy’s culture of exorcism. Directed by Federica Di Giacomo, it is one of three films being shown that were directed by women. The others are:  Once in Summer (Era d’Estate) by Fiorella Infascelli and Solo (Assolo) by Laura Morante. 

Bookended by opening and closing night parties, the festival would not be possible without significant corporate and community support, including Pagliacci Pizza, Caffè Umbria and the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association. “We are grateful to our long-term sponsors,” said Barrett. “Many have been with us since the festival’s beginning eight years ago. That level of community commitment and corporate support says a lot about our fan base here in Seattle.”  

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