The 2018 London Film Festival included an impressive selection of new Italian films that cinemagoers can look forward to in the coming months. The only organization that may not relish the prospect is the Castel Volturno Tourist Office, if there is such a thing. Already damned by Gomorra as a mafia stronghold, two new films use the setting of this decaying seaside suburb of Naples to tell twisted tales of enduring dreams in a lurid atmosphere of pervasive criminality.
The first of these, Dogman, by Gomorra director Matteo Garrone, has already opened to great acclaim in British cinemas and hopes for even greater success as the Italian entry to the Academy Awards next February. This tense parable of the perverse and toxic relationship between a diminutive dog groomer and a deranged thug combines Garrone’s flair for both grotesque extravagance and harsh realism and is perhaps his best film yet. The Vice of Hope (Il vizio della speranza) is director Edoardo De Angelis’s follow up to Indivisibile and was filmed in the same ravaged port and the lawless waterways behind it where teenager Maria (Pina Turco), her body scarred by horrific childhood abuse gradually revealed in nightmare flashbacks and now entering the final stages of a pregnancy that could kill her, is caught up in her family’s business trafficking the babies of African migrants, amongst whom she eventually finds a miraculous release, in a film that is both powerful and beautifully realized.
Another two troubled dramas share the rugged landscape of Sardinia as their location. In Twin Flower (Fiore gemello), a dumbstruck traumatised girl and a young immigrant from the Ivory Coast flee a killer and racist persecutors through industrial ruins and the mountains and coastline of the island, director Laura Luchetti combining a gripping thriller with the touching account of a relationship between two vulnerable and very different teenagers. In Laura Bispuri’s Daughter of Mine (Figlia mia) Valeria Golino and Alba Rohrwacher give terrific performances struggling for custody of their adoptive and biological daughter in a Sardinian fishing village. These films further justified the festival’s rewarding policy of programming equal numbers of films by female directors this year.
Alba Rohrwacher also stars in her sister Alice’s fabulous Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice), possibly the best new film in the entire festival, already winner of the Best Screenplay award at the last Cannes festival. The innocent and adorable Lazzaro (Adrano Tardiolo in his debut role) is caught in a web of intrigue in a village isolated in space and time caught between pastoral idyll and feudal nightmare until, without giving spoilers, we tumble into Alice Rohrwacher in Wonderland, its second act an urban fairy tale, a lunar masterpiece that is spellbinding, utterly original and beautifully moving.
Italian directors also contributed a couple of notable films filmed abroad, What you Gonna do When the World’s on Fire? filmed in magnificent monochrome by documentarist Roberto Minervini portrays the community of Baton Rouge, Louisiana following the shooting by police of African-American Alton Sterling, while Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria set in Berlin in 1977 and also already released, has divided audiences who found it either an overlong and unnecessary remake of Dario Argento’s classic giallo, or an ambitious return to form after last year’s insipid Call Me By Your Name.