While a film shot in Matera dominated the box office at every other cinema in town, at the 2021 London Film Festival, which ended recently, a handful of Italian films provided more authentic visions of life in the peninsula.
The biggest of these was the only disappointment, Paolo Sorrentino’s È stata la mano di Dio opens with a magnificent panorama of his hometown Napoli, but while this autobiographical drama, set as Maradona fever grips the city, has some hilarious scenes of family strife, led as usual by the great Toni Servillo, and there is a bravura homage to Fellini, when shocking tragedy strikes the family and the young protagonist decides to become a film director, the film strangely falls flat and unconvincing, and is also marred by sex scenes that are awkwardly retrograde, although Pino Daniele’s Napule è give it an achingly bittersweet ending.
The documentary Nascondino shows a much grittier reality in the same city’s Quartieri Spagnoli, where director Victoria Fiore gained remarkable access to the family of Entoni, doomed to a life of delinquency and incarceration following his jailed father and Camorrista grandmother.
By contrast, Piccolo corpo is set in the islands and wintry mountains of Italy’s north-eastern corner at the beginning of the last century and performed in the local dialect. Laura Samani’s haunting, magical and beautifully filmed tale follows a young mother’s perilous journey to a mystic sanctuary where her stillborn child may be baptised.
Across the north of Italy to Bobbio near Piacenza where the veteran director Marco Bellocchio grew up; recalling in the simple but powerful documentary Marx può aspettare the effects on his family of the suicide of his twin brother.
But the finest film from Italy, and possibly anywhere, in the festival, was made in the Calabrian mountains of the deep south. Ten years since his cult success Le Quattro volte, director Michelangelo Frammartino returns with Il buco, another almost wordless masterpiece of the slow cinematic contemplation of the splendours of nature and the pastoral soul. The landscape is timeless but the drama set within it dates from 1961, paralleling the rhythms of life of an old shepherd and an intrepid team of speleologists from Piemonte discovering the Abisso del Bifurto, one of the deepest caves in Europe, contrasting the darkness and fleshy interior of the Earth with the vast green expanse of the mountains and the mist that envelops it.
In addition to these Italian films, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal presented her first film as director, The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel La figlia oscura with a star-studded cast led by Olivia Colman. This, Il buco, È stata la mano di Dio and four other major new Italian films will be shown from November 18-22 at Curzon Cinemas’ showcase of films from the Venice Film Festival (details here).