Italian films at the London Festival: looking forward to the past

From "Buongiorno, notte" to "Primadonna" and "Leonardo addio". All reviewed by James Norton

Italian films at the London Festival: looking forward to the past


The recent London Film Festival showcased some of the Italian films to look forward to in the future, all of which look back to the past, a trio of works which cast new eyes on the troubled history of a country facing perhaps a perilous time to come.

Two of these were by veteran directors, including Leonora addio, the first film made by Paolo Taviani since saying addio to his brother Vittorio in 2018. The film has gorgeous cinematography but a rather catatonic narrative, a pity since it combines the tragicomic progress of the ashes of Luigi Pirandello across Italy to their final resting place in Sicily, filmed in black and white, with a dramatisation in colour of the great writer’s final short story Il chiodo.

Marco Bellocchio has been making powerful drama of the darker episodes of Italian history throughout his career, including the 2003 film Buongiorno, notte, telling the story of the kidnap and murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro by the Brigate Rosse in 1978, from the point of view of the terrorists. Almost twenty years later he returns with Esterno Notte, retelling the terrible saga within a much wider context over a six hour television series with a cast including Toni Servillo as the Pope (pictured above), showing on Rai in Italy over three nights from November 14.

Perhaps most impressive of the three films is Primadonna, the debut feature by Marta Savina, the true story from a Sicilian village on the 1960s of a young woman, who spurning the advances of the son of the local mafia boss is kidnapped and raped by him but refuses the expected forced marriage, sparking a landmark court case. The tensions, prejudices and hypocrisies of the community are movingly portrayed, and the ending is uplifting but bittersweet, as we are told that the case resulted in ‘matrimonio riparatore’ being made illegal… in 1981.