Spring is here, and with it the allure of sunny escape – though the prospect of variously tiered travel restrictions from May means that most of us will be holidaying within national borders for now. If you’re daydreaming of an Italian getaway, the Italian Cultural Institute has given us some armchair-based consolation in the shape of their annual Cinema Made in Italy showcase. Usually a big-screen affair, it goes digital this year for Covid purposes: as with other such online adaptations, the trade-off is that a traditionally London-centred event is available to viewers across the UK and Ireland.
Until 29 April, a curated selection of nine recent Italian films will be available to stream via Mubi: free to the platform’s existing subscribers, while others can access a free 30-day trial for the specific purpose of the event, while also sampling anything else Mubi has to offer in that time. As usual, it’s a programme that largely eschews big arthouse names in favour of talents less known outside their home country, with several films plucked from last year’s international festival circuit. Perhaps constrained by the disruptions of the pandemic, this year’s lineup isn’t quite as diverse as some previous editions: it’s a little disappointing to see no female directors among the selections, for one thing. But there’s much here that’s worth seeing.
Perhaps the most notable of the bunch is Hidden Away, a satisfying, brawny biopic of the Italian naive painter and sculptor Antonio Ligabue, in which director Giorgio Diritti gets around the Wikipedia-style formula of the genre with impressionistic flair. It helps that Ligabue’s life was at least as compelling as his art, awash with childhood tragedy, psychiatric torment, exile and delayed, hard-won artistic recognition. The fine actor Elio Germano plays him with all-in physical and emotional commitment that won him best actor at last year’s Berlinale.
Somewhat breezier, in a bittersweet way, is The Ties, by the novelist and film-maker Daniele Luchetti, which opened the 2020 Venice festival. Studying the ups and downs of a middle-class Neopolitan marriage across four decades, it’s intricately structured and thoughtfully acted, particularly by the reliable Alba Rohrwacher. Another pick from last year’s Venice lineup, Padrenostro sees the director Claudio Noce merging crime and coming-of-age tropes to surprisingly personal effect. His script draws on real-life trauma – the attempted murder of his own father, Rome’s deputy chief of police, in the 1970s – as seen through the eyes of his preteen alter ego, who embarks on a summer of formative revelations. It’s meaty, sprawling stuff, bound by the charisma of Pierfrancesco Favino as the embattled patriarch.
The remainder of the selection proves a bit of a lucky dip. Standing in welcome genre contrast is Fortuna, an eerie, fragmented sort of child’s-eye horror film, in which first-time director (and former architect) Nicolangelo Gelormini shows auspicious, angular style. And perhaps the jolliest film of the lot is a documentary, Life As a B-Movie, which delves into the film career of Eurotrash legend Piero Vivarelli (best known for writing cult spaghetti western Django) with infectious affection.
Away from the Cinema Made in Italy programme, this week coincidentally sees a recent Italian standout heading to Sky Cinema. The veteran Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio has been hit-and-miss in recent years, but The Traitor finds him pleasingly on form. An old-school mafia saga that pivots into an absorbing courtroom drama, it tells the true story of Tommaso Buscetta, a Sicilian mobster turned trailblazing informant, and sees Bellocchio toning down his usual theatrical directorial flourishes in favour of something altogether more bloodily hard-boiled. It also won’t have you necessarily thirsting for a Sicilian vacation right away, which might just be an upside at the moment.
Also new on streaming and DVD
Love and Monsters
When this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, one inclusion in the best visual effects category had even seasoned critics asking: “What’s that?” Turns out it’s a (relatively) cheap and cheerful apocalyptic adventure for teens, carried along by the pluck of Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien. And yes, some decent monster effects.
As if Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan haven’t already been amply milked by film-makers, this wholesome, handsomely dressed, somewhat twee family fantasy reimagines the protagonists of these two classic stories as fanciful siblings on divergent adventures. A reasonably clever idea that never quite coalesces into a solidly engaging plot.
Given a low-key digital release last year, Henry Blake’s tough, impressive debut feature makes it to DVD. An uncompromising study of a London teen groomed into county lines drug-running, it could be just another grey slab of British urban miserablism, but its visual finesse and gutsy performances separate it from the pack.
Young writer-director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte made a strong, Sundance-lauded debut a few years ago with the sensitive coming-of-age drama As You Are. But he overreaches with his follow-up, a Depression-era thriller in which a destitute teen farmboy hooks up with Margot Robbie’s glitzy bank robber on the run. In thrall to film-makers such as Arthur Penn and Terrence Malick, it’s overmannered and feels inauthentic.