Italian Connection

La Dolce Vita meets the Magic City with the arrival of Cinema Italiano Oggi (Miami's Italian Film Festival). A five-day orgy of new movies, restored classics, elegant parties, and hobnobbing with the leading lights of modern Italian cinema, the festival kicked off yesterday, November 29, with the screening of Michele Placido's controversial Un Eroe Borghese (An Ordinary Hero). Purely from a cineaste's perspective, Placido's straightforward tale of an honest little man who brings down a high-flying international mafioso offers overly simplistic, two-dimensional portrayals of both its hero and villain; the film also contains few narrative surprises. Had the story been purely fictional, it would have created little fuss.

But it isn't fiction. This is Placido's account of the notorious investigation of billionaire Sicilian banking mogul Michele Sindona by the relentless young lawyer, Giorgio Ambrosoli, who, in the late Seventies, exposed links between the Bank of Italy, the nation's highest-ranking government officials, organized crime, and the Vatican. Ambrosoli's revelations shocked a public already jaded to tales of corruption; his eventual assassination touched off national grieving and resulted in significant political upheaval. Placido's film virtually canonizes Ambrosoli, but that characterization is probably pretty consistent with the average Italian citizen's interpretation of the whole affair. Those unfamiliar with the case are likely to find the film predictable, even boring. Those familiar with Ambrosoli's and Sindona's stories will probably find it fascinating and maybe even cathartic. One thing you can be sure of: Neither the Bank of Italy nor the Vatican is sponsoring this year's Italian Film Festival.

Ettore Scola's Romanzo di un Giovane Povero (The Story of a Poor Young Man) chronicles the travails of an impoverished but educated nebbish named Vincenzo (dour-faced Rolando Ravello). Vincenzo's domineering mother drives him crazy, his well-to-do girlfriend's money makes him feel inadequate, and Mr. Bartoloni (dapper Alberto Sordi) A Vincenzo's henpecked seventyish neighbor A tries to convince Vincenzo to murder the fat, tyrannical Mrs. Bartoloni. Vincenzo jokingly agrees, under the condition that Mr. Bartoloni reciprocate by offing Vincenzo's mother. The plot, as they say, thickens when Mrs. Bartoloni tumbles several stories to her death from her condominium's balcony, and the cops finger Vincenzo for the crime. Scola, one of Italy's most respected filmmakers, isn't shooting for any big themes or major statements here; instead, his dark, quirky comedy succeeds as a tight, character-driven farce-cum-whodunit.

Back in 1954 Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini used the milieu of traveling circus performers as the backdrop for La Strada. Director Silvano Agosti is no Fellini, nor will his L'uomo Proiettile (The Human Cannonball) likely supplant La Strada on critics' lists of all-time cinematic masterpieces. But Agosti's aim is pretty good; his Cannonball hits its targets about as often as it misses them. And anybody who's stressed out from running the rat race should be able to relate to the film's death-defying hero, who proclaims, "Either we organize ourselves to work one day a week and live, create, and play during the other six days, or humanity will die out."

Speaking of La Strada, Fellini's surrealistic breakthrough film is one of four restored Italian classics to be screened at UM's Cosford Cinema as part of the festival. Lina Wertmuller's Seven Beauties, Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief, and Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers round out the quartet. Coincidentally, Wertmuller's favorite leading man, Giancarlo Giannini, serves as the Italian Film Festival's artistic director, and also stars in Palermo Milano Solo Andata (Palermo Milan One Way). Expect the distinguished actor with the melancholy eyes to be highly visible throughout the event.

University of Miami graduate Rafael Oller sneaked a hidden camera into Guantanamo and came away with American Purgatory: 90 Days Behind the Wire at Guantanamo USNB, a fascinating, relatively uncensored (although not unbiased) look at the hard life of Cuban detainees at Gitmo. Given the surreptitious camera work, Oller's film is unlikely to win any awards for cinematography. But his interview subjects tell compelling stories, and their plight is one with special significance for South Floridians of Cuban descent. His film will screen at UM's Cosford Cinema through December 9. Admission is three dollars for seniors and students, five dollars for everyone else. For dates, times, and directions to the Cosford, call 284-4861.

As anyone who has ever tried to make an independent film can tell you, putting together the financing is often the most formidable obstacle. It doesn't have to be that way, or at least so claims Morrie Warshawski, author of Shaking the Money Tree: How to Get Grants and Donations for Film and Video. While Warshawski doesn't go so far as to suggest that raising cash can be a cakewalk, in his book and at his seminars Warshawski guides prospective filmmakers through the process by citing real-life examples of successful proposals and projects, then contrasting those with ploys that failed. On Saturday, December 2, from 9:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m., the Alliance Film/VideoCo-op brings Warshawski to town and sponsors one of his seminars on fundraising. The cost is $65 for Alliance members, $75 for nonmembers; contact Joanne Butcher at 538-8242 for more information.

In the Life, PBS's gay and lesbian newsmagazine, is accepting submissions for their first annual Lesbian and Gay Short Film and Video Festival. They're looking for films or videos that run from 30 seconds to ten minutes in length. For entry forms and contest information, send a stamped self-addressed envelope to: In the Life Short Film Committee, 30 W. 26th St., 7th floor, N.Y.C., 10010. Better hurry: The entry deadline is December 15.

The Italian Film Festival runs through Sunday, December 3. Ticket prices and screening venues vary. All films are in Italian with English subtitles. For more information, call 532-0459 or 532-4986.


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