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Film Series Roundup: Open Roads—New Italian Cinema 2023

The Hummingbird
Open Roads—New Italian Cinema 2023
Through June 8, 2023
Film at Lincoln Center
165 West 65 Street, New York, NY
This year’s edition of Open Roads, Film at Lincoln Center’s annual survey of the latest films from Italy, includes the new feature from one of our greatest living directors, Gianni Amelio, along with a drama that imagines the genesis of the best-known play by one of the greatest 20th-century playwrights.
The Hummingbird
Francesca Archibugi’s adaptation of Sandro Veronesi’s prizewinning eponymous 2019 novel follows the decades-long relationships, triumphs and tragedies of several generations of a large family, either sentimental or melodramatic by turns. Archibugi films it all with her usual sophistication, and her superior soap opera owes its jumbled-chronology, everything-is-connected structure to the films of Julio Medem. Best of all is the acting: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Kasia Smutniak, Sergio Albelli and, in the leads (and, at the end, pretty wretched old-age makeup), Pierfrancesco Favino and Bérénice Bejo, both adept at being attractive and exquisite no matter what’s happening. 
Lord of the Ants
Along with Marco Bellocchio, Gianni Amelio is a true living master of Italian cinema, with such memorable films as 1982’s A Blow to the Heart, 1989’s Open Doors and 1992’s Stolen Children. His latest, intelligently told, is the true story of Aldo Braibanti, a homosexual poet and author who ran afoul of Italy’s repressive laws in the 1960s, put on trial and jailed for “grooming” younger men. Although at times it’s simply a conventional courtroom drama, there’s a quiet urgency to Amelio’s filmmaking as well as Luigi Lo Cascio’s sensitive turn as Braibanti.  
In Paolo Virzì’s apocalyptic drama set in Rome, a variety of characters, from billionaires to scientists, unemployed actors, Uber drivers, hospital workers and prisoners, must deal with a severe water shortage—no rain for three years!—government rationing of available water and a mystery virus that might be from the roaches infesting the city. Shuttling among these people (and letting some come together at the end to wrap up loose ends), Virzì has made what amounts to an Italian Crash but without the surfeit of bludgeoning, ham-fisted pronouncements. Although it loses dramatic momentum, Dry is saved by a uniformly excellent cast that’s led by Sara Serraiocco as a heavily pregnant nurse whose absent father has inadvertently left jail and Claudia Pandolfi as a famous actor’s wife who’s reduced to working as a cashier to make ends meet.
The life of Saint Claire, first woman follower of St. Francis of Assisi, is illuminated in Susanna Nicchiarelli’s steely period drama, which depicts the rough-hewn Middle Ages as no film has since Bertrand Tavernier’s 1987 Beatrice. Anchored by a beautifully unadorned performance by Margherita Mazzucco as the eponymous heroine who turned her back on her family to enter the convent and found the Order of Poor Ladies in homage to Francis (a fine Andrea Carpenzano), Nicchiarelli’s transfixing film intersperses musical numbers that add unexpected nuance and flavor to the story of this humble young woman’s eventful life.
Like Turtles
When her beloved husband Daniele decides to move out, humiliated mom Lisa decides to move in—to the bureau that’s now empty after he took all his clothes. Monica Dugo wrote, directed and stars in this often perceptive but equally one-note study about how a “perfect” life can crumble in an instant despite the support and love of our heroine’s teenage daughter, young son and judgmental mother. Actress Dugo is understatedly poignant as Lisa, but director Dugo seems to sense that there’s not much here: the movie lasts a bare 80 minutes without making a big impression, despite Dugo’s and her talented costars’ efforts.

A startlingly realistic look at marginal people barely noticed in Italy—Ethiopian sex workers barely scraping by, dealing with awful potential customers and the possibility of police chasing them (on horses yet)—director Roberto De Paolis’ drama follows a proud young woman, Princess, who finds kinship, and maybe more, with a charming misanthrope she meets while he’s picking mushrooms in the woods where she plies her trade. Skirting melodrama, De Paolis’ film is buoyed by its healthy sense of humor and the spellbinding discovery, Glory Kevin, who makes Princess’ plight compelling and humane.
How did Luigi Pirandello come to write his seminal play, Six Characters in Search of an Author? According to Roberto Andò’s faintly silly movie, it’s when Pirandello returned to his hometown in Sicily while mired in writer’s block, and became friends with offbeat members of a local theater troupe. While entertainingly crammed with allusions to Pirandello’s play and characters, Strangeness seems kind of a lesser Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s infinitely more lively riff on Hamlet. Toni Servillo carries himself brilliantly as Pirandello, but his talent would have been better used in a proper biopic. The final segment of the Taviani brothers’ best film, 1984’s Kaos, is a far more memorable paean to Pirandello’s greatness.

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