With a Strong Presence at Berlin, Italian Cinema Hopes for an Upbeat 2020

Nick Vivarelli

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This year’s strong Italian presence at Berlin — a total of nine films in various sections, three of which are in competition — is one of several indicators pointing to an upbeat 2020 for cinema Italiano.

The other positives are that box office is picking up thanks to the Hollywood studios finally releasing more movies day-and-date with the rest of the world in the summer, just as the country’s production pipeline is percolating with a promising mix of new works by masters such as Nanni Moretti and promising up-and-comers like Susanna Nicchiarelli (“Nico, 1988”).

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Government funding has been increased with more than €400 million ($436 million) allocated for various support schemes, including generous tax incentives for foreign shoots.

The batting average for Italian movies at the local box office, where 2019 admissions were up 14%, is still too low. There were 29 feature films last year that did not even gross much more than €1 million ($1.09 million). Still, the picture could be worse.

For starters: Matteo Garrone’s live action “Pinocchio,” starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto, grossed roughly €15 million ($16.3 million) domestically during the recent holiday season.

“Pinocchio,” which marks the most mainstream movie by the director best-known for gritty crimer “Gomorrah,” and who more recently made the similarly dark “Dogman,” will be launching internationally at Berlin’s Special Gala section.

Italy’s unprecedented competition trio at this year’s Berlinale comprises “Hidden Away,” a biopic directed by Giorgio Diritti (“There Will Come a Day”) of tormented Italian-Swiss painter Antonio Ligabue. The artist is played by Elio Germano, who won the 2010 Cannes acting prize for his turn in Daniele Luchetti’s “Our Life.” Germano is also a member of the ensemble cast of “Bad Tales,” a dark fairy tale set in Rome’s underprivileged outskirts helmed by young directorial duo the D’Innocenzo brothers, whose “Boys Cry” made a splash when it screened in Berlin’s Panorama in 2018. This time around, the brothers have landed a competition slot.

The third entry flying the Italian flag in the Berlin competition is Abel Ferrara’s “Siberia,” starring Willem Dafoe as a tormented man on a spiritual odyssey in the tundra and other far-flung locales. Granted, the Bronx-born bad boy best known for “Bad Lieutenant” is American. But Ferrara has been living in Rome for the past few years and the production of this long-gestating epic shot in Italy, Germany and Mexico, is led by Italy’s Vivo Film.

Among other Italian titles at Berlin is first-time director Chiara Bellosi’s “Ordinary Justice,” an unconventional court drama premiering in the Generation section. It examines the lives of two families on opposite sides of a murder case who intersect on the benches outside the room where the case is being tried. “Justice” is produced by Carlo Cresto-Dina via his Tempesta, which has shepherded the entire oeuvre of Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders,” “Happy as Lazzaro”). Tempesta is known for nurturing Italy’s top emerging filmmakers.

The robust Italian contingent at Berlin comprises films that are “very different” in terms “of genres and types of narratives,” notes Paolo Del Brocco, head of RAI Cinema, the film arm of Italian pubcaster RAI, which co-financed most of them. Del Brocco proudly points out that “they testify to the diversity and vibrancy of Italy’s production capability.”

That being said, only two of Italy’s nine-title Berlin crop are by women directors. One is “Ordinary Justice,” the other is Valentina Pedicini’s observational doc “Faith,” about a reclusive spiritual sect of kung fu practitioners led by a domineering man known as the Master. “Faith” is screening in the Berlin’s Critics’ Week after world premiering at IDFA in November.

Women definitely dominate Italy’s world sales sector, which is being shaken up by a new player launching at the European Film Market, Vision Distribution Intl. The new company is headed by former True Colours topper Catia Rossi. It’s an offshoot of Vision Distribution, the local theatrical distributor set up in 2016 when Sky Italia joined forces with ITV-owned Cattleya, Fremantle’s Wildside, Lucisano Media Group, Palomar and Indiana Production to create a content alliance and theatrical distribution arm for the Italian unit of the pan-European paybox now owned by Comcast. The first title on Vision Distribution International’s EFM lineup is “Ordinary Justice.”

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