Cinema Italiano returns to Australia with a stellar selection of films by award wining producers, actors and actresses to thrill fans of la dolce vita this year. Italy's favourite coffee and supporter of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Sydney has also returned as a partner of the 2014 Lavazza Italian Film Festival (LIFF). The Festival opens in Sydney with screenings from 18 September to 12 October at various Palace Cinemas. This year's line up of 34 films promise a negroni of Mediterranean romance, Italian glamour and stunning performances from some of the country's best including Claudio Santamaria, Monica Bellucci, Claudio Santamaria, Margherita Buy and Raoul Bova. The highly anticipated annual festival by the country's sizable Italian community has also brought Italy's new screen goddess, Nadir Caselli, to Sydney.
Elysia Zeccola-Hill, Nadir Caselli and Genevieve Kelly / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
Nadir accompanied Elysia Zeccola-Hill, Director of the Festival to the Gala Opening on 18 September at Palace Norton Street where everyone enjoyed Lavazza coffee popcorn and an after-movie party with live entertainment, drinks and ice cream. The eldest daughter of Antonio Zeccola, owner and managing director of Palace Films and Palace Cinemas, Elysia has been managing the Festival for 5 years. During this period, she's grown the annual admissions, screenings and locations. Each year she travels to watch and review as many of some 100 to 150 Italian films, selects the best and screens them to an eager audience back home in Australia. I caught up with Elysia to find out more about the wonderfully diverse program of films she' has curated for this year's Festival.
Lionel: What do you consider to be this year's main themes?
Elysia: Overall the 2014 line-up is very diverse and features strong themes of music, family and nostalgia, with a mix of comedies, dramas, documentaries, as well as a classic film and a family film. I honestly don't think we've left a stone unturned in once again bringing the best of Italy to Australian audiences.
Lionel: Tell us about the Festival's Opening Night film.
Elysia: The Opening Night film 'Marina' is based on the early life Rocco Granata whose song "Marina" became at hit and it is a really entertaining rags-to-riches story with wonderful music and an international cast.
Marina / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
I thought the story would appeal here because the young Rocco leaves his seemingly idyllic little Italian town and moves with his family to Belgium seeking a better life, and there he is faced with having to make friends and start again in a hostile environment where the local kids taunt him for being a foreigner. I thought it was really moving and it reminded me of stories my father has told me about when he arrived in Australia and I think it will resonate with many Italian-Australians. Matteo Simoni is wonderful in the lead role and I think we will be seeing much more from him.
Marriage Italian Style / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
Elysia: It will be Vittorio de Sica's timeless 'Marriage Italian Style' starring Sophia Loren as a 17-year old prostitute who becomes the mistress of an influential businessman played by Marcello Mastroianni. We've obtained a newly restored version which screened in Cannes this year, marking the 50 years from the film's first release. I highly recommend seeing this on the big screen!
Lionel: The Festival has grouped this year's films into categories. Do you have any top films to recommend?
Elysia: In the "Direct from Cannes" category, my top pick is Asia Argento's 'Incompresa' which screened at Cannes 2014 in the Un Certain Regard section. I loved it because it was really something completely different to everything else in the line-up. We have a lot of moving dramas and hilarious comedies, but this film has a very indie vibe and stars Charlotte Gainsbourg (in an Italian-speaking role) as a musician. Her husband is an actor and they are both too busy fighting, divorcing and holidaying with their lovers to notice that their daughter Aria feels neglected and unloved. Anyone that loves music will appreciate the punchy soundtrack.
Incompresa / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
I was also really moved by 'Darker Than Midnight' which is an outstanding debut from Sebastiano Riso that screened in Cannes Critics' Week. It is based on the early life of Davide Cordova who had a rough adolescence in Sicily before becoming known as the drag queen Fuxia. I was really emotional at seeing this young vulnerable boy out on the streets because his father couldn't accept him for who he was and his mother was powerless to stand up to him and thought that lead actor, Davide Capone, with his mop of red hair gave a really subtle and nuanced performance. I was really touched by the friends he made on the streets and his inner strength.
Darker Than Midnight / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
In the "Drammatico Italiano" section my favourite films are 'South is Nothing', 'Quiet Bliss', 'Those Happy Years', 'White like Milk Red Like Blood' and 'Like The Wind' – but if I only have time to elaborate on one, I'd have to choose 'Those Happy Years' which is a 70s set drama about a marriage in crisis. It features a stunning cast – Kim Rossi Stuart and Michaela Ramazzotti whom I adore – and is the story of a narcissistic artist who spends too much time seducing young models in his studio, until his wife turns the tables on him and runs off to a retreat in France with another woman. Our Festival artwork which is based on this film, highlights nostalgia as a recurring theme this year.
Those Happy Years / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
One of the best films in the "Laughing Italian Style" category is 'The Mafia Kills Only in Summer' directed by popular TV satirist PIF. This was completely entertaining and unexpected for me, I think the title gave me a different impression of what I was going to see. It's part rom-com, part Mafia flick. We follow Arturo, who is a very curious little boy who is in love with his school friend, but hilariously develops an obsession with former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti! This film blends fact and fiction, and is very clever. I think that people will have a good laugh at some of the things that come out of Arturo's mouth!
The Mafia Kills Only in Summer / Photo courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival
You are able to catch Eylsia's selection of film in Sydney from 18 September to 12 October 2014. Screenings take place at Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona and Chauvel Cinema. Visit the website for more details on the venues, schedule and tickets.