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Fall 2012





Lost Innocence, Tragic Obsessions: Three Contemporary Italian Films at TIFF 2012



by Terri Favro


An intimate, haunting character study; a scathing satire of celebrity culture; an epic love story set against the horrors of a genocidal war. Although different from one another in scope and style, the three Italian contemporary films I saw at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) shared similar themes of tragedy and loss – loss of innocence, of love and of life – to destructive forces beyond the characters’ control.


In The Interval (L’Intervallo), the first feature film by documentary filmmaker Leonardo di Costanzo, power belongs to the Camorra, a force that remains almost invisible until the final scenes. Instead, this intimate, claustrophobic film focuses on what the director describes as “una ragazza, un ragazzo, e uno spazio” – a girl, a boy, and a space. The girl is Veronica (Francesca Riso), beautiful, strong-willed and worldly-wise beyond her fifteen years. The boy is Salvatore (Alessio Gallo), a hulking, sad-eyed seventeen-year-old lemon ice vendor who has been ordered to guard Veronica until a local Camorra boss has time to punish her for an unnamed transgression. The space is a derelict boarding school in Naples, so close to an airport that the roar of jet engines rumbles through the crumbling hallways like approaching monsters.

  Accenti CINEMA   Lost Innocence, Tragic Obsessions Three Contemporary Italian Films at TIFF 2012  Terri FavroScene from the movie Reality. Photo Courtesy of TIFF. 

As Veronica and Salvatore explore the building’s empty rooms and overgrown gardens, they are transformed from defiant prisoner and reluctant captor into what they truly are: two children.


Featuring a non-professional cast, the film unfolds quietly and gracefully, with Salvatore and Veronica comforting one another with what the director calls “little stories I heard from teenagers in Naples.” The entire film takes place in the space of a day, as Veronica and Salvatore wait helplessly for the last judgment of the powerful upon the weak.


Naples is also the setting for Reality by Matteo Garrone, director of the acclaimed Gomorrah (2008). A satire of the seductive and destructive power of media-driven celebrity culture, Reality is the story of one man’s obsession with Grande Fratello (Big Brother), a reality TV show where contestants are confined to a house and pitted against one another in a winner-takes-all competition for money and fame.


Fishmonger Luciano (Aniello Arena) has a successful business, a beautiful wife (Loredana Simioli), cute kids and a comfortable home. Popular and energetic, Luciano is urged by his family and friends to try out for Grande Fratello. But after making it through the first round of auditions, what started off as a lark turns into a full-blown obsession. After a second try-out at the legendary Cinecittà film studio in Rome, Luciano returns home to Naples convinced that he will be not only be picked as a contestant, but will be the ultimate winner. His delusion is fed by Enzo (Nando Paone), a past winner of Grande Fratello who now works as a “celebrity-for-hire” for weddings. His advice to Luciano: “Never give up!”


As Luciano waits for a call that will never come, he begins to lose the good life he once had. His family leaves him. He sells his business, and starts giving away all his possessions to the poor, believing they are TV scouts in disguise who will reward him for his generosity. In a dreamlike ending, Luciano breaks into the Grande Fratello set at Cinecittà and offers himself up, body and soul, to his obsession.


In Twice Born (Venuto Al Mondo), the private tragedy of an infertile couple plays out against the public horrors of a genocidal war. Based on the book by Margaret Mazzantini, with an international cast led by Penelope Cruz, Emil Hirsch and Adnan Haskovic, director Sergio Castellitto filmed Twice Born primarily in English, as well as Italian and Bosnian.


In Sarajevo during the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, Italian graduate student Gemma (Cruz) falls in love with American photographer Diego (Hirsch). The couple settles in Rome to start a family, only to discover that Gemma is infertile. Returning to Sarajevo – now sliding into war – they are helped by a Bosnian friend (Hoskovic) to find a surrogate mother, the beautiful musician, Anka (Saadet Aksoy). The three agree that Diego and Anka will sleep together “to make a baby,” but the attempt appears to be unsuccessful.


Gemma and Diego return to Rome, but something has changed between them: Diego’s behaviour grows erratic and he returns to Bosnia. Gemma follows him, only to discover a very pregnant Anka. She gives birth to a baby boy and, as bombs fall around them, Gemma and the baby are flown out by blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers. Diego stays behind, then disappears.


With a flashback-driven narrative framed by Gemma and her twenty-two year old son visiting Sarajevo in the present day, the film slowly unravels its mysteries to reveal the true nature of Diego’s obsession with the surrogate mother, Anka.


Although too rushed in many of its flashback sequences, Twice Born is strongest as it approaches its gut-wrenching climax, when the film explores the emotional and physical extremes people will go to for love. 



Terri Favro is a Toronto writer. Her most recent book is The Proxy Bride (Quattro Books, 2012). 





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