Debuting Italo sprocket opera caters to local fans
True to its self-definition that it is a “festa” — a party — rather than another conventional film festival, the RomeFilmFest has assembled a rich mix of populist pics and more eclectic fare, peppered with a panoply of crowd-pleasing panels and film-buff-formative sidebars.And while world preems are — by the fest’s own admission — not a top priority, the Eternal City’s new mass metropolitan event has secured several notable world bows including Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige,” Lasse Hallstrom’s “The Hoax,” Guillaume Nicloux’s “The Stone Council,” and Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Unknown.” “This is a festival for the people of Rome, not for the few hundred people on the planet who care whether a film is a world premiere,” says fest co-topper Mario Sesti, reiterating the nascent event’s mandate to help build a mass audience for quality pics — and for Italian cinema especially. In accordance with its populist agenda, Hollywood fare plays prominently, if not in abundant quantity. Nine-day fest opens with Steven Shainberg’s Diane Arbus-themed “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” for which Nicole Kidman is expected on the red carpet. European launches of Martin Scorsese’s South Boston-set gangster pic, “The Departed,” which the helmer and Leonardo Di Caprio are set to come tubthump, mockumentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” Lionsgates’ “Akeelah and the Bee” and Beastie Boys’ docu “Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That!” are among Yank fare scattered within the 95 titles constituting the fest’s five sections. The Eurocentric 17-pic competish is made up of accessible arthouse titles, many of which are known quantities, such as Otar Iosseliani’s “Gardens in Autumn,” from Gaul; Shane Meadows’ “This Is England,” from Blighty; Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding,” from Denmark; and Argentine vet Pablo Trapero’s intimate drama “Born and Bred.” Italy is vying for the top Bulgari-designed Marcus Aurelius prize, which also carries a €200,000 ($254,000) check, with Francesca Comencini’s money-themed drama “A casa nostra,” starring Valeria Golino; “L’aria Salata,” a drama by first-timer Alessandro Angelini, about a jail social worker who finds his long-lost father behind bars; and Davide Ferrario’s post-Holocaust docu “Primo Levi’s Journey,” about the late great writer’s return home from Auschwitz. Attesting to Rome’s warm rapport with South Korea’s Pusan Film Festival, with which dates overlap, the two fests are co-preeming two Asian entries: cult Japanese helmer Shinya Tsukamoto’s thriller “Nightmare Detective” and Hong Kong helmer Patrick Tam’s father-and-son drama “After This Our Exile.” All told, of the 95 films in the festival’s official selection, 24 are first works, most in the offbeat Extra section, and 20 are from female helmers. “I think that’s a record,” boasts Premiere topper Piera Detassis of the number of femme directors repped. While no Yank titles will be vying for the Marcus Aurelius, decided by a jury of 50 frequent Roman filmgoers headed by Ettore Scola, there are enough high-profile Hollywood and Euro pics launching besides “Fur” to please both paparazzi and cinema cognoscenti. Based on the novel by Christopher Priest, “The Prestige” pits two stage magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, in a deadly feud in 19th-century Blighty. Pic, which also stars David Bowie as an inventor and electrical wizard, bows Stateside Oct. 20 via Buena Vista Pictures. Miramax’s Lasse Hallstrom-helmed “The Hoax” toplines Richard Gere as writer Clifford Irving, who penned a bogus Howard Hughes “autobiography” that became a bestseller. Monica Bellucci will be strutting down the Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium catwalk for two Premiere entries, Paolo Virzi’s Napoleon-themed “N” and Gaul helmer Guillame Nicloux’s “The Stone Council,” an esoteric thriller partly set in Mongolia. Viggo Mortensen is expected to come tubthump “Alatriste,” Spanish helmer Agustin Diaz Yanes’ tale of the 17th-century Spanish soldier-turned-mercenary. Tornatore’s noirish “The Unknown,” marking his return after a five-year hiatus, is about a mysterious Ukrainian woman hired as help in a bourgeois Trieste family. Among the 29 retros and special events scheduled all over Rome is a lifetime achievement award to Sean Connery, who will be honored with a Marcus Aurelius nod and an homage retro. Connery personally chose the 14 titles showcasing his work in the Actor’s Craft sidebar, which will open with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and include just one James Bond pic, “From Russia With Love.” Homage is also being paid to New York’s Actor’s Studio with a retro of titles from its thesps’ early glory days, including “On the Waterfront,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” Marcello Mastroianni is being remembered with a 47-pic retro on the 10-year anniversary of the great Italo thesp’s death. Tributes are also being paid to Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti. Fittingly, the festa will close with a dance for 2,000 guests deejayed by Italo pop star Jovanotti in Cinecitta’s legendary Studio 5 lot, where Federico Fellini made most of his films.