Three young men with a movie camera dream of putting a local Calabrian story on the bigscreen in Mimmo Calopresti’s charmer “The Feast.” An insider film par excellence, stuffed with friends and colleagues and shot in the southern region of Italy Calopresti left as a child, pic is a love letter not just to his roots, but to the concept that “history is tangible; it clings to the land.” Even those not in the know should be pleasantly seduced by the warmth radiating from the screen, highlighted by a complete lack of pretension. Italo fests will enjoy the spread.
The seaside town of Diamante, in Calabria, is the kind of place where young residents long for the hours to fly by and outsiders relish the feeling of time standing still. Gabriele (Paolo Briguglia), along with friends Nicola (Lele Nucera) and Marco (Lorenzo Di Ciaccia), interview family and neighbors in search of a story good enough to film. They find it in Aunt Caterina (Lucia Ragni), who fell in love with a distant cousin when they were teens just before he emigrated to America.
For the past four years, Diamante has had a celebrity in Neri (Diego Abatantuono), a helmer caught up in a dry spell. He’s a begrudging mentor to the three wannabe directors, introducing them to actor Francesco (Calopresti), though he’s not supportive when they decide to head to Rome to look for guidance.
Once in Rome, the group gets a chance to see Cinecitta as well as a glam industry party. An introduction to actress Amelie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Francesco’s ex and current g.f. of Gerard Depardieu, leads to the inevitable: Why not get Depardieu to star in the guys’ movie? With Amelie behind them, Depardieu agrees, sending the town into a frenzy of preparations for a welcoming feast.
Pic’s title is also translated as “The Pigout,” which in some ways better captures the traditional banquet to come. But for the residents of Diamante, it’s clear this is a normal way to celebrate happy occasions, and Calopresti’s enormous affection for the residents and their customs could spawn a shelfload of “Under the Calabrian Sun”-type paeans.
The connections between the helmer’s life and art are legion, not least of which is Bruni Tedeschi as Francesco/Calopresti’s ex. Discussions of the call of the sea recall Calopresti’s “I Prefer the Sound of the Sea,” and Neri’s four-year lull has some resonance in Calopresti’s own absence, barring docus, from the feature scene since 2002’s “Happiness Costs Nothing.”
Current pic owes little to Calopresti’s earlier, engrossing existential ruminations, and can perhaps be seen as a rediscovery of self. Helmer is fully aware of the often numbing stretches of time in small towns, perfectly personified in Donatella Finocchiaro’s character, Enza. Rather, his nostalgia has a melancholy edge of inevitability, a joy tinged with unexplainable longing. That the pic’s origins come from Iranian writer Mahmoud Iden makes no difference: Roots are the same the world over.
“The Feast” is a full-on ensemble film, with each actor, including the brief scenes with Depardieu, clearly in it for love. Calopresti and d.p. Pasquale Mari beautifully note the sun’s ever-changing effects on color and shadow, and wrap it up with an ending that’s pure Fellini in its bittersweet fantasy. Music is occasionally a problem, especially when Elena’s beauty is unnecessarily reinforced with soft piano treatments.