Pumped-up Italy invades Cannes with full slate

Moretti's 'Room,' Olmi's 'Profession' leads entries

ROME — After the poor showing made by Italian films at Cannes last year — with the absence of a national entry in competition prompting an industry outcry — the news that the red, white and green flag would once again fly high in this year’s lineup was greeted as the latest boost to morale in an encouraging season for the local film sector.

Italy’s minister for culture Giovanna Melandri said, “Our film industry is in a state of major evolution,” noting that the local biz is back at Cannes stronger and more competitive than ever.

Heading the Italian lineup are two official competition entries: Nanni Moretti’s drama about a family’s struggle to stay together in the wake of unexpected loss, “The Son’s Room,” and Ermanno Olmi’s “The Profession of Arms,” a medieval war drama about a young knight skilled in the art of battle.

Both directors are previous Cannes honorees, with Moretti having been named best director in 1994 for “Caro Diario” and Olmi taking the Palme d’Or in 1978 for “Tree of Wooden Clogs.”

Local pundits view the presence of two competition jury members, president Liv Ullmann and Italian director Mimmo Calopresti, as good omens for the Italian selection. Ullmann previously served on the Cannes jury when “Clogs” won the top award while Calopresti’s debut feature, “The Second Time,” was produced by and starred Moretti.

“If the vitality of a film industry can be measured by its presence at festivals, then the people who maintain we are witnessing a true revival of Italian cinema are right,” said Luciana Castellina, president of offshore Italian film promotion agency Italia Cinema.

The robust Cannes profile caps a season in which quality Italian films have performed surprisingly well at the box office, boosting the market share for homegrown pics from last season’s disheartening 14% to a more healthy 23%.

The upswing began with Christmas blockbuster “Ask Me If I’m Happy” and spring smash “The Last Kiss.” It has been further buoyed by dynamic results from “The Son’s Room” and “Ignorant Fairies,” all of which will screen here in the market.

Other Cannes selections from Italy include two entries in Un Certain Regard, Francesca Archibugi’s “Tomorrow” and Francesca Comencini’s “The Words of My Father.” A Fine Line release in the U.S., Archibugi’s drama chronicles the aftermath of the 1999 earthquakes that devastated Umbria, while Comencini’s film is a contemporary update of a section from novelist Italo Svevo’s “Confessions of Zeno,” about a young man’s experiences in the wake of his father’s death.

Two Italian debut features also will unspool. Musicvideo director Alex Infascelli’s serial killer chiller set among Bologna’s student population, “Almost Blue,” screens in the Intl. Critics Week, while the Directors Fortnight has Daniele Gaglianone’s low-budget B&W “The Years of Our Lives,” a drama about former WWII partisans who encounter their old fascist nemesis in an old folks’ home.

Also flying Italian colors is auteur duo Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s Franco-Italian co-prod “Workers, Peasants” in the Fortnight; and Martin Scorsese’s docu-tribute to the neorealist cinema that influenced his career, “Il Mio Viaggio in Italia,” backed by leading commercial TV player Mediaset.