×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘A Street in Palermo’

Emma Dante uses a scalpel lightly coated with black humor to dissect Sicilian society in this thinly stretched debut feature.

With:

Emma Dante, Alba Rohrwacher, Elena Cotta, Renato Malfatti, Dario Casarolo, Carmine Maringola, Sandro Maria Campagna, Elisa Parrinello, Daniela Macaluso, Giuseppe Tantillo, Marcella Colaianni, Giacomo Guarneri. (Italian (Sicilian dialect), Albanian dialogue)

Two mule-headed women lock horns and car bumpers in multihyphenate Emma Dante’s vivisection of Sicilian society, “A Street in Palermo.” Using a scalpel lightly coated with black humor, the tyro helmer with a background in theater/opera trains an agitated camera and a narrowly focused lens on two worlds: the privileged who flee Palermo’s suffocating alliances and disorder, and those who participate in the parochialism. Largely shot on one street but avoiding a claustrophobic feel, the pic can’t sustain its thematic intensity and feels stretched too thin, notwithstanding a strangely powerful finale. Sales even at home will be modest.

It’s a hot summer Sunday, and tensions are escalating as Rosa (helmer Dante) and her lover, Clara (Alba Rohrwacher), drive through Palermo. Rosa, a native, generally avoids the city, unable to take its predictable unpredictability, while Clara, nervously sketching as her partner drives, feels the distance growing between them and suggests they break up. Dante uses a tight frame and anxious camera movements to further bring out the friction building up in the car.

Meanwhile, Samira (stage star Elena Cotta), an elderly widow in black, mutely tends the grave of her daughter, who died of cancer at 36. After leaving the cemetery she picks up her bullying son-in-law, Saro (Renato Malfatti), along with his family from his first wife, and drives them back home. Only yards from their house, on a narrow street called Via Castellana Bandiera, Samira’s car is blocked by Rosa’s car trying to pass through. The two women eye each other, expecting the other to move first; when neither budges, they turn off the engines and wait.

This small, half-paved street will seem Third World to audiences unfamiliar with the dusty late-20th-century constructions on the periphery of Italian cities in the south, yet it’s typical of such neighborhoods. Dante herself was once a resident, and in classic Sicilian style, although the road exudes working-class vibes, it’s actually close to the storied five-star Villa Igiea Hotel (not shown). Knowing the city’s geography will undoubtedly help audiences to understand certain behavior, since here streets can act as independent, insular villages, despite being part of a metropolis.

Samira’s known throughout the neighborhood as a crazy woman of legendary stubbornness: This isn’t the first time she’s refused to back up or back off. She’s also an outsider from the neighboring town of Piana degli Albanesi, which still preserves its Albanian roots. Saro and family finally get out of the car, but Samira, ever silent, remains grasping the wheel and staring down her rival through their dirty windshields. Rosa is a worthy opponent, ever-ready to tap into her wellspring of cynicism and anger. When Samira needs to pee, she gets out and does it in the road, facing off against Rosa, who follows suit in a scene that could be a sendup of the OK Corral.

Quickly the neighbors get involved, offering Rosa advice (get out) and then, courtesy of wheeler-dealer Filippo Mangiapane (Carmine Maringola), organizing bets on who’ll back down first. Clara doesn’t see the point of the standoff and accepts an offer from Saro’s son Nicolo (Dario Casarolo), 16, to get a bite while Rosa and Samira remain voluntarily car-bound. Their moments out form a welcome interlude, gently filling in character details, yet it’s over too quickly, and there never is a sense as to why Clara stays with Rosa. Clearer is the fate of high-school dropout Nicolo, whose sensitivity (he’s the only one Samira responds to) will be crushed by the limiting social codes of family and neighborhood.

Clearly helmer Dante is influenced by the semi-anarchic insular communities of classic Italian comedy directors like Mario Monicelli and Dino Risi, whose tight-knit members gossip, play and often swindle each other. Yet she keeps the comedy to a minimum. Her main focus is on these two immovable women, each rooted to the spot for very different reasons. For Rosa, eager to cut all ties to her antecedents, Palermo itself stokes her aggression, her anger deeply connected to feelings of insecurity. By contrast, Samira’s stubbornness comes partly from inconsolable grief, which has obviously loosened a mental screw, but also from the steeliness required of an outsider, Sicilian yet ethnically Albanian.

Cotta’s almost entirely mute role means everything is in her face, an inscrutable map of lines anchored by pale, rheumy eyes of a disturbing intensity that make Samira a figure of sympathy, even though the film is unable to get under her skin. A bit more background for Rosa, especially her relationship with Clara, would have been welcome.

Gherardo Gossi’s nervous camera, especially at the start, reproduces the stress inside the cars, nicely matched by the excellent editing. Best of all are production designer Emita Frigato’s modifications to the actual street, revealing in the final shot just how thoroughly these individuals remain stuck in their constricted world.

Venice Film Review: 'A Street in Palermo'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Aug. 29, 2013. Running time: 92 MIN.  Original title: "Via Castellana Bandiera"

Production:

(Italy-Switzerland-France) A Vivo Film, Wildside, Ventura Film, Slot Machine production, with Rai Cinema, RSI Radiotelevisione Svizzera, SRG SSR, in collaboration with Istituto Luce Cinecitta. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Mieli, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli, Marianne Slot.

Crew:

Directed by Emma Dante. Screenplay, Dante, Giorgio Vasta, in collaboration with Licia Eminenti, based on the novel by Dante. Camera (color), Gherardo Gossi; editor, Benni Atria; music, Mancuso Brothers; production designer, Emita Frigato; costume designer, Italia Carroccio; sound, Paolo Benvenuti, Simone Paolo Olivero; sound designer, Benni Atria, Francois Musy; assistant director, Cinzia Castania; casting, Anna Maria Sambucco.

With:

Emma Dante, Alba Rohrwacher, Elena Cotta, Renato Malfatti, Dario Casarolo, Carmine Maringola, Sandro Maria Campagna, Elisa Parrinello, Daniela Macaluso, Giuseppe Tantillo, Marcella Colaianni, Giacomo Guarneri. (Italian (Sicilian dialect), Albanian dialogue)

More Film

  • Nadine Labaki

    Cannes: Nadine Labaki to Head Un Certain Regard Jury

    Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has been named president of the jury for Un Certain Regard in Cannes. The Festival said Labaki had been chosen after “moving hearts and minds at the last Festival de Cannes with her Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated ‘Capernaum,’ which won the Jury Prize.” More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns [...]

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Unveils Four More French Originals, 'Gims,' 'Anelka,' 'Move,' 'Of Earth And Blood'

    As it prepares to open a fully-staffed office in France and ramp up its investment in local originals, Netflix has unveiled three new documentaries, “Move” (working title), “Gims” (working title), and “Anelka” (working title), and the feature film “Of Earth And Blood” while at Series Mania in Lille. Announced during a panel with Netflix’s commissioning [...]

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content