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Venice: Is Italian Cinema in a Rut? Alberto Barbera, Others Weigh in

Is Italian cinema in a rut?

On paper, Italy’s presence at Venice this year begs that question.

Though there is plenty of cinema italiano screening on the Lido, it’s mostly low-budget fare by relatively obscure directors, most of whom not known internationally, and none outside the festival circuit.

Take, for example, “Spira Mirabilis” (pictured) the first of the three Italian competition entries, which screened on Sunday. “Spira” is a documentary made on a Euros 120,000 ($133,000) budget by husband-and-wife team Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti.

Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera calls “Spira,” which was shot in Japan, Monument Valley in the U.S., and Milan, a visionary work “destined for the international market.”

But Barbera and his team in past months have not been impressed by the massive pile of 126 Italian movies submitted for inclusion in Venice’s 2016 edition.

“The average quality was even lower than last year,” Barbera noted in July after his lineup was announced.

“This year the big name Italian auteurs had either just made a film, or still had to make it, or didn’t finish it in time,” the Venice chief added. And “the quality of the other [directors] is just so disappointing!,” he lamented.

Besides “Spira,” the other two Italian pics soon to screen in the Venice 73 competition are teen pregnancy comedy “Piuma,” by 42-year-old Italo-Brit writer and director Roan Johnson, which was made on a 600,000 Euro ($670,000) budget, and veteran auteur Giuseppe Piccioni’s “Questi giorni” (“These Days”) a depiction of contemporary student life in the Italian provinces. Piccioni, who is 63, was previously in the Venice competition in 2001 with Rome-set ensemble drama “Light of My Eyes.”

A talking point on the Lido this year is why Italy doesn’t seem to have any outstanding young directors like, say, U.S. helmer Damien Chazelle, who is 31, and whose “La La Land” opened the fest with a bang.

“The business environment in Italy somehow has not been the best over the past five to seven years for the emergence of new talent, because a lot of the financing for films has gone to comedies, most of which are exclusively local,” said Marco Chimenz, a partner in prominent indie shingle Cattleya.

Chimenz notes that Paolo Sorrentino — whose TV series “The Young Pope,” starring Jude Law, is the real Italian standout at Venice — “made several films before becoming really well known internationally and winning an Oscar for “The Great Beauty.” And those films, produced by indie Indigo Films, had substantial backing from Italian heavyweight Medusa.

But critic Giona Nazzaro, who heads the Venice Critics’ Week, disagrees with those who lament the absence of a potent new generation of Italian helmers after Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone.

“Compared with Sorrentino and Garrone’s generation, there is a different type of [Italian] cinema now,” he said. “There is a generation that grew up working with very limited budgets, not [just] because they are condemned to this, but also because they have chosen to have greater productive and aesthetic freedom. Therefore it’s not a qualitative gap. They represent a different vision.”

To back his point, Nazzaro cited Venice Days title “Indivisible,” directed by Edoardo De Angelis, about teenage conjoined-twin sisters with beautiful voices who come from the suburbs of Naples and support their family as a performing act, which will segue from Venice to Toronto, and the London Film Festival; and Critics’ Week pic “Le Ultime Cose,” by first-timer Irene Dionisio, a drama interweaving three tales centering on a Turin pawn shop against the backdrop of Italy’s economic crisis.

“The problem,” according to Nazzaro, is not so much the state of Italian cinema at present, “but the state of those who cover it in the media, and also produce it, and continue to be in this state of mourning, as if the great Italian cinema no longer exists.”

“Luckily Italian cinema has changed,” he said, “and what we are living is extremely exciting and encouraging.”

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