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Italian Veterans and Newcomers Unspool at Toronto

The Italian contingent at Toronto comprises new works by heavyweights such as Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone alongside emerging talents who’ve already made a splash, including Roberto Minervini and Edoardo De Angelis, and newcomer Laura Luchetti, among a growing group of women directors breaking the country’s gender barrier.

These helmers are all under 50. In different ways their latest works all have political connotations, which range from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s deep impact on Italy, to immigration and the upheaval being caused by President Trump in the U.S. While rooted in local contexts, they spring from the Italian film community’s increasingly international mindset.

“Loro,” Paolo Sorrentino
Section: Masters
“Loro,” which means “Them,” stars Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo as a grinning Silvio Berlusconi. Servillo previously played Italian pol Giulio Andreotti in the director’s caustic pop opera “Il Divo,” but the tone in this depiction of Italy’s four-time prime minister and media mogul is different. Variety critic Jay Weissberg has said the pic “is not so much an invigorating acid bath as a subtly written, stylistically more classical look at one of the most divisive European leaders in recent memory” and noted that the film “aims to peer not just into Berlusconi’s monomaniacal soul, but to expose, as with ‘The Great Beauty,’ the apotheosis of vulgarity.” After playing in a two-part version in Italy, a much tighter single international cut is world-premiering in Toronto.

Dogman,” Matteo Garrone
Section: Special Presentations
Dubbed an “urban Western,” Garrone’s return to smaller-scale Italian-language filmmaking after his English-language fantasy “Tale of Tales” is inspired by a homicide committed by a coked-out dog groomer during the late 1980s in the gang-infested area outside Rome. The case, involving hours of torture in a dog cage, is considered among the most gruesome in Italian postwar history. There are similarities with Garrone’s naturalistic 2008 Neapolitan mob pic “Gomorrah” in terms of its criminal underworld theme and atmospherics, though this revenge drama also has a fable-like allegorical aspect. Newcomer Marcello Fonte, who plays the mild-mannered dog groomer caught up in spiraling violence with a bullying boxer, won the actor nod in Cannes.

“The Vice of Hope,” Edoardo De Angelis
Section: Contemporary World Cinema
“The Vice of Hope,” a drama involving a difficult birth set against the backdrop of child trafficking in Castel Volturno, an area outside Naples known for being the most lawless area in Italy, is De Angelis’ followup to “Indivisible,” the 2016 pic about Neapolitan teenage conjoined-twin sisters that made an international splash after launching from the Venice Film Festival. “Vice,” which is world-premiering in Toronto, stars Neapolitan actress Pina Turco, who plays the wife of mobster Ciro in hit TV series “Gomorrah,” as a lost soul who works with child traffickers, taking kids sold to the mob by their mothers across a river to their destiny.

“What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?,” Roberto Minervini
Section: Wavelengths
This U.S.-based Italian documentary director is well-known on the festival circuit for distinctively immersive depictions of America’s underbelly, such as his Texas trilogy (“The Passage,” “Low Tide,” “Stop the Pounding Heart”). “What You Gonna Do,” which is set in Louisiana and will world-premiere in the Venice competition, is being described as the story of a community of black people in the American South during the summer 2017, when a string of brutal killings of black men sent shockwaves throughout the country. Minervini in his director’s statement said he hopes it “can facilitate a much-needed discussion on race and the current plight of African-Americans who, now more than ever, are witnessing the intensification of hate crimes and discriminatory policies.”

“Twin Flower,” Laura Luchetti
Section: Discovery
Developed at the Cannes Cinefondation Atelier and the Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab, Luchetti’s second feature — world-premiering in Toronto — is a love story between two adolescents, an illegal immigrant boy from the Ivory Coast and the daughter of an immigrant trafficker who run off together into the Sardinian wilds. Luchetti’s first feature was romantic comedy “Febbre da Fieno,” which Disney distributed in Italy.

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