Italy’s Rai Cinema Producing New Works by Russian Auteurs Sokurov and Konchalovsky

ROME — Leading Italian film company Rai Cinema is producing new works by revered Russian auteurs Alexander Sokurov and Andrei Konchalovsky, as well as a slew of new titles from prominent Italian helmers Gabriele Salvatores and Gianni Amelio and younger standouts Jonas Carpignano and Susanna Nicchiarelli.

The production and distribution arm of pubcaster Rai has teamed up with the Sokurov Foundation on an unconventional historical work featuring rare archive footage of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Churchill captured in non-official circumstances. These leaders will hold imaginary conversations during World War II that reveal their “human nature, their vision of the world” and their personal takes of wartime events, according to Rai Cinema promotional materials.

This latest work by the director who explored the corrupting effects of power in “Moloch” (1999), about Hitler, and “Taurus” (2000), about Lenin, and who more recently shot “Russian Ark” and “Francofonia,” is working-titled “La risata tra le lacrime” in Italian, or “The Laughter Amid Tears.” It is written by Sokurov (pictured) with his longtime collaborator, Alena Shumakova. 

Rai Cinema has also teamed up with the Andrei Konchalovsky foundation and Rome-based production company Jean Vigo on big-budget Michelangelo biopic “The Sin,” shot entirely in Italy, with Italian theater actor Alberto Testone playing the lead role.

“The Sin,” which is now in post, focuses on the Renaissance artist’s anxieties and his struggle for creative freedom at a time when he was under heavy pressure from his powerful patrons. The movie was shot in Rome and its environs and in Tuscany, including at the Carrara quarry where Michelangelo got his marble. Konchalovsky’s most recent film, “Paradise,” won the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion for best director in 2016.

At a news conference in Rome, Rai Cinema chief executive Paolo Del Brocco underlined “the increase in international co-productions” on his slate and said Rai intends to continue “on the path of innovation” by mixing genres and “somehow regenerating them.” Rai’s 01 distribution arm is currently Italy’s top distributor, with a 16% market share, ahead of the U.S. majors. Recent 01 hits include U.S. titles “Wonder,” which scored $15 million in Italy, its top take in Europe, and “The Post,” which pulled in $8 million. 

New standout Italian titles in the Rai Cinema pipeline include:

– Salvatores’ “Strangers in Paradise,” a road movie about a father and his autistic son traveling in the Guatemala jungle, starring Italian A-list actors Claudio Santamaria and Diego Abatantuono.

– Amelio’s “Hammamet,” a drama which takes its name from the Tunisian sea resort where former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi fled to escape corruption charges and died. Plot details are being kept under wraps.

– Nicchiarelli’s “Miss Marx,” the tale of Karl Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, described by Rai Cinema as one the first women to approach the themes of feminism and socialism and who was swept up in a tragic love story. Nicchiarelli’s  biopic “Nico, 1988,” about the late German chanteuse who sang with the Velvet Underground, won for best film in the 2017 Venice Film Festival’s Horizons section and more recently scooped four prizes at Italy’s David Awards.

– Carpignano’s “A Chiara,” about a 14-year-old girl in the Calabrian coastal town of Gioia Tauro who is torn between leaving to follow her father or staying in her native comfort zone. Del Brocco said the film will mix fiction and documentary like Carpignano’s previous works, including “A Ciambra,” which played at Cannes last year.

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