Italy’s film industry is coming out of a cyclical slump, with executives boasting about a burst of innovation, vitality and growth as they talk up the substantial five-feature cinema Italiano presence at Cannes.
Indeed, the two Italian titles in the fest’s competition — Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” described as an “urban Western,” and Alice Rohrwacher’s “Happy as Lazzaro,” about a young peasant who travels in time — are somewhat symptomatic of a shift from naturalism into new genres, which, in terms of narratives, is the biggest novelty. The third Italian pic in the official selection, Valeria Golino’s “Euphoria,” in Un Certain Regard, is a more classic drama about two brothers with opposite characters, but with a fresh flourish.
Roberto Cicutto, who heads film entity Istituto Luce Cinecittà, says the Italian contingent at Cannes proves that, when it comes to movies, the country is “at the forefront” globally and notes that the selection “naturally” comprises two works by women directors.
Italy is also repped at Cannes by Gianni Zanasi’s Directors’ Fortnight closer “Troppa Grazia,” which veers into the supernatural and toplines local A-listers Alba Rohrwacher (who also stars in “Lazzaro”) and Elio Germano. The Directors’ Fortnight selection includes “Samouni Road,” a high-profile hybrid doc/feature film by Stefano Savona and set in the rural outskirts of Gaza City where Palestinian survivors piece together memories rendered as animation inserts by designer Simone Massi, whose work includes the Venice Film Festival’s pre-screening opening sequence.
All these films were co-produced by Rai Cinema, the film arm of state broadcaster Rai, which is also a co-producer of Asghar Farhadi’s Cannes opener “Everybody Knows.”
Rai Cinema chief Paolo Del Brocco has proudly pointed out the production/distribution outfit’s “more innovative” choices compared with the past, “especially in terms of blending genres, which we strongly believe is the future of Italian cinema,” he said at a recent Rome presser.
Del Brocco has underlined Rai Cinema’s increasing number of prestige international co-productions which, besides the new Farhadi film, include Hollywood thriller “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” a sequel to the Cannes player “Sicario.” Pic reunites Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, with Stefano Sollima helming. Sollima made his mark as director of Sky’s “Gomorrah” TV series, and is ready to break out on the international scene.
On the surface, the country’s only sore spot seems to be plunging box office, which in 2017 was down around 12% and has dropped a further 8% so far this year. The good news is that the Italian share of the local market is 30% in 2018 to date, up from 20% compared with the first five months of last year.
Box office data analyst Robert Bernocchi notes this is a positive result, “especially since it’s not due to a single title,” which has been the case in the past.
For the first part of 2018, the standout Italian releases have been Gabriele Muccino’s ensemble dramedy “A casa tutti bene,” about the dysfunctional dynamics of a large family gathering on the island of Ischia. It grossed more than $11 million. Meanwhile economic crisis comedy “Put Grandma in the Freezer,” by young directorial duo Giancarlo Fontana and Giuseppe Stasi, pulled $4 million, a nice haul for a first feature. Both were released by Rai Cinema’s 01 Distribution.
In terms of Italian cinema exports, buyers now seem to be attracted to “new directors and new genres,” says David Bogi, head of international distribution at Rai’s sales company Rai Com, which is selling “Dogman” at Cannes.
Rai Com recently sold Neapolitan mob musical “Love and Bullets” by the Manetti brothers to China, Japan and Portugal after the novelty title split top honors at Italy’s David di Donatello Awards with Jonas Carpignano’s slice-of-life drama “A Ciambra,” set in a Romani community in Southern Italy. “A Ciambra,” distributed by France’s Luxbox, has been picked up widely, with IFC Films nabbing the U.S. and Netflix taking global.
Rai Com and True Colours, which are the country’s top two sales outfits, recently teamed up to jointly handle sales on “Freaks Out,” a genre-bender by Gabriele Mainetti, whose hit offbeat 2016 superhero pic “They Call Me Jeeg” broke fresh ground, travelled widely and made Mainetti the poster boy for Italian cinema’s new course.
Set in 1943 Rome, “Out” is about four “freaks” who work in a circus and are left to their own devices when the Eternal City is bombed by Allied Forces.
Italian Films in the Cannes Market:
The First King
Director: Matteo Rovere
Producers: Groenlandia, Rai Cinema
Logline: Rome’s origins are seen as an epic Latin set-up of a conflict between Romulus and Remus.
Key cast: Alessandro Borghi
Sales company: Indie Sales
The Book of Vision
Director: Carlo S. Hintermann
Producers: Citrullo Intl., Entre Chien et Loup, Luminous Arts, Rai Cinema
Logline: English-language fantasy/mystery executive-produced by Terrence Malick.
Key cast: Charles Dance, Lotte Verbeek, Sverrir Gudnason
Director: Matteo Garrone
Producers: Archimede Prods., Recorded Picture Company, Le Pacte, Rai Cinema
Logline: Garrone re-imagines one of the most famous stories in the world.
Sales company: HanWay
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Producers: IBC Movie, Kavac, Rai Cinema, Gullane, Match Factory Prods., Ad Vitam, Arte France Cinema
Logline: Biopic of Tommaso Buscetta, the first high-ranking mob leader to break the Sicilian Mafia’s oath of silence.
Key cast: Pierfrancesco Favino
Sales company: The Match Factory
Director: Susanna Nichiarelli
Producers: Vivo Film, Rai Cinema
Logline: Tale of Karl Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, a feminist pioneer who was swept up in a tragic love story.