Italian Shingles Take Up Global Cause

With most top Italian production companies — Cattleya, Wildside and Palomar — now owned by non-Italian players, and Italian pubcaster RAI also increasingly thinking internationally, cinema Italiano is striving to break out of national confines more than ever.

This means bigger budgets and auteurs turning toward genre — in particular, crime movies and biopics.

Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition entry “The Traitor,” which follows Tommaso Buscetta, the first high-ranking member of Cosa Nostra to break the Sicilian Mafia’s oath of silence, is case in point, with an auteur taking on a genre pic.

Buscetta is played by local A-lister Pierfrancesco Favino, who will next be seen as disgraced late Italian socialist prime Bettino Craxi in upcoming biopic “Hammamet,” directed by veteran auteur Gianni Amelio (“Lamerica,” “Stolen Children”). The title refers to the Tunisian seaside city where Craxi fled from Italian justice in the 1990s after being indicted for massive corruption.

Italian cinema no longer stems “from self-contemplation,” says RAI Cinema chief Paolo Del Brocco. Instead, he says, Italian directors are searching for “strong stories,” sometimes rooted in local history, with “universal appeal and global visibility.” And “this tendency toward genre,” he notes, is under way not only “among big auteurs, but also up and coming directors.”

Del Brocco says “The Traitor,” which is a co-production between Italy’s IBC Movie, Kavac Film and RAI Cinema, with French, Brazilian and German partners, clearly has the signature sensibility that Bellocchio is known for in bringing the complexities of Italian history, and hypocrisy, to the big screen. “But,” he points out, “it’s clear that it has action-movie elements that we’ve not seen in his movies before.”

RAI Cinema, which is Italian cinema’s main driver, is backing another big local genre pic coming down the pike: Matteo Garrone’s “Pinocchio.” This live-action version of the Collodi fairy tale, which is shooting, will see Oscar-winning multi-hyphenate Roberto Benigni’s return to the big screen as an actor after seven year, playing Geppetto. It also stars Marcello Fonte, who took the best actor prize in Cannes last year as the star of Garrone’s “Dogman.” In “Pinocchio” he will play the Parrot.

Del Brocco adamantly points out that though these pics are conceived with a global mindset, they maintain their Italian-ness linguistically. “I don’t think you need to make English-language movies in order for them to travel; especially if you are making genre movies,” he says.

Take young director Claudio Giovannesi’s “Piranhas,” about Neapolitan teen gangsters. It screened earlier this year in Berlin’s competition, where it won the screenplay prize. It’s in Neapolitan dialect and sold to more than 30 territories, including the U.S. As did Garrone’s gritty urban Western “Dogman,” which sold all over the world after launching from Cannes last year.

“Piranhas” was produced by Palomar, the growing TV and film company in which French media group Mediawan recently took a majority stake. This means they will now be “thinking more international from the outset,” Palomar chief Carlo Degli Esposti told Variety in a recent interview.

Palomar’s upcoming movies include “Hidden Away,” a biopic directed by Giorgio Diritti (“There Will Come a Day”) of tormented Italian-Swiss painter Antonio Ligabue, played by Elio Germano, who won the 2010 Cannes acting prize for his turn in Daniele Luchetti’s “Our Life.”

Meanwhile, Netflix in March announced they will be investing $200 million over the next three years in Italian productions. On the film side, two genre pics have benefitted from the Netflix investment: Prize-winning prison brutality drama “On My Skin,” which launched from Venice last September, and “The Ruthless,” the streamer’s first real Italian film original, a classic gangster movie directed by Renato De Maria and toplining local A-lister Riccardo Scamarcio as a Milanese mobster Santo Russo.

Produced by BIBI Film and RAI Cinema, “Ruthless” was briefly released in Italian cinemas April 8-10 and then dropped globally on Netflix April 19.

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