Italy’s 66th David di Donatello Awards are set to celebrate on May 11 a year of resilience for Cinema Italiano that also looks likely to germinate some creative renewal, just as Italian movie theaters start to reopen and production is booming.

Giorgio Diritti’s biopic “Hidden Away,” about crazed primitivist painter Antonio Ligabue, Gianni Amelio’s wistful “Hammamet,” which reconstructs the Tunisian self-exile of scandal-plagued Italian leader Bettino Craxi, and dark drama “Bad Tales” by the D’Innocenzo Brothers lead the crowded field for Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars, with no clear frontrunner.

Significantly, “Hidden Away,” which scooped 15 nominations, and “Bad Tales,” which scored 13, both star actor Elio Germano. And Germano also plays the lead in another standout title in the Davids race, Netflix Italian Original “The Incredible Story of Rose Island,” which landed 11 noms, including one for the pic’s producer, multihyphenate Matteo Rovere, whose Groenlandia Group is having a banner year.

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“Hammamet” Courtesy of Pepito Produzioni

Though male helmers lead the Davids’ pack, film critic Piera Detassis, who heads the Italian Film Academy that runs the awards, underlines the strong presence of women directors this year, citing Susanna Nicchiarelli’s “Miss Marx,” a biopic of Karl Marx’s proto-feminist daughter Eleanor that tallied 11 noms, and Emma Dante’s Sicily-set “The Macaluso Sisters,” which scored six. These titles are both nominated in the best film and best director categories.

Detassis (see interview) has also repeatedly pointed out that in the Italian prize’s 66-year history a woman has never won a best director David.

On the positive side, she underlines that this year two female filmmakers feature among the first-time director nominees: Ginevra Elkann for delicate divorce dramedy “If Only” and Alice Filippi for smart teen romcom “Out of My League.” There are also two docs directed by women among the five nominated for best documentary.

Former Warner Bros. Italy exec Domizia De Rosa, who is president of Women in Film, Television & Media Italia, points out that in past editions of the Davids only two films directed by women have won for best picture. In both cases they were directed by Francesca Archibugi – in 1991 for “Verso Sera,” and in 1993 for “Il Grande Cocomero” (“The Great Pumpkin”). But despite the fact that her films were nominated in both categories Archibugi didn’t win the best director statuette.

“I can only hope that this will change this year,” De Rosa says (see separate story).

The upcoming Davids see living legend Sophia Loren among nominees for her role as Madame Rosa, a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor, in Netflix Original “The Life Ahead,” directed by her son Edoardo Ponti. “Life Ahead” is also nominated in the original song category, for “Io Sì” (Seen), written by Diane Warren, and co-written and performed by pop star Laura Pausini. Loren’s closest contender for the actress nod is probably Alba Rohrwacher for her role as a betrayed wife in Daniele Luchetti’s potrait of a marriage “The Ties,” which opened the 2020 Venice Film Festival.

Sandra Milo, a great Italian actor of Loren’s generation who unlike Loren never achieved much international fame, is being celebrated with a David di Donatello lifetime achievement award for a career comprising memorable turns in Federico Fellini’s “8½” and “Juliet of the Spirits.” Milo also worked with Jean Renoir and Roberto Rossellini, among other greats, and, more recently, with Gabriele Salvatores and Gabriele Muccino.

Actor and screenwriter Diego Abatantuono, best known internationally for his role as the burly, brash sergeant in Salvatores’ Oscar-winning ensemble comedy “Mediterraneo,” and well-known at home for a slew of mostly comic films, will also be feted with a career nod.

And Monica Bellucci’s stellar career is being celebrated with a Special David honoring her “rare ability to be a global icon while always seeking to be creative in her work and to engage with the artistic community,” said Detassis, who called Bellucci “charismatic, cosmopolitan and at the same time deeply Italian.”

Due to the pandemic, pics that skipped theatrical were allowed to participate in the Davids race this year. And a record-breaking percentage of voters, 91% out of the 1,578 members of the David di Donatello Academy, cast their ballots.

Also probably due to the pandemic, which has limited the number of available titles, films nominated for Davids this year have a distinctive flair. As Detassis says, “there is a propensity for reconstructing history,” both recent and past. “It’s as though in the year of the pandemic we are seeing a tendency towards storytelling based on memory and history as a need to cling on to reality and truth,” the David awards chief notes.

The 66th Davids ceremony will be held as an in-person event simultaneously in two venues, Rome’s Fabrizio Frizzi TV studios and the Italian capital’s opera house, with nominees in all categories physically present, aired live in primetime on pubcaster RAI’s flagship RAI 1 channel.

“I’m very happy that RAI is supporting us and granted my wish to honor all categories by having everyone attend, which wasn’t easy from a production standpoint,” says Detassis.

Her only wish now is for “more Italian movies to soon be out” in local cinemas, which on April 26 started to gradually reopen.