Ferdinando Baldi on Il massacro della foresta nero

Roberto Poppi, who you might know as the co-editor or the invaluable Gremese Dizionario del cinema Italiano, is posting some interesting nuggets on the Nocturno forum, which I’ll attempt to translate and repost here… This one is from an interview with Ferdinando Baldi regarding Il massacro della foresta nero (Massacre in the Black Forest)

“I shot it in Yugoslavia because Ergas put some money into it…  There was Cameron Mitchell, who wasn’t able to live without having a woman every day (laughs).  When we were filming, a little way away there was this house, and he met a married woman there and began seeing her.  One night he was with her when her husband arrived and threw him out of the window in his underwear, breaking his leg.  So I ended up making the film using close ups and long shots.”

 

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The Headless Woman

The Headless Woman

The Headless Woman

Aka La mujer sin cabeza
2008
Argentina | France | Italy | Spain
Director: Lucrecia Martel
Story & screenplay: Lucrecia Martel
Cinematogrpahy: Bárbara Álvarez
Editor: Miguel Schverdfinger
Art director: Maria Eugenia Sueiro
Cast: María Onetto (Verónica), Claudia Cantero (Josefina), César Bordón (Marcos), Daniel Genoud (Juan Manuel), Guillermo Arengo (Marcelo), Inés Efron (Candita), María Vaner (Tía Lala), Alicia Muxo), Pía Uribelarrea

If you’re under the misapprehension that Argentina is a place of Latin style and sophistication, then The Headless Woman should act as a suitable antidote.  This is a film populated by some of the most unappealing costumes and styles imaginable: bad hair (including the protagonists bleach bouffant, which recalls the similar coiffure sported by that celebrated fashion icon, Madge Bishop from Neighbours); terrible clothes (pink velour tracksuits, anyone) and horrible interiors.  The women all look either like escapees from the armpits of the 80s, the men like Diego Maradona in one of his ropier periods.  There’s nary a pencil moustache or smart suit in sight.

The plot is simple enough: while driving along a country road beside a canal, the resolutely middle class Verónica loses concentration while answering her mobile and hits… someone, or something, she’s not sure what.  Rather than stopping to investigate, she keeps on driving and descends into a state resembling post-traumatic shock.  She hides out in a hotel, bumps into one of her many cousins and shags him, and eventually returns home in a somnambulant state.  When she finally confesses what has happened to her husband, he doesn’t believe her, and when they return to the scene of the accident there’s no sign of a body.  But could it be that the corpse – human or otherwise – has been washed away in the violent storms that have occurred in the meantime.

An international co-production with backing from Spain, Italy and France as well as Argentina, not to mention input from the celebrated likes of Pedro Almódovar and Tilde Corsi, this was a high profile release directed by arthouse darling Lucrecia Martel, whose previous films, The Swamp (2001) and Holy Girl (2004) were held up as part of the renaissance in Latin American cinema during the early part of the decade.  Unsurprisingly, it was received with almost uniform adulation, picking up numerous awards and comments like ‘Disturbing and deeply mysterious, this tale of ghosts and guilt is nothing short of a masterpiece’ (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian) and ‘You’d have to be headless or heartless yourself not to let this extraordinary, eerie film get under your skin.’ (Jonathan Romney in the Independent).  In which case, I have to confess to being both headless and heartless because, although I’m in no doubt as to the artistry with which it is made, the film itself left me cold.

Perhaps it’s down to the fact that all of the characters are so unappealing: Veronica is a dullard, her family irritating, her husband almost as narcoleptic as she is.  Frankly, considering she’s killed someone she deserves everything that’s coming to her, and I can’t think of anything more repellant than not stopping your car and checking it out if there’s even the chance that you’ve hit someone.  Perhaps it’s the fact that everything is so art-house standard obtuse: did she hit someone or not? Is she having a breakdown? What’s the story with her creepy niece who seems to have lesbian designs on her?  Who knows and, quite frankly, who cares.  The trouble is that all of this obfuscation has become so predictable; Michael Haneke can get away with it because his films are interesting enough to sustain the ambiguity, but this isn’t.  And, please, please… can filmmakers stop with the annoying ‘let’s end with a scene cut off in the middle and absolutely nothing resolved’ type endings; they’re as much a stylistic trait of arthouse films nowadays as the ‘priest revealed as the killer’ in giallo movies, and just as much a product of lazy writing.

Most unforgivably, even though it’s a scanty 87 minutes long, The Headless Woman still manages to be really boring.  I’m not averse to deliberate pacing, and a lot of my favourite films of recent times The White Ribbon, Dogtooth, Katalin Varga - have been, well, slow.  But, despite the fact that some people have painted this as a kind of Hitchcockian thriller or ghost story, this is both slow and dull.  I’m with Philip French of the Guardian, who was of the opinion that: ‘… it’s an intriguing film, more alienating than involving, that ends abruptly and in my view unsatisfactorily. Some people whose opinion I respect regard it as a masterpiece, but after a single viewing I can’t share this view.’

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Meet the… segretaria di edizione

If, like me, you’re one of those people who has to watch until the very final moments of a film – or, even more geekily, thumb through the pages of a gremese while watching Italian productions – you’ll be very familiar with a number of exotic sounding job titles, most of which are actually far more prosaic than their name implies.  As well as the big boys – director, writers, editor, cinematographer -there are production assistants, production secretaries, 2nd unit directors and blah-di-blah.  What, you may ask, did all these people do exactly?  Well, let’s start off with…

The segretaria di edizione (script supervisor)

The segretaria di edizione is the person on the set who is primarily responsible for continuity.  They manage the bollettino di edizione (script bulletin), which is the document in which all the details of the shoot are recorded.  This includes such things as the order in which sequences are shot and the director’s comments on all shots (i.e. whether they think it works, whether there was a particular technical issue).  This document is then provided to the editor, who uses it as a guide during the early stages of the editing process.

In addition, the segretaria di edizione also has responsibility for narrative continuity and managing any script changes that occurr… which makes it an extremely important job in the world of low budget Italian cinema.  They oversee the continuity of props, costumes and make up, ensuring that none of those comical glitches occur in which actors suddenly disappear of vases move from one place to another inbetween shots.  To do this, they often tke photos on set, in the old days using a polaroid camera, now digitally.

The bollettino di edizione is also used to make note of all timekeeping for the production: crew calls, daily start and finishing times etc etc.

Curiously, the segretaria di edizione tended to be a female role.  Examples include: Patrizia Zulini (Django, Bay of Blood) and Nyrta Corbucci (Divorzio all’Italiana).  Curiously, not a lot of segretaria di edizioni worked a huge number of films, they tended to do a dozen or so and then move on, either to another job in the industry or elsewhere.

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R.I.P. Alvaro Mancori

Alvaro Mancori

Alvaro Mancori with Marcello Mastroianni

Thanks to Tom for reporting the death of Alvaro Mancori, one of the last great patriarchs of italian cinema. A director of photography, production manager, actor, distributor and director, he became involved with cinema as a boy and worked with the likes of Orson Welles (on Othello), Alberto Sordi, Marcello Mastroianni and Toto (with whom he shot over twenty films).  In the 1950s and 60s he worked on over 50 films as a director of photography, in which capacity he is possibly best known, and is accredited as director of two films: the peplum Hercules the Invincible (64) and a comedy called Racconti a due piazze (64), which he co-directed with Gianni Puccini (some of whose films he had previously shot), Jean Delannoy & François Dupont-Midi

In 1963 he also built the ELios Studios in Rome, including the first european western village, as a way of competing with the power of Hollywood; it was in these studios that several of the most important spaghetti westerns were filmed in the 1960s and 70s, making a huge contribution to the success of the Italian film industry at the time.

His brothers Guglielmo and Sandro were also cinemaptgraphers, and his nephew Davide appeared in some of the films shot in Elios (including Seven Dollars on the Red)

He died on June 24th, aged 87.  The fact that his death doesn’t seem to have warranted any attention from the Italian press is disappointing, to say the least.

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Ghosts of Rome

Ghosts of Rome

Ghosts of Rome

1961
Aka Phantom Lovers, Fantasmi a Roma, Les joyeux fantômes
100 minutes
Italy
Based on an idea by Sergio Amidei
A Franco Cristaldi production for Lux Film, Vides Cinematografica, Galatea Film
Distributed by Lux Film
Director: Antonio Pietrangeli
Story: Sergio Amidei, Ennio Flaiano, Antonio Pietrangeli, Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari
Screenplay: Ennio Flaiano, Antonio Pietrangeli, Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Music: Nino Rota
Editor: Eraldo Da Roma
Art director: Vincenzo Chiari, Vincenzo Del Prato
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Reginaldo/Federico di Roviano/Gino), Vittorio Gassman (Giovan Battista Villari, aka “Caparra”), Sandra Milo (Flora), Tino Buazzelli (Fra’ Bartolomeo), Eduardo De Filippo (Principe Annibale di Roviano), Belinda Lee (Eileen), Claudio Gora (Telladi), Evelyn Stewart (Carla), Franca Marzi (Nella), Lilla Brignone (‘the queen’), Enzo Maggio (Fricandò), Alberto De Amicis (manager of “City Song”), Enzo Cerusico (Cascamorto), Claudio Catania (Poldino), Michele Riccardini (Antonio, the caretaker), Bruno Scipioni (Otello, the plumber), Grazia Collodi (Marisina), Duilio D’Amore (Sor Augusto), Mario Maresca (Randoni, the art critic), Graziella Galvani (maths teacher), Luciana Gilli, Anna Maria Di Pace (schoolgirl), Antoinette Weynen, Elvira Tonelli, Antonella Della Porta, Nadia Marlowa

Here’s another excellent comedy from Antonio Pietrangeli, the well respected – but rather forgotten – director of classics such as Adua e le compagne and Io la conoscevo bene.  Made in 1961, at just about the peak of his career, Ghosts of Rome was a high-profile release, put together by Franco Cristaldi for a prestigious trio of production houses (Galatea Film, Lux Film and Vides Cinematografica), which between them had a hand in most of the high-points of Italian cinema of the 1950s and 1960s.  With such backing, it’s not surprising that it managed to attract an astonishing selection of talent, from scriptwriters (Fellini regular Ennio Flaiano, Oscar nominated neo-realist Sergio Amidei and Pietrangeli regulars Ruggero Maccari and Ettore Scola) to the quite astonishing cast.

Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo and Tino Buazelli in Ghosts of Rome

Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo and Tino Buazelli in Ghosts of Rome

A whimsical fantasy with bite, the story follows Don Annibale (Eduardo De Filippo), the elderly Prince of Roviano and custodian of the crumbling family pile in the heart of Rome.  It’s a palace with a not inconsiderable history and, as Don Annibale is very aware, home to a not inconsiderable amount of family ghosts, all of whom have prowled around the environs for many years.  There’s Reginaldo (Marcello Mastroianni), a two-bit Casanova from the eighteenth century; Flora (Sandra Milo), a doomed romantic from a few generations later who drowned herself after an unfortunate love affair; and Father Bartolomeo (Tino Buazzelli), a greedy monk who died in an unfortunate accident – eating poisoned meatballs intended for rats – way back in 1653.

Everything changes when Don Annibale is killed in an unfortunate plumbing incident.  His gadabout nephew, Federico (Mastroianni again) turns up with his stroppy stripper girlfriend, Eileen (Belinda Lee), and the first thing they do is contact a rich engineer, Tellandi (Claudio Gora), who has been trying to buy the palace for years in order to knock it down, build a department store and make a hefty profit.  The ghosts are, unsurprisingly enough, rather upset with this turn of events, and decide to do their best to stymie the developers’ plans. They start off by instigating a series of minor irritations – hindering the workmen, etc – but then hit upon a master-plan: co-opting the ghost of a renaissance artist (Vittorio Gassman) to paint a fresco in the attic, hoping that when it’s discovered the building will be declared a place of historical interest and therefore subject to a conservation order.

Vittorio Gassman and Sandra Milo in Ghosts of Rome

Vittorio Gassman and Sandra Milo in Ghosts of Rome

This is a delightful film which, as with the best of the commedia all’Italiana, masks some incisive comments about Italian society under its amiable exterior.  There’s some visual humour – such as when Reginaldo falls for a transvestite nightclub singer – but on the whole it’s a character driven piece which relies on dialogue and comic interplay.  A lot of the comedy comes from the ghost’s attempts to come to grips with the modern life which is increasingly encroaching on their world; something which both perplexes and invigorates them.  Underneath this, though, it has interesting things to say about modern society: the search for profit above art and culture, the corruptibility of supposedly estimable figures (such as the art historian who accepts a bribe in exchange for claiming il Caparra’s painting is a fake) and the superficiality – albeit enjoyable superficiality – of La dolce vita.  It also has a slightly melancholic undertone, with both Don Annibale and his ghosts being representative of a way of life that’s a thing of the past.  Although, ironically, Federico ends up as a virtual carbon copy of his uncle, frequenting the same restaurants, preserving the same dusty family mementos and living with the same ghosts; despite all the changes, everything remains pretty much the same.

Beyond that, it’s beautifully photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno (The Leopard, Amarcord etc. etc.) and has lovely art direction.  Pietrangeli’s direction is spot on, and possibly the only criticism that I can come up with is that the second part of the film – in which the ghosts seek to foil the developers and Federico slowly reconnects with his family heritage – passes too quickly and is possibly a little underplayed.  In any other film, this would have provided the meat of the story, but here it’s almost secondary to the build up.  But that’s a minor quibble, it’s a neat idea, well made and fabulously performed.  The ghosts are beguiling creatures, for which credit is due to Mastroianni, Gassman, Milo and Buazzelli, and there are entertaining cameos from the likes of Enzo Maggio (as an angry chef) and Lilla Brignone (as a nutty old woman who thinks she’s a Queen).

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Piero Livi

Piero Livi

Piero Livi

Just watched a curious Sardinian crime film, Pelle di bandito, and decided to do a little bit of research into its director, Piero Livi.  According to the IMDB, he was born in Olbia (Sardinia) on April 1st, 1925, and only directed four films:

1969: Pelle di bandito
1977: Dove volano i corvi d’argento
2001: Sos Laribiancos – I dimenticati
2004: Maria si

As well as acting as a production manager on Roberto Natale’s Il mio corpo con rabbia (72).

A little digging around, though, reveals that his career was a little more extensive than that.  His connection with the cinema began in the late 1950s, when he helped establish the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema d’Amatore, which lasted for ten festivals before becoming the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema Indipendente, which lasted until 1974.  He began his career as a director in 1957 with the short film Marco del mare, following it with several more shorts, including Visitazione (58), Il faro (61), Una storia sarda (62), I 60 di Berchiddeddu (65) and Il cerchio del silenzio (66). He also made documentaries, but little information is available about this side of his work.

His first full length feature Pelle di bandito, a vague retelling of the same events that also inspired Lizzani’s Barbagia, was shown at Venice, and it’s a fascinating tale of Sardinian banditry, told with a neo-realist’s attention to the details of everyday life and folk customs.  But it was a long time until his next film, Dove volano i corvi d’argento (77), another Sardinian tale of blood feuds and vengeance.  This was followed by an even longer gap until he released two films in the 2000s: Sos Laribiancos – I dimenticati (about a group of Sardinian soldiers fighting in the Russian campaign of the Second World War) and Maria sì (about a man suffering a mid life crisis).

Livi appears to be something of a big cheese in Sardinia, and Pelle di bandito definitely shows that he’s a filmmaker of interest, but he’s perhaps suffered because of his status as a Sardinian – as opposed to an Italian – filmmaker.

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Ruggine, by Daniele Gaglianone

Ruggine

Ruggine

Here’s an interesting looking new Italian film, Ruggine, directed by Daniele Gaglianone.  Gaglianone has picked up a number of awards over the years for films such as Nemmeno il destino and Pietro.  His work generally seems to deal with young characters who live on the very edges of urban Italian society, and Ruggine is no different.  The plot follows:

The difficult pre-adolescence of a “gang” of kids, immigrants in a desolte district called Alveari, on the outskirts of a big city. In this no man’s land between city and countryside, there’s a large wasteground – a huge “monster” of rusty scrap metal – which is the place where they play.  But suddenly a real monster emerges: two girls are raped and killed, and suddenly everything changes.  The following, fearful summer is marked by skirmishes between gangs as the young characters come to grips with their own timid feelings and grow up quickly, as remembered by three people – Sandro, Carmine, Cynthia -who are still indelibly marked by their experiences.

This was based on a novel by Stefano Massaron, who’s better known in Italy as a translator of novels by JG Ballard and Jonathan Coe (which shows he has good taste, at any rate).  It sounds like a cross between, well, The Big Chill, It and The Reflecting Skin, but that’s pure guesswork.

The reviews have been positive, and it received a lengthy ovation at Venice.  According to CineClandestino, it’s a: “Pessimistic work which is entirely alien to Italian cinema, as alwasy for Gaglianone, who again proves unwilling to compromise.”  Reppublica, meanwhile, calls the director “one of the best kept secrets of Italian cinema… The hope, inevitably, is that with Ruggine Gaglianone may finally able to be seen and appreciated outside the circle of those who follow his work for years.”

The cast includes the busy Filippo Timi (Vincere, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Vallanzasca), Valeria Mastandrea (Night Bus, the Caiman) and Valeria Solarino (Holy Money).  I want to see this one!

Here’s the trailer:

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