Bread and Tulipsdirector: Silvio SoldiniSony Pictures Home Entertainment
Italy's magical fantasy of midlife crisis and rebirth in Venice, the city of lovers, swept the Italian film awards and charmed all of Europe. Director Silvio Soldini turns the tourist mecca of piazzas, canals, and stone bridges into a quaint little village out of time and fills the film with the charm of the city and the gentle quirks of his delightful cast. Licia Maglietta is winning as Rosalba, the frustrated and ignored middle-aged mom who impulsively takes a vacation from her family. She hitchhikes to Venice and falls for lonely, suicidal Icelandic waiter-poet Bruno Ganz (whose soulful, sad eyes recall his fallen angel from Wings of Desire), blossoming as she rediscovers her smile and joy for life. Sweetly sexy and beautifully shot, this story of second chances may not be original or surprising (think Shirley Valentine), but it's no less lovely or enchanting for it. --Sean Axmaker
The Seduction of Mimidirector: Lina WertmüllerFox Lorber
This 1972 film by Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties, Swept Away) is a wild farce of the Sicilian milieu. Mimi (who is a man) is forced to leave his hometown when he can no longer get work as a result of voting against the local strong arms in a "secret" ballot. In the big city he finds work, but also finds that life there is very much as corrupt as it was at home. He falls in love and has a child by his lover, and when forced to take a job in his hometown again, he must hide his lover and their son from his wife. When he is too tired to please his wife in bed after making love all day to his lover, she becomes pregnant by another man, setting off a chain of events that ultimately lead to a public revenge scene that possibly has no rival. What's even more amazing is that the film manages to portray a complex protagonist in a searing comedy. A must-see, especially if you'd like a lighter view of the same world portrayed in The Godfather. --James McGrath
Variety Lights (The Criterion Collection)director: Federico FelliniCriterion
A beautiful ingenue joins a tawdry music hall troupe and quickly becomes its feature attraction in Fellini's stunning debut film (directed in collaboration with neorealist filmmaker Alberto Lattuada). Featuring Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife and frequent leading lady, Variety Lights introduces the director's affection for the carnivalesque characters that frequent the cinematic landscape of such classics as Nights of Cabiria, La Strada, and La Dolce Vita. Criterion is proud to present Variety Lights in a beautiful digital transfer.
Federico Fellini codirected this film from his own story about a romance between an ambitious young dancer and the aging manager of a variety theater in Rome. It's a sharply realized first effort, showing that Fellini could work his magic even in 1950. The dancer--played with luscious, complicated innocence by Carla del Poggio--talks her way into Signor Checco's troupe by showing him her legs. The others, including his girlfriend (Giulietta Masina), protest, but Checco takes her into the poverty-stricken group anyway. Soon enough, he is justified: Their sparsely attended shows are suddenly packed with men stomping their feet and whistling for "the Redhead." Checco not-so-secretly wants her himself, and she lets him think he might get her (even while looking for someone else with money.) The film's many lively performances include Giulietta Masina, whose eyes register pluck, resignation, and weariness in a moment as she watches her guy fall in love. Poggio is good, too: When she gets what she wants, her face slides into a quiver of doubt about its value. Self-delusion, arguably the main arrow in Fellini's quiver of themes, gets a subtly layered treatment here, and Fellini, so extravagant later in his career, shows an early talent for, of all things, restraint. --Lyall Bush
Bread and Chocolatedirector: Franco BrusatiHenstooth Video
Nino Manfredi, Anna Karina. The comic story of a happy-go-lucky Italian man who moves to Switzerland and can't seem to fit in with the natives. 1973/color/110 min/NR.
Nino Manfredi gives a wonderfully comic and sensitive performance as Nino, an Italian working as a waiter in Switzerland. Absent three years from his wife and children--for whom he is theoretically raising money to join him in Swiss prosperity--Nino is a little like David Bowie's dispirited alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, an outsider too reinvented to return to his roots. Lonely, earthy, and clumsy among the polished locals, Nino has a series of Chaplinesque disasters that ultimately cost him his work permit and resident status. Instead of leaving the country, however, he sneaks back in and stays with a reclusive, beautiful woman (Anna Karina) with something of her own to hide. The adventures don't end there: like a modern Candide, Nino moves from one situation to the next, clinging to his optimism but also a strong suspicion he can never return home. Director Franco Brusati (Forget Venice) has made a rare comedy here that is both light and tough at the same time, with a hero whose clownish trappings don't so much soften his anxieties as make him more sympathetic for suffering them. --Tom Keogh
City of Womendirector: Federico FelliniNew Yorker Video
A businessman finds himself trapped at a hotel and threatened by women.
Seeking Asylumdirector: Marco FerreriImage Entertainment
Starring Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful, Down By Law), this is the rare Marco Ferreri "family film," where a fun-loving and highly unorthodox school teacher brings some magic into the lives of the young children when he takes a job at an unusually strict preschool. A visually stirring and emotionally riveting treat.
Young Roberto Benigni plays a nonconformist kindergarten teacher who brings his brand of creative chaos to the classroom in Marco Ferreri's comic drama. This is a much calmer Benigni than the hyperactive rubber-face we're used to, but though he manages to play the entire film reigned in at second gear, he takes just as many wild turns. In one scene he tries to convince his young charges that he's pregnant. In another he drops them off at the gate of the factory where their parents work and skedaddles out of sight to watch the fun. The title refers to a young runaway Roberto "adopts," but it could just as easily apply to Roberto himself, who seems to seek refuge from the real world in his little child-like paradise--in one scene he guiltlessly extricates himself from any responsibility when he gets his girlfriend pregnant. At times it comes off like an episodic sketch comedy as directed by John Cassavetes: comic scenes drag out into uneasy character dramas and uncomfortable confrontations, only to jump into the next lighthearted segment. Benigni cuts a cheerfully sincere (if indulgently irresponsible) figure in this pre-hysterical period of his career and pulls together this offbeat character drama with good humor and plenty of heart. Fans of the bouncing-off-the-walls Begnini may be better served with the slapstick Johnny Stecchino or his two collaborations with American director Jim Jarmusch: Down by Law and Night on Earth. --Sean Axmaker
The Monsterdirector: Roberto BenigniSony Pictures
In THE MONSTER, Roberto Benigni is a hapless bush-league grifter who must clear his name when the local Joe Fridays pin the rap for a series of murders on him. Naturally, hilarity ensues. The rubber-faced Roberto Benigni, Italy's most beloved slapstick comic, stars in THE MONSTER as Loris, a bumbling con man whose everyday activities consist of shoplifting from the local supermarket and preventing anyone from buying the apartment he is squatting in. Suspected of being a vicious rapist, he is seduced by a voluptuous female cop (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's wife in real life) who hopes to overstimulate his sexual urges and catch him in the act of committing a crime. A comedy of mis-identification like Benigni's box-office smash JOHNNY STECCHINO, THE MONSTER features Benigni doing his best imitation of the innocent everyman pioneered by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Whether it's dropping a cigarette down his pants or dealing with an out-of-control chain saw, Benigni is all arms, legs, and statically charged hair. Once censured by the pope, Benigni pushes the edge in risqué scenes with his wife, who spends much of the movie gamely thrusting her pelvis and chest in front of Loris. THE MONSTER is a great introduction to a comic whose jokes, it is said, contributed to the downfall of an Italian prime minister.
The Canterbury Talesdirector: Pier Paolo PasoliniImage Entertainment
Pier Paolo Pasolini's (Decameron) startling candor and ribald humor illuminate these classic tales of romance, deception, murder and lust. A host of passionate lovers unite for a glorious, sometimes unexpected journey through Chaucer's medieval England.
Juliet of the Spiritsdirector: Federico FelliniImage Entertainment
Writer/director Federico Fellini tells the tale of a woman (Giulietta Masina) dealing with her husband's possible infidelity. The result is a surreal and wild investigation into the psychology of a modern woman. Powered by Nino Rota's haunting score, "Juliet of the Spirits" was the winner of five Best Foreign Film of the Year awards and received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction and Costume Design in 1966.
Divorce Italian Style (Dvd)
Marcello Mastroianni stars as a self-centered Sicilian nobleman facing a mid-life crisis. He's lost all romantic interest in his wife and becomes obsessed instead with marrying his teenage cousin. In 1960s Italy, there is no divorce. So he devises an elaborate scheme for another man to seduce his wife. This would, under Italian law, allow him to kill her with impunity in defense of his honor. The choicest scenes are the fantasy murders he imagines and the extraordinary lengths he's willing to go in pursuit of his goal.
Divorce Italian Style is a comedy milestone--a brilliant, biting satire that was originally conceived as a drama; directed with nonstop inventiveness by a filmmaker who had never done comedy; and featuring an actor who, though not even among the first dozen players considered, cemented his international stardom with this performance. The movie also marked a breakthrough for foreign film in America, winning popular as well art-house success, Academy Award nominations for director Pietro Germi and star Marcello Mastroianni, and--the first of only a few foreign-language films to do so--the Oscar itself for Original Screenplay.
On the sun-blasted island of Sicily, Baron Ferdinand "Fefè" Cefalù (Mastroianni) breaks out of his heat- and boredom-induced stupor long enough to be smitten with mad passion for his 16-year-old cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). But he's married--to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), she of the unfortunate mustache--and the Italian Penal Code gives him no way out... except, of course, for catching his wife in adultery and availing himself of the patriarchal license to commit a "crime of honor." So Fefè searches for a way to fling Rosalia into the arms of another man.
Mastroianni's Fefè is an indelible masterpiece, visually and behaviorally: a portrait in painterly chiaroscuro, with brilliantined hair, eternally drooping eyelids, a cigarette holder angled in perpetual salute, and a manic, conspiratorial slouch, like Groucho Marx on painkillers. Germi's direction hustles the film along with bold, mobile camerawork, stream-of-consciousness lurches into fantasy and flashback, Fefè's feverish voiceover commentary, and a wonderfully propulsive music score by the late Carlo Rustichelli. --Richard T. Jameson