Pedro Almodóvar & Pedro Costa + Tarantino vs. Italian Cinema & Euro Showcase

by Andre Soares

This past June 14, one of the world's top directors of the last 25 years, Pedro Almodóvar, was presented with the title of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, one of Italy's highest civilian honors. The Spanish director received the Commendation for his “contributions to European cinema and culture” from Italy's minister of culture Francesco Rutelli.

The ceremony was held at the Palazzo Chigi, following a reception for the nominees for the David di Donatello Awards, which were presented later that evening. Although Almodóvar's Volver was nominated for a David di Donatello as best film from the European Union, the director declined to take part in the early morning ceremony. He received the Commendation on his own. (Volver, by the way, unfortunately lost to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's spy melodrama Das Leben der Anderen / The Lives of Others.)

“We hope that his biography as a filmmaker,” said Rutelli, “will continue to be enriched as it has been enriched throughout the years.”

Besides stating that he would like to direct Margherita Buy and Silvana Pampanini, Almodóvar asserted that his films have been heavily influenced by those of Italian filmmakers such as Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, in addition to the performances of Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani.

“I wanted to dedicate my film Volver to the image of the Italian housewife who has always remained, unlike so many others, a representation of a woman who is both passionate and desirable. … Quentin Tarantino [who poo-pooed recent Italian films] is simpatico and talented, but he sometimes suffers from a sort of verbal incontinence, and when he badmouths Italian cinema he demonstrates that he doesn't know the great filmmakers but only those of the trash-horror genre, like [Mario] Bava, [Umberto] Lenzi, or [Lucio] Fulci. Spain and Italy have similar cultures in which emotion, instinct, the art of getting by and of suffering so as to express one's talent are part of the national DNA.”

Almodóvar quote: Il Tempo

Addendum: The [London] Times offers a different Almodóvar quote – “Quentin is a good director, a passionate cinema enthusiast – and a great expert on all the world's trash … I don't think he was comparing the best auteur cinema of yesterday and today. I doubt he had the cinema of Luchino Visconti, Pietro Germi and Pier Paolo Pasolini in mind – and as for Italian filmmakers of today, I don't think he even knows who they are.”

As part of the Skirball Cultural Center and the American Film Institute series of conversations with renowned filmmakers, Patrice Leconte (right) will be on hand for a q&a following a screening of Jerry Schatzberg's 1973 road movie Scarecrow, starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, apparently one of the motion pictures that has influenced Leconte's choices as a director.

The screening will be held at the Skirball Cultural Center on 701 North Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 28, at 7:30 pm.

The film information/synopsis below are from the AFI.

SCARECROW

Directed by: Jerry Schatzberg. Written by: Garry Michael White. Cast: Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dorothy Tristan, Ann Wedgeworth, Richard Lynch, Eileen Brennan. 1973; 112 MIN; 35MM

An ex-con learns the value of friendship in Jerry Schatzberg's picaresque road movie. Trying to hitch a ride on a desolate California road, fresh-out-of-prison Max Millan (Gene Hackman) meets ex-sailor Frances Lionel “Lion” Delbuchi (Al Pacino). They are both headed east – Max dreams of opening a deluxe carwash in Pittsburgh and Lion believes that the wife and child he left behind will still welcome him home. The two decide to journey together, forging an increasingly deep yet uncertain friendship, with Lion teaching Max to be less pugnacious and Max sensing Lion's fragility. When the pair hits Detroit, Lion finally gets in touch with his wife and discovers how she really feels. Lion is shattered, and Max must decide if he should forge on alone or sacrifice his carefully guarded savings to help his friend.

Prices: $10 General / $8 Members* / $6 Students and Seniors

*AFI, Skirball, ArcLight, Union, and Guild.

Advance tickets available in-person at the Skirball Admissions Desk or at http://skirball.tix.com or 800-595-4TIX. Tickets also available at the door the evening of the program, subject to availability.

Quentin Tarantino vs. the New Italian Cinema

While accepting his title as Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic this past June 14, Pedro Almodóvar remarked that “Quentin Tarantino is simpatico and talented, but he sometimes suffers from a sort of verbal incontinence.” Almodóvar was referring to the American director's recent put-down of the new Italian cinema.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino had said that he “really loved the Italian movies of the 1960s and 1970s. But what happened? It's a real tragedy. The Italian films I've seen over the past few years all seem the same. All they talk about is boys growing up, girls growing up, couples in crisis and holidays for the mentally disabled.”

In response to Tarantino's comments, Sophia Loren reportedly asked, “How dare he talk about Italian cinema when he doesn't know anything about American cinema?”

Veteran director Marco Bellocchio, for his part, stated that Tarantino was “a good director, but in no position to give us lessons. In saying these things he has shown himself up as a jerk who doesn't understand anything.” (Bellocchio also had harsh words for another Italian cinema critic, Renato Brunetta, an economist for the center-right – actually, more “right” than “center” – Forza Italia party, calling Brunetta's remarks “vulgar” while asserting that the economist “knows nothing about film.”)

During an interview (Google translation) at the Naples Film Festival, director Fernan Ozpetek remarked that “if Nanni Moretti had made that declaration, we could discuss it. But it came from Tarantino, who was a fan of Italian B movies. Evidently, now that we make A movies, we don't please him anymore. Who knows, maybe he was drunk when he made that statement.”

Director Pupi Avati, however, said that Tarantino was “partly right. Italian cinema is far from dead, but it is weak,” while B-movie director Dario Argento told La Stampa (Google translation) that he agreed with the American director “even though he is too scornful.” Argento added that he was annoyed by Marco Bellocchio's “offensive” reply.

At this year's David di Donatello awards ceremony, winners and presenters remarked on the current state of Italian cinema, demanding that the Italian government dedicate more funds to the arts and culture.

Now, really, in all fairness to the guy responsible for Pulp Fiction – one of the most influential (and most grossly overrated) movies of the latter part of the 20th century: Why can't those eye-talians make hip movies in which people discuss the appropriate way of eating French fries before getting stabbed, blown up, shot dead, and forcefully sodomized?

In fact, we don't get enough of that cool stuff in Swedish, Australian, or Mexican movies, either. What's up with that?

A spokesman for the upcoming Venice Film Festival said that despite his remarks Tarantino would still be a guest at the September event, where he will present his favorite spaghetti Westerns.

Personally, I'd rather check out Giuseppe Tornatore's David di Donatello winner La Sconosciuta / The Unknown Woman, Ermanno Olmi's Centochiodi, and Daniele Luchetti's Mio fratello è figlio unico / My Brother Is an Only Child. But that's just me.

Marco Bellocchio's quote: La Stampa

Quentin Tarantino's quote: The [London] Times

Pedro Costa movies at Cinematheque Ontario

Toronto's Cinematheque Ontario will present the mini retrospective “Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa,” featuring four of Portuguese director Pedro Costa's efforts. Those are referred to as “some of the most dreamlike, transcendent films in contemporary cinema.” Costa will be in attendance at some of the screenings, which will be held from June 8-16, 2007. The four Pedro Costa movies are the following:

Colossal Youth

Colossal Youth / Juventude em Marcha (2006, Portugal / France / Switzerland) tells the story of a Cape Verdean ex-laborer who, after his wife abandons him, wanders around his slummy Lisbon neighborhood visiting other outcasts who see him as a father figure.

In Vanda's Room

In Vanda's Room / No Quarto de Vanda (2000, Portugal / Germany / Italy / Switzerland) chronicles the daily lives of two slum-dwelling, crack-addicted sisters. This digitally shot docudrama features non-professionals Vanda Duarte (who can also be seen in Colossal Youth) and Lena Duarte playing themselves. According to the Cinematheque Ontario's caption, In Vanda's Room “offers the simplest of found truths: Life may treat these people with 'nothing but contempt,' as one character says, but in their tenuous connections with each other in a world that is literally coming down around them, they assert their worth, their kindness and dignity.”

Bones

Bones / Ossos (1997, Portugal / France / Denmark) is the story of “a baby born to a suicidal teenaged mother, whose equally young, blank-faced father uses the child as a prop for begging and then tries to sell it – first to a nurse who has shown him great kindness, and then to a prostitute.” The Cinematheque quotes Jacques Rivette on Pedro Costa's Bones: “I think it's magnificent, I think that Costa is genuinely great. It's beautiful and strong.”

Down to Earth

Down to Earth / Casa de Lava (1995, Portugal / France / Germany) follows a Portuguese nurse (Inês Medeiros) who goes to Cape Verde to accompany an immigrant (Isaach de Bankolé) in a coma as a result of a work accident in Lisbon. Once on Cape Verde, the nurse tries to piece together the (former) immigrant's life story.

According to the Cinematheque's synopsis, Down to Earth is a sort of cross between Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli and Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie – presumably with Inês Medeiros as a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Frances Dee. In case the I Walked with a Zombie connection is for real, then it's most appropriate that the Down to Earth cast also features Edith Scob, who had the (metaphorically speaking) title role in Georges Franju's eerie Eyes Without a Face.

Note: Casa de Lava literally means “House of Lava.” And needless to say, Pedro Costa's Down to Earth has absolutely no connection to Alexander Hall's 1947 fantasy of the same name, starring Rita Hayworth and Larry Parks.

Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth photo: Cinematheque Ontario.

Eurocinema - New Films from Europe

Between June 7-17, the American Cinematheque in both Hollywood and Santa Monica will be presenting a series of new European releases, most of which will never – however unfortunately – reach American screens outside the festival circuit, for U.S. exhibitors are much too busy playing the latest Pirates of the Caribbean, while already gearing up for the next Ben Stiller smorgasbord of idiocy.

The Eurocinema screenings will be held at the following locations:

June 7 at the Egyptian's Rigler Theatre
June 8 - 14 at the Aero's Palevsky Theatre
June 14 - 17 at the Egyptian's Spielberg Theatre

Screenings include John Boorman's The Tiger's Tail (top), nominated for 7 Irish Film & Television Awards, Alex van Warmerdam's Waiter / Ober, a comedy that was nominated for 7 Nederlands Film Festival Awards; Claire Denis' dance documentary Vers Mathilde / Towards Mathilde; and Theo Angelopolous' Trilogia I: To Livadi pou dakryzei / Trilogy: Weeping Meadow, which was nominated for 4 European Film Academy Awards back in 2004.

Also, Fien Troch's Een Ander zijn geluk / Someone Else's Happiness, nominated for three Joseph Plateau Awards (the Belgian Oscars); Michal Rosa's Polish drama Co slonko widzialo / What the Sun Has Seen; Stefan Krohmer's Sommer '04 / Summer '04, a psychological drama starring Martina Gedeck of Das Leben der Anderen / The Lives of Others; and Sergio Rubini's La Terra, nominated for 6 David di Donatello Awards (Italy's Oscars).

The screenings were made possible by the non-profit organization European Languages and Movies in America.

The schedule/synopses are from the Cinematheque's press release:

Thursday, June 7 at 7:30 PM
THE TIGER'S TAIL - Los Angeles Premiere!
2007, Ireland, Moviehouse Entertainment, 103 min. NOT ON DVD
Directed by John Boorman
Liam O'Leary (Boorman's long time collaborator Brendan Gleeson, THE GENERAL), an Irish property developer of humble origins, made it big and fast on the back of the Celtic Tiger. Wildly over-extended, Liam finds himself struggling in a receding market. Stressed, he seems on the verge of a mental breakdown when he sees his doppelgänger.
Preceded by Run Wrake's Rabbit (UK, 9 min, 2006). Eye-catching animated black comedy about two children who have much to learn….and to lose.

Friday, June 8 at 7:30 PM
Drama Double Feature:
SUMMER '04 (SOMMER '04 AN DER SCHLEI) - Los Angeles Premiere!
2007, Germany, The Cinema Guild, 97 min. In German with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Stefan Krohmer
Miriam (Martina Gedeck) and her husband André (Peter Davor), are joined on their holiday by their 15-year-old son, Nils (Lucas Kotaranin) and his young precocious girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde). Though it seems that there are no taboos in Miriam's life, the flirtatious Livia, with the handsome intruder Bill (Robert Seeliger), challenge her liberal principles. It's difficult to predict where this story of five people on a stressful seaside idyll will go. A successfull drama evoking the moral tales of Éric Rohmer.
Discussion in between films with director Stefan Krohmer

SOMEONE ELSE'S HAPPINESS (EEN ANDER ZIJN GELUK) - Los Angeles Premiere!
2005, Belgium, Celluloid Dreams, 98 min. In Dutch with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Fien Troch
Flemish female writer-director Fien Troch's debut feature film has received enormous acclaim at prestigious international film festivals. With superb cinemascope compositions, Troch examines the life of a small village after a child is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and the inhabitants start looking at each other suspiciously. What could be a bleak and distant tale filled with silences, turns into a gripping illustration of human loneliness and an inability to communicate. With veteran actor Jan Decleir.

Saturday, June 9 at 7:30 PM
Comedy Double Feature:
WAITER (OBER) - Los Angeles Premiere!
2006, Netherlands, Fortissimo Films, 97 min. In Dutch with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
Take elements of ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, throw in a little of writer Charlie Kaufman, infuse with an off-kilter sense of humor and add a pinch of surrealism, and you may have an idea of what awaits you in king of Dutch deadpan comedy writer-director Alex van Warmerdam's delightfully sophisticated black comedy. Edgar, a waiter (van Warmerdam himself), quietly takes life's indignities ranging from belligerent customers to a chronically ill wife and his demanding mistress. Until he gets plain fed-up, when the waiter then goes to complain about his miserable existence to his creator. Some of the jokes are belly-laugh funny and many more are moments of wry intelligence. Great performances, including Ariane Schluter as Edgar's demanding
mistress.

THE TIGER'S TAIL
2007, Ireland, Moviehouse Entertainment, 103 min. NOT ON DVD
Directed by John Boorman
Liam O'Leary (Boorman's long time collaborator Brendan Gleeson, THE GENERAL), an Irish property developer of humble origins, made it big and fast on the back of the Celtic Tiger. Wildly over-extended, Liam finds himself struggling in a receding market. Stressed, he seems on the verge of a mental breakdown when he sees his doppelgänger.
Preceded by Run Wrake's Rabbit (UK, 9 min, 2006). Eye-catching animated black comedy about two children who have much to learn….and to lose.

Sunday, June 10 at 5:00 PM
TOWARDS MATHILDE (VERS MATHILDE) - Los Angeles Premiere!
2005, France, Celluloid Dreams, 84 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Claire Denis
Director Claire Denis (I CAN'T SLEEP; BEAU TRAVAIL), whose feature films have been often described as choreographed, transcends mere documentary in a film that explores the birth, formulation, and performance of a radically new dance piece. Claire Denis, with 8mm and a 16mm cameras, follows the creation of a work-in-progress by Mathilde Monnier, a choregrapher trained in post-modern dance by Viola Farber – neither abstract nor minimalist, a kinetic investigator par excellence.

Sunday, June 10 at 7:30 PM
TRILOGY: WEEPING MEADOW (TRILOGIA I: TO LIVADI POU DAKRYZEI)- Los Angeles Premiere!
2004, Greece, New Yorker Films, 170 min. In Greek with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Theodoros Angelopoulos
Greek master Theodoros Angelopoulos' new film is a vast historical tableau with the narrative split between big history and personal drama. Eleni (Alexandra Aidini) is a Greek immigrant from Russia who has run off with the unnamed Young Man (Nikos Poursanidis) to Thessaloniki. There, he tries his luck as a musician while she raises their two sons. In search of a better life for his family, the Young Man departs to America. Eleni is left behind in Greece to suffer the ravages of World War II and the Greek Civil War.

Wednesday, June 13 at 7:30 PM
Double Feature:
LA TERRA - Los Angeles Premiere!
2006, Italy, Film Italia, 92 min. In Italian with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Sergio Rubini
A remarkable piece of cross-genre Italian cinema from the director of THE STATION with a clever screenplay, some astonishing performances and very colorful scenery. Luigi Di Santo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), exiled after killing his father as a teenager, returns to his native Puglia for some legal paperwork and is thrown into the violence of the south. Director Sergio Rubini brilliantly plays the wife-beating nightclub owner Tonino.

WHAT THE SUN HAS SEEN (CO SLONKO WIDZIALO)
2006, Poland, 108 min. In Polish and Norwegian with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Michal Rosa
Unknown to each other, little boy Seba (Damian Hryniewicz), young teenage girl Marta (Dominika Kluzniak) and fifty-year-old Jozef (Krzysztof Stroinski) are each desperate to raise a certain amount of money. Set in a large Silesian city in southern Poland, director Michal Rosa's third feature follows them in their determination to succeed in spite of all the obstacles and disappointments that befall them along the way, and eventually their lives begin to intertwine. Based on newspaper articles and scenes he observed on the street, these tales create a touching portrait of the struggle for human dignity in a land that still bears the scars of war.

Thursday, June 14 at 7:30
SUMMER '04 (SOMMER '04 AN DER SCHLEI)
2007, Germany, The Cinema Guild, 97 min. In German with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Stefan Krohmer
Miriam (Martina Gedeck) and her husband André (Peter Davor), are joined on their holiday by their 15-year-old son, Nils (Lucas Kotaranin) and his young precocious girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde). Though it seems that there are no taboos in Miriam's life, the flirtatious Livia, with the handsome intruder Bill (Robert Seeliger), challenge her liberal principles. It's difficult to predict where this story of five people on a stressful seaside idyll will go. A successfull drama evoking the moral tales of Éric Rohmer.
Discussion in between films with director Stefan Krohmer

Friday, June 15 at 7:30 PM
SOMEONE ELSE'S HAPPINESS (EEN ANDER ZIJN GELUK)
2005, Belgium, Celluloid Dreams, 98 min. In Dutch with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Fien Troch
Flemish female writer-director Fien Troch's debut feature film has received enormous acclaim at prestigious international film festivals. With superb cinemascope compositions, Troch examines the life of a small village after a child is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and the inhabitants start looking at each other suspiciously. What could be a bleak and distant tale filled with silences, turns into a gripping illustration of human loneliness and an inability to communicate. With veteran actor Jan Decleir.

Saturday, June 16 at 7:30 PM
WAITER (OBER)
2006, Netherlands, Fortissimo Films, 97 min. In Dutch with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
Take elements of ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, throw in a little of writer Charlie Kaufman, infuse with an off-kilter sense of humor and add a pinch of surrealism, and you may have an idea of what awaits you in king of Dutch deadpan comedy writer-director Alex van Warmerdam's delightfully sophisticated black comedy. Edgar, a waiter (van Warmerdam himself), quietly takes life's indignities ranging from belligerent customers to a chronically ill wife and his demanding mistress. Until he gets plain fed-up, when the waiter then goes to complain about his miserable existence to his creator. Some of the jokes are belly-laugh funny and many more are moments of wry intelligence. Great performances, including Ariane Schluter as Edgar's demanding mistress.

Sunday, June 17 at 7:30 PM
LA TERRA
2006, Italy, Film Italia 92. In Italian with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD
Directed by Sergio Rubini
A remarkable piece of cross-genre Italian cinema from the director of THE STATION with a clever screenplay, some astonishing performances and very colorful scenery. Luigi Di Santo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), exiled after killing his father as a teenager, returns to his native Puglia for some legal paperwork and is thrown into the violence of the south. Director Sergio Rubini brilliantly plays the wife-beating nightclub owner Tonino.

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2 comments

Mary Smith -

OK, now, has any of you ever seen one of those new Italian films? I mean, already from a lot of decades Italian films whom, may were not totally depressing in the post-war time, now are the worst thing that could happen to a big screen. Do they ever realize how dumb is putting some show girl with no acting skills on a film making her portray some dumb woman which destiny is getting inside some dumb married man's bed? Or worse, do they know that all of those jokes about sex, gay people, cheating on partners or all of those lines will never ever happen in real life? And also, never make them make a film which goes on thriller or horror or drama or actually eveything, they're doing the same dumb jokes that may worked decades ago, they didn't move from the surrealist expressions of their past, they didn't evolve and dear God, they can barely act. So what about the scripts? Those can be defined scripts! Their TV Series are worse than a reality show! I really can't keep writing, I should stay writing these days to say how Italian filmography is despictable and horrorific.

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John Truman Lardner -

I'm trying to find purchase in the spiritual soil of my beloved little counrty , New Zealand . Here , alone and cullturally adrift in a heaving southern ocean we 4million people have , what might appear to be a untopian life . We are safe from those with big guns and bombs . We're safe from horror and oppression . And yet we have stalled in our process of social evalution .
We are a country of rugby players and keen business people and yet we have some of the worst reputations for dysfunction in the industrialised world . Suicide rates , anti depressant use , recreational drug use ( Particularly extreme anti social drug types like methamphetamines . ) So I ask myself why ? The answer is obvious to me . Neoliberalism .The New right economic cult that is called neoconservatism in the USA .
And when I watched the film ' Volver ' directed by Pedro Almodovar I realised what we'd lost as a society . It's what we sold for a few dollars . We've sold our souls . I saw , in that film , a rich and deep vein of human spirit . The life expressed by and drawn from within the characters was stupendous . I watched the interviews with the cast and the director and that made me yearn for Spain . The kissing , the food , the time spent , the rich colours , washing dishes as an art form , the celebration of women as wonderful , powerful , gentle , loving , intellectuals . Pedro Almodovar , you are a genious and a treasure . One day , hopefully well into the future when you expire you should be set in resin and put on display so as you might be viewed as an exponent of the exhilleration of the human spirit . Viva Espana ! and from me … See you later mate ! Good on ya ! Johnny Lardner . Freelance Film Scout and Locations manager .

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