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Entries in Italy (31)


TIFF: Anomalisa, Victoria, Youth. Is one pass enough?

Herewith three of the most distinctive films from TIFF. The only problem is: I'm not sure what I think of them. How often does that happen to you at the movies: walking out, unable to answer the question of "did I like it? was it good?" Some movies just refuse to settle quickly. Or, they're hard to parse in the film festival setting (due to seeing so many movies back to back). Which is to say that I'm going to need more time with each of these. All three are familiar and alien at once and, in their dissimilar ways, ambitious. All three are beautifully made... yet at this writing, I have trouble imagining the desire to watch any of them a second time. (Well, no. I'd like to see Youth again)

ANOMALISA (Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, US)
Though I was a critical holdout on the oft revered miserabilist Synecdoche New York -- in which I learned that I most definitely prefer Kaufmann as a screenwriter than as a director -- I was eager to see this. That anticipation was partially for the novelty aspects. It's a stop motion film with many characters but with only three voice actors. The similar voices serve the plot in an obvious conceptual way when you're watching it (which I won't spoil) but they also indirectly expose the monotony and limits of a singular POV and male gaze, in this case Kaufmann's. The story involves a gray-haired customer service guru of some reknown, deeply unhappy and ready to cheat on his wife during a one night stay in a Cincinatti hotel. There are a few indisputably grand jokes, some stale ones (hotel room keys that don't work. hahaha) and moving beats within the discomfort and laughter. There's even a Jennifer Jason Leigh singing Cyndi Lauper sequence that's sublime. But there's also a feeling of "and...?" about the whole effort and even "why is this animated?" since it only becomes surreal a couple of times. At only 90 minutes this is stretched thin, given that some of the sequences play out in what painfully feels like real time like the businessman's cab to and check in at the hotel. I'm mystified by the "MASTERPIECE!" excitement around it but Kaufman's work is always worth mulling over. 

[Crass Oscar Note as I'm sure Kaufman had no interest in Oscars when he was making this: the critical hosannas Anomalisa was greeted with followed by the news that it would Oscar qualify this year led a lot of armchair pundits to think Inside Out suddenly has real competition for the Animated Oscar. That is not the case. This is too strange and dispiriting and even too dull to take the gold though the critical reception could certainly help it to a nomination if they'd like to acknowledge that animation isn't only for kids -- this one is entirely for adults given its themes and the animated sex scenes.] 

VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper, Germany)
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a lonely barista from Spain who has spent three months in Berlin. She still doesn't know anyone when one night out dancing she meets drunk but charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) and three of his drunk up-to-no-good friends. Thus begins an unbroken 132 minute long continuous shot as we follow Victoria in real time through her inebriated misadventures. Schipper, who started as an actor (he's in many of Tom Tykwer's films), gets natural work from his entire cast who are all speaking rough English since that's their only common language. You truly feel like you're there with Victoria and her new friends on a neverending night you know you'll always remember. Or you'll hope to forget; parties can't last forever and one foolish decision can lead to another and another and soon you're in way too deep. Schipper and his technical team deserve all the praise they've received for this absolute technical triumph -- not only was the film all shot in one take, it's pulled off without a visible hitch, and it feels artful but effortless too since there are well timed musical breaks of one sort or another (including a phenomenal piano scene) and the lack of cuts only escalates the tension. The film has an inexorable energy since you don't feel you can escape. You're with Victoria and her German buddies until the end. But do you want to be? This is a grueling sit from the tension and eventual violence and the two hour plus running time so it's hard to imagine watching it a second time. Still, immersive film experiences like this are all too rare. 

Caine and Keitel spy on a tryst in the woods

YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
An easier sit than Sorrentino's Oscar winning The Great Beauty but then it is half as long! Like that film, this one features amazing gilded tableaus and wealthy lost souls. We also get sharp performances from well loved Oscar-winners (Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz) and movie troupers (Harvey Keitel and Paul Dano), all of them getting at least one showcase moment. Youth has some truly vivid sequences / images but does it all cohere? I'm not sure that it does: It's covering a lot of ground very quickly and its many diversions, both fanciful, humorous, or sad are highly uneven. At a hotel/spa retreat for the rich and famous, the characters all come together: Caine is a retired legendary composer staving off requests to conduct again with his personal assistant daughter (Weisz); Dano (in a strange bit of casting) plays a sad movie star who hates his fans and the film he's best known for;  Keitel is a famous director whose work is not what it used to be. Jane Fonda appears in a much-showcased cameo as a legendary movie star diva. (That the movie is about aging showbiz types certainly won't hurt its Oscar chances given the Academy's demographics). Sorrentino seems to be borrowing from Fellini again and a friend of mine groaned about a scene involving a telescope in which Keitel pontificates on the different between youth and old age -- but I personally loved the scene. (Perhaps you have to be middle age or older to feel it though it's easy enough to "get") The movie may be chalk full of faux profundities like that one but better surface beauty and trying to say too much than drab looking movies with only one or two things to say.

 Grades: TBA


La Strada

We close out our 1954 celebration with Amir on one of Federico Fellini's classic from the year...

Writing about canonical classics can be as difficult as it is rewarding. The larger amount of existing texts and the time that has been afforded to an artwork to cement its place in our cultural psyche allow for deeper familiarity and reflection in a way that is impossible with more recent films.  On the other hand, well, fresh angles are harder to find. What is there left to say about a film like Federico Fellini’s La Strada? Not much, but in truth, you can never talk too much about one of the best films ever made.

Growing up as an Iranian cinephile, and gradually getting into more serious films as a teenager, Italian cinema is the most natural foray outside of the local arthouse. Iranian cinema is not as indebted to any Western filmic culture as it is to the films of Italian masters; those films strike a particularly strong resonance. (Consider that the latest poll of the greatest films of all time voted on by Iranian film critics includes The Bicycle Thieves, La Strada and Cinema Paradiso all in the top ten.)

Fellini’s films are of a different breed than the neorealism of Zavattini, De Sica and Rossellini whose influence loomed heavily over the arthouse I was voraciously consuming at the time. To the dismay of some of his contemporaries, Fellini veered off quite drastically from his roots in neorealist cinema. [More...]

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Bergman & Rossellini "Journey To Italy"

Our Ingrid Bergman Centenary Celebration finally continues (sorry for the hiatus) with Nathaniel on Journey to Italy (1954)

The opening lines of Roberto Rossellini's marital drama Journey to Italy go like so

Mr Alex Joyce: Where are we? 
Mrs Katherine Joyce: Oh I dont know exactly.

The Joyces (George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman) are not yet talking about their marriage, but also: they are. Were the Rosellinis also examining their marriage through play acting marital drama? Who is to say. But Where They Were is just as important in our mini-history of Ingrid Bergman's career.

In 1949 while filming Stromboli (1950), Ingrid and the director that she was already a fan of (in short: she had written him a fan letter and he had countered with by writing her Stromboli) fell in love and got pregnant. Both were already married and the scandal was immense... at least in the US. Even the Senate got into it denouncing Bergman for her "immorality." They quickly divorced their spouses and married each other and Bergman journeyed to Italy to stay...

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Sydney Film Festival: Unconventional Creature Features

Glenn here offering some final thoughts on films at the Sydney Film Festival...

Let's talk about a couple of new documentaries and a horror-romance hybrid. 

The Russian Woodpecker
Chad Garcia’s The Russian Woodpecker is fascinating. It’s a wholly unexpected surprise from this debut director that not only presents an involving story that links the nuclear devastation of Chernobyl to the modern day revolution of Ukraine with plenty of conspiracy theory intrigue, but also presents it in a formally adventurous way. The film’s central figure is the eccentric artist Fedor Alexandrovich and he’s the sort of man that would drift through a party before promptly leaving and making everybody turn to each other and say, “Well he was a character!” If this wasn’t a documentary he would almost be too hard to believe as he rattles off his (as it turns out, not entirely absurd) theory that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was a planned plot by the Russian government to disguise the failure of a nearby Soviet-built radar tower that emitted a persistent clicking sound known as “the Russian woodpecker”.

Alexandrovich’s amateur sleuth skills are hardly credible, but his growing unease at his proposed discoveries – his interviews with former workers of the radar tower seethe with barely contained tension – leads brilliantly into a navigation of the current political unrest on the streets of Kiev and his growing unease with choosing to bring these Russian grievances to light. Visually arresting, Garcia’s film is an uncomfortable must-see.

Oscar? I'd like to think it can find a general release and compete for Oscar. After a few years of music and sport films winning, perhaps last year's win for Citizenfour will turn them back to politics. Barring The Look of Silence, nothing has emerged out of the festival circuit looking like a winner so it's an open playing field.

Horror on the Italian seaside and an elephant in Hawaii after the jump...

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"Yesterday Today and Tomorrow" - Best Shot Visual Index

This week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot subject is Vittorio de Sica's gorgeous comic love song, three of them, to Italy and super-sized movie star charisma. Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni are special on their own but together it's something else again. Vittorio de Sica is one of Italy's great directors but usually when people reference him they're talking about neo realism and his classic The Bicycle Thief. That's nothing at all like this colorful playful romantic comedy. The film was shot by Giuseppe Rotunno who also lensed Rocco & His Brothers (previously covered in this very series) and later went on to an Oscar nomination for the Bob Fosse masterpiece All That Jazz (1979). Yesterday Today and Tomorrrow was a hit, another feather in both stars caps (they were already international superstars) and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and a BAFTA for "Foreign Actor" for Mastroianni but today it's underdiscussed.

It remains most famous for one scene in particular, Sophia's modest but ultra sexy little striptease pulling a stocking down to the horny delight of childlike Marcello. The stars later riffed on that scene together in Robert Atlman's fashion comedy Pret a Porter. Since there are so many images in this post (one from each short film from most of the participants) they'll have to go after the jump. And if these images and great articles don't convince you to see this Oscar winner, all hope is lost!  

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AFI Fest Honors Sophia Loren, Actress, Fashion Icon, Mistress of Throwing Shade

 Anne Marie from the AFI Fest on an International Legend...

At age 80, Sophia Loren is still magnetic. When the Academy Award-winning actress appeared onstage at the Dolby Theatre on Wednesday night for an AFI Fest tribute to her career, she received a two-minute long standing ovation. The audience whooped and yelled "Bellisima" before Loren, elegant in a black gown studded with crystals, could do more than walk onstage and smile. Once the furor died down, Rob Marshall, her director for Nine, interviewed Sophia Loren about her career, co-stars, and controversies.

“When I saw the movies, I forgot the war, forgot hunger. It was possible to believe there was another life than the one I was in.”

Despite her glamorous image, Loren's description of her early life growing up poor in the slums of Italy was bleak. When she met her husband, producer Carlo Ponti (who passed away in 2007), he took an active role in shaping her career. Ponti was the one who brought her to America after a successful Italian film career and encouraged her to learn English (“you have to learn English, because movies are in English"). Of course, we all know how that turned out. She had a hugely successful international film career, starring in films by some of the best American and Italian directors (not Fellini, of whom she said “I was not his kind of actress"), and an Oscar in 1961 for Two Women, a movie to which she felt deeply connected, since it reflected her own impoverished childhood.

Besides an illustrious film career, Sophia Loren also has a wicked sense of humor. She was happy to dish on her various famous co-leading men. Here are some scattered observations:

On Cary Grant: "...a great actor, absolutely incredible as a person, as a man.”

Peter Sellars: “very melancholic person. He would light up only when the director said action.”

Clark Gable: "He had a watch and it rang every evening at 5. When it rang, he would leave without saying goodbye."

Daniel Day Lewis: "One of the best alive."

Marlon Brando: <shrug> "Eh."

But of course, nothing could top her most famous moment of shade, the immortal side-eye she gave Jayne Mansfield at a Hollywood party. Rob Marshall showed Loren the picture, and asked her exactly what was going through her mind. Here, for a brief moment, Loren was at a loss for words.

"I was afraid that everything would... come out!"

The tribute concluded with two films starring the legendary actress: her son Edoardo Ponti's short film, The Human Voice, and Marriage Italian Style, the 1964 film for which Loren earned her second Academy Award nomination. As Sophia Loren rose to leave the stage before the movies began, she received another standing ovation. She paused briefly, clearly touched, and then swept away.


Rome & London Film Fest Winners

Manuel here to bring you some more film festival news. Toronto, Venice, Telluride and New York are behind us but that doesn’t mean we’re done with film festivals; across the pond, London and Rome have recently wrapped up which means: awards!

BFI London Film Festival (8-19 October)

Official Competition winner – Best Film: Leviathan – Andrey Zvyagintsev (reviewed at Cannes and winner of Best Screenplay at that fest)
First Feature Competition winner – The Sutherland Award:Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy for The Tribe (Critics Week Winner at Cannes)
Documentary Competition winner – The Grierson Award: Silvered Water, Syria Self-portrait – Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedirxan (reviewed by Glenn at NYFF)
Best British Newcomer:  Sameena Jabeen Ahmed – actor Catch Me Daddy
BFI Fellowship: Stephen Frears (we were just discussing his new film!)

Rome Film Festival (15-25 October)

BNL People’s Choice Award | Gala - Trash by Stephen Daldry
People’s Choice Award | Cinema d'Oggi - Shier gongmin / 12 Citizens by Xu Ang
People’s Choice Award | Mondo Genere - Haider by Vishal Bhardwaj
BNL People’s Choice Award  | Cinema Italia (Fiction) -F ino a qui tutto bene by Roan Johnson
People’s Choice Award  | Cinema Italia (Documentary) - Looking for Kadija by Francesco G. Raganato

TAODUE Camera D’oro Prize for Best Debut Film
- Andrea Di Stefano director of Escobar: Paradise Lost (Gala)
- Laura Hastings-Smith producer of X+Y by Morgan Matthews (Alice nella città)
- Special Mention: Last Summer by Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli (Prospettive Italia)

DOC/IT Award to the Best Italian Documentary
- Largo Baracche by Gaetano Di Vaio (Prospettive Italia)
- Special Mention: Roma Termini by Bartolomeo Pampaloni (Prospettive Italia)

The big takeaway from Rome is that audiences flocked to Daldry's latest -- that is, in fact, what the prize represents as it was tabulated by tickets purchased rather than votes tallied. If you had no idea Daldry had a new film out, you're probably not alone as it bypassed the North American festival route, premiering as the closing film of the Rio Film Festival earlier this month, and is headed for a UK debut January 2015, with no US release plan in place. Find the trailer below:

Are you curious about Daldry's Slumdog-looking film? Are you ready to place a bet on Leviathan to take a Foreign Language Film nomination? Any of these other films we should all be looking out for?