Last updated September 28.


Originally made for Italian television, this has to be one of the grimmest feel good movies in the festival. This inspiring and enjoyably crowd pleasing underdog story was based on the actual triumph of an Italian teenager from Scampia, who won a gold medal in judo at the Sydney Olympics. Scampia is one of the most degraded and impoverished areas in Naples, where the crime gang the Camorra reign supreme in the overcrowded high rise ghettoes. There local kids are either forced into prostitution or drug pushing or working for the crime gangs in a cycle of despair and violence. However, Enzo Capuano (played with authority by Giuseppe Fiorello (Mr Volare: The Grand Story Of Domenico Modugno, etc) offered an alternative to a life of crime through his humble little gym where he taught local kids judo. This in turn taught the kids discipline and respect, and a sense of belonging, of right and wrong. His prize pupil was his own son Toni (Gianluca Di Gennaro), whose win at the Sydney Olympics restored some pride into the depressed neighbourhood and united the people against the corrupt power of the Camorra. Enzo dreams of cleaning up his neighbourhood, while Toni dreams of escaping the depressing area. The conflict between the two adds another level of drama to the story, which was written in part by Firoelli himself. Meanwhile the local crime boss, a former school mate of Enzo’s, had other ideas and saw Enzo’s actions as a challenge to his authority. There are a number of subplots woven throughout the main narrative, including a determined detective who was working to clean up the area; the partially sighted Felice who begins training and falls in love with Leda, a former prostitute; and the tragic Sasa, a former drug runner who also finds a family and friendship through training at the gym. The film has been directed by Marco Pontecorvo, a former cinematographer known for his work on Fading Gigolo, Game Of Thrones, Letters To Juliet, etc, and he juggles the many subplots with ease. He also seems to have a great deal of sympathy and compassion for the plight of the central characters, as well as an understanding of the complex social issues facing the youth of Scampia.


The coal miner’s son? The opening night film of the Italian Film Festival was Marina, a biopic about little known Italian singer and accordion player Rocco Granata, who had a massive international hit in 1959 with Marina. This earnest biopic looks at his tough life and struggle to find success. Rocco was raised by a strict father who in 1948 travelled to Belgium to gain work as a miner. After a year he brought his family to Belgium. The hard scrabble life of the miners, who worked in appalling and dangerous conditions but were beholden to the company for their wages and meagre life style is at times reminsiscent of the Oscar winning classic How Green Was My Valley. Despite the fact that sons were expected to follow in their father’s footstpes Rocco doesn’t want to work in the mines. He instead wants to pursue his passion for music, a hobby his father disapproves of. His path to success was not an easy one though as the Italian migrants living in belgium were ostracised and treated badly. Marina is not as upbeat as most other biopics of musicians as writer/director Stijn Coninx (Daens, etc) gives the film a darker tone. Subplots include domestic dramas as Rocco’s father grows more bitter, a Romeo and Juliet like romance with the daughter of a bigoted Belgian shop keeper, and rape allegations. There is a great performance from Matteo Simoni who brings enthusiasm and a boyish quality to his performance as Rocco. Luigi Lo Cascio is also very good as Rocco’s disapproving father, a man beaten down by life, while Donatella Finochiarra is also very good as Rocco’s supportive, long suffering mother.


Ensemble romantic comedy about a group of twentysomething university students sharing a house in Rome and the complications that ensue. Carlo (Simone Riccioni) is an aspiring filmmaker who is shooting a documentary about university life for his graduation film. He shares the house with Iranian Faraz (Brice Martinet), who is studying to become an engineer; and the irresponsible Alessandro (Primo Reggiani), who is shirking his studies while trying to break into show business as a comedian. The three are comfortable in their house, until their landlady decides to rent out a couple of other rooms to some female students. Suddenly the three men are having to share the house and their lives with the voluptuous Emma (Maria Chiara Centorami), who is estranged from her mother and works in a burlesque club; Francesca (Sara Cardinaletti), who is in love with one of her professors and is something of an emotional firecracker; and Giorgia (Nadir Caselli). Over the course of the year, a number of emotional entanglements draw the six closer, and the develop into a tight knit group that provides the strong familial connection that they all desperately need. This genial but undemanding comedy from director Frederico Moccia (the light weight comedy Sorry If I Love You, etc) examines ideas of racial and gender stereotypes, friendship, complicated family relationships, and the secrets and lies that can complicate relationships. The various subplots seem to have a personal quality to them and gives some insights into the different characters and their complex emotions. This sprawling structure also gives the film an episodic feel at times. The young cast throw themselves into their roles with enthusiasm.


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