It’s in its eighteenth year, the International Rome Film Fest, initially called the Festa Internazionale del Cinema di Roma (as advocated by the president and coordinator Goffredo Bettini, to evoke the lighthearted climate of participation by the local people and to distinguish itself from the exclusive titles of Venice and Cannes), and then the Festival Internazionale (with the intellectual input of Gian Luigi Rondi, who was president from 2007 to 2011), and later, since 2015 and still today, simply the Festa del Cinema, no frills. The location has never changed: the Auditorium Parco della Musica (now named after Ennio Morricone), which allows the red carpet to unroll for sixty meters and the fans of the stars to crowd behind the barriers, while the paparazzi lurk on the steps of the cavea, calling the stars and starlets by name and snapping away with their cameras, as is to be expected.
The domes of the three theaters designed by Renzo Piano—the bacarozzi, the locals call them—alleviate the seriousness as the audience takes their seats and actors-directors-producers of each film settle into the center row of red chairs. Then, silence, the theater is in darkness, the red logo of the festival with a stylized wolf appears on the screen, and then the magic of the movies comes alive.
"There is still tomorrow," Paola Malanga, artistic director of the festival for the past two editions (she herself is from Milan) repeats like a leitmotif. She borrows the title of one of the three Italian films in competition, by Paola Cortellesi (the other two are by Roberta Torre and Edoardo Gabriellini), who is making her debut behind the camera. Because, Malanga made clear, it is not at all true that cinema is in crisis, as it is the art par excellence capable of embracing change. And indeed, this year's summer movie season was proof of that, with theaters fuller than ever before showing major new releases, such as Barbie and Oppenheimer.
For that matter, according to Gian Luca Farinelli, who comes from the Cineteca di Bologna and has been president of the event for the past year, 70,000 people flocked to Rome's seven theaters and the Casa del Cinema during the summer, highlighted by the visit by Martin Scorsese. In short, a Film Festival that spread its tentacles beyond the official locations and days of screenings and competition. Which, this year, added a day, going from October 18 to 29. Meetings with the audience (Paso Doble, a conversation between two authors, and Absolute Beginners, an established filmmaker goes back to how it all began), hustle and bustle along the avenues of the Auditorium's with RAI stations, DJs, spritz & snacks, the sponsor Nissan taking guests all the way down to the red carpet, where they teeter on stiletto heels, hands outstretched for selfies, which have almost replaced the autographs.
On the red carpet, Farinelli promised Juliette Binoche and Monica Bellucci, Isabella Rossellini and Alba Rohrwacher, Margherita Buy and Valerio Mastandrea, Jasmine Trinca and Antonio Albanese, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Justine Triet, Christian De Sica and Michele Riondino, in his directorial debut. So much for US stars and those who are not American but work in the US, sidelined by the momentous strike in support of screenwriters and other workers battling against ChatGPT, algorithms, and fees that fail to match the platforms' earnings.
There are eighteen films in the official competition (entitled ‘Progressive cinema – Visions for the World of Tomorrow)’. Then there are those competing in ‘Alice in the City’, the section dedicated to the very young, which features two episodes of Mare fuori 4 and Hayao Miyazaki's poetic The Boy and the Heron, among others. Then, there are the non-competitive sections: ‘Freestyle’ (from series to video clips and video art); ‘Grand Public’ (screenings for the general public, precisely, such as Diabolik chi sei? by the Manetti brothers); ‘Best of 2023’ (some of the year's best titles from other festivals that in some cases do not yet have a distributor); ‘History of Cinema’ (restored masterpieces, which include Tom Wolf's Callas Paris 1958, Gregoretti's last, delightful, 1960s thriller Peeping Tom, two episodes of Il Camorrista, unreleased series by a young Giuseppe Tornatore, Renato Zero's Ciao Ni').
How do you navigate such a wealth of cinematic art? Malanga mentioned certain themes. Women, which could be subtitled Courage. For example, four actresses are making their directorial debut, and that is a fact, not some gender equality drive. Whilst Micaela Ramazzotti presented her debut feature in Venice, Paola Cortellesi has chosen Rome (C’è ancora domani (There’s Still Tomorrow), the opening film in which she also stars, black and white set in the 1940s, an abusive husband played by Valerio Mastandrea, an “underdog” wife to quote Georgia Meloni). Margherita Buy is also behind the camera with a comedy about anxiety, Volare, as are Kasia Smutniak (Mur, a documentary about the wall erected by Poland to keep out refugees) and Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Unfitting, a short film about body shaming with Ambra Angiolini and Fabio Volo).
But there is also Roberta Torre with Mi fanno male i capelli (My Hair Hurts), which is not a film about Monica Vitti, Malanga argues against all evidence, both because the title is a famous line from Red Desert and because the main character is called Monica, played by Alba Rohrwacher, who is losing her memory and clings to life by identifying with the Roman actress, talking to Antonioni, Sordi, Mastroianni, lovingly indulged by her husband, played by Filippo Timi. And then the Lifetime Achievement Award, which goes to an unconventional Isabella Rossellini: actress, model, director, and finally naturalist and animal lover, which she interprets by dressing up as either a bee or a whale.
And then there is music: starting with the other Lifetime Achievement Award, which goes to Shigeru Umebayashi, composer of some of the most iconic soundtracks in world cinema, such as Peter Webber's Hannibal Lecter - The Origin of Evil and Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, which will be screened again during the festival. Zucchero stars in a documentary, Trudy Stiler presents a trip to Naples chock-full of music (and brings her husband, Sting, to the fest), following the liberation, the best of young Sarajevo take solace in the concert by U2 in 1997.
Concerts featuring totally new collaborations (Salmo and Noyz together with Dario Argento and the legendary David Steward with Greta Scarano and the Mokadelic) are joined by a tribute to Giorgio Gaber, and here the central theme of music is diverted towards the theater: special event for Emma Dante with Misericordia (Mercy), the same that should be offered to three women who survive by knitting during the day and selling their bodies at night, or the remembrance of Giorgio Albertazzi on the centenary of his birth. Literature also has its own space: Francesca Archibugi based her new work on History by Elsa Morante (Asia Argento and Elio Germano among the leads); Paolo Genovese was inspired by Stefania Auci's bestseller about the Florio family to create the series The Lions of Sicily with Miriam Leone.
The Rome Film Fest also features the capital city on the big screen. It is the backdrop of New Olympus, Ferzan Ozpetek's film about two young people (Damiano Gavino and Andrea Di Luigi, also starring Luisa Ranieri and Aurora Giovinazzo) who meet in the 1970s, fall in love, lose each other and find each other 30 years later. Roma nuda e santa (Naked and Holy Rome), on the other hand, is set entirely at night, with Daniele Ciprì, Marco Giusti and Roberto D'Agostino roaming the streets like flaneurs, laying bare definitively the soul of the city. Which can also be found in the raucous laughter of Anna Magnani, which you can almost hear in the official image of the festival.
She has just won an Oscar for The Rose Tattoo (it is 1956) and at the Excelsior on Via Veneto, where she went the morning after receiving the news, she is surrounded by the flashing cameras of the paparazzi, including a very young Lello Bersani. However, she has turned away from them; she is most concerned with looking at the audience and showing the handkerchief she is holding with two hands, which features a big rose in the middle. On the 50th anniversary of the death of ‘Nannarella’, it is fitting that her outspoken image be proudly on display at what has been referred to as ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’.
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