Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Loose Cannons, (Mine Vaganti) and Ferzan Ozpetek in full bloom

The Italian film Mine Vaganti, (Le Premier Qui l’A Dit in French, Loose Cannons in English) has made its second entrance to Paris last night. This was billed as a “preview,” une avant-première, but in reality, even though the official Paris theater run begins July 21, the film has already been shown to sold out audiences at Les Halles in May, 2010. This time it snuck in as part of the mysteriously low-profile Paris Film Festival, and a half a theater full of informed people found their way in the July heat to the Gaumont Parnasse cinema, where they showed their appreciation by actually applauding at the end (never a given in Paris, even at festivals).

I had heard a lot of good things about this film, and was aware of its success in Italy, and I was not disappointed by what I saw. Ferzan Ozpetek has always been an idiosyncratic filmmaker, with stories that meander through an emotional terrain of unspoken desires and limitations, played out in settings of sumptuous beauty. An Ozpetek trademark is the proliferation of characters in his stories who reveal their inner selves in unexpected ways throughout the story, resulting in a teeming tableau of personalities that pull the story apart with their flourish. The key to success for Ozpetek is weaving these unruly characters together into a story that leads them somewhere better than where they began. He was almost there in his 2007 film, Saturno Contro, (Saturn in Opposition), but not quite. His 2008 film, A Perfect Day, adapted from Melania Mazzucco’s novel, was also not completely successful in this regard, if I can judge from the reviews and critical comments (I haven’t seen it). However, here in Mine Vaganti, Ozpetek seems to have hit his stride and found a way to let his characters unfold in ways that don’t crowd out the plot. Thus, the necessarily open ended final scenes are satisfying in ways that Saturno contro’s was not, because the resolution is to be found in the new equilibrium that this blossoming and growth have created. This is symbolized beautifully in the final garden scene where characters from different story threads and epochs dance together in perfect harmony and peace.

Ever since his directorial debut with Hamam (Steam) in 1997, the Turkish born Ferzan Ozpetek has earned a devoted following among audiences in Italy and elsewhere. His treatment of gay themes means an inevitable comparison with Almodovar. In fact, Ozpetek has an ironic style and a feeling for stories that reflect a very Mediterranean sensibility, in ways that parallel Almodovar, but whereas the Spanish director is steeped in the cultural iconography of Spain and Latin America, Ozpetek is part of an Eastern Mediterranean tradition that still feels the weight of millennial customs more than the anarchy of intercontinental modernity. This leads him to explore areas of classical beauty and wisdom, but also to confront the tragic limitations and inbred fears that still persist there. For this reason, Mine Vaganti, which is set squarely in Italy’s south, the Mezzogiorno, may seem anachronistic and unreal to many viewers in other lands. Tommaso’s father’s exaggerated response to his son’s coming out, the inarticulate longings of the young woman, Alba and the manipulative sensuality of just about everyone may be a bit hard to swallow for some people with a low tolerance for the self-indulgences of this ancient part of the modern world. Indeed, the film is set in an alternate reality that speaks the language of traditional Commedia all’Italiana (Sophia Loren or Alberto Sordi would be perfectly at home here) but to my mind, it does so very effectively, in the service of characters that touch us, despite their obvious theatricality.

As usual, Ozpetek has attracted some of Italy’s best actors to create an ensemble of unforgettable characters. Heading the cast are Riccardo Scamarcio in the role of Tommaso, the conflicted gay son, with kissing scenes that are courageous for an Italian actor with heartthrob status. Nicole Grimaudo plays the beautiful young woman, Alba, who is nursing a broken heart, Alessandro Prezioso is Tommaso’s older brother Antonio and Ennio Fantastichini his overwhelmed father.  Click on the poster, above, to go to the film’s official website, where you will hear the film’s delightfully retro theme song, sung by Nina Zilli. The soundtrack, unfortunately, is not listed on the website. That’s a shame, as it includes some great music, italianissima, but including one great Turkish song by Sezen Aksu at the very end.


July 7, 2010 Posted by | cinema | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marco Mengoni, Malika and Noemi the real winners at Sanremo 2010

Never mind which teenage heartthrob from the reality show circuit won the actual physical prizes, and don’t give any more attention to the faux victims, Pupo and the Prince – the standout performances at the 2010 Sanremo Festival were from Marco Mengoni, Malika Ayane, Noemi, Nina Zilli and Irene Grandi.

However, an unexpected and strange dynamic occurred in both the main and the secondary category with acts that appealed mainly to teenaged girls doing surprisingly well. (X Factor and Amici are the reality tv shows roughly equivalent to “American Idol” or “Star Academy,” etc. in other countries.)

When the three finalists for the main category of “Grandi” were announced, they included the over-the-top and suspiciously monarchist “Italia, amore mio,” written and performed in part by none other than Emanuele Filiberto of Savoia, the theoretical crown prince of Italy. This song caused endless discussion but a far more important issue was something else: the potentially disruptive fact that the festival was in danger of turning into a subsidiary of X Factor and Amici.

Marco Mengoni

The other two finalists were veterans of those other shows. One of them was Marco Mengoni with his excellent performance and innovative song. The other was from the absolute other end of the range of quality, a mediocre song with inane lyrics performed with bare technique by a young man clearly in over his head. There were three or four other excellent performances in the competition on a par with Mengoni’s, and it surprised everyone that singers like Malika Ayane and Noemi and Irene Grandi had been excluded. But the real surprise was still to come, when that other singer, an alumnus of Amici,  Valerio Scanu, won the top prize. The only reasonable explanation was that the internet campaign in his favor by his teenaged Amici following had been far more successful than anyone could have anticipated.

Similarly, in the “New Generation” category, the X Factor advantage was almost certainly a boost to help push Tony Maiello past Nina Zilli and the other contestants. In his case, however, one could argue that the doe-faced winner gave a credible performance with a good song. His victory did not cause controversy when it was announced on Friday evening, but then it unfortunately seemed to lose credibility when Scanu’s victory was announced on Saturday. What had begun as a revitalized festival had turned into a parody of itself, and the unusually vociferous dismay of the shouting audience in the theater and the protests of the orchestra musicians (who took to crumpling their sheet music and throwing it onto the stage) gave ample expression to the disappointment. The protests of the audience were probably, at least in part, due to the presence in the top three of the kitschy patriotic song presented by Pupo, Emanuele and the tenor Luca Canonici. But as the two drama queens, Pupo and the Prince, continued to cast themselves as the focus of all this controversy, they managed to obscure the real issue: the protests of the orchestra were almost certainly provoked by the exclusion of the best singers from the finalists.

Some Highlights: Unfortunately, the You Tube videos of these performances have been blocked by la RAI. 😦


Malika Ayane

Malika Ayane: She did well in last year’s contest, with her song “Come foglie,” but her return this year with “Ricomincio da qui” really proved her great ability and classic style. She held a certain appeal for being the most traditionally chic of the female contestants, but that doesn’t take anything away from her beautiful performance, which might remind some listeners of Ornella Vanoni.

Marco Mengoni: After his performance on the first evening, it is said that he received calls of congratulations from Mina and Adriano Celentano, both legends of Italian music. The call from Mina is particularly understandable, given that Marco’s style seems to be a re-interpretation of some of Mina’s stylistic trademarks. Yes, he is also a veteran of X Factor: he won, in fact. But he didn’t need (and apparently didn’t get much of) a boost from the starstruck teenage girls who seemed to prefer the non-threatening boyishness of other candidates.

Noemi at Sanremo

Of the other performances, Noemi (another X Factor veteran) and Irene Grandi were excellent, with powerful interpretations of quality songs.

Nino D’Angelo and Maria Nazionale sang “Yammo Ya,” in Neapolitan dialect. The song was good and was the opportunity for discussion about the role of dialect at Sanremo. Unfortunately, there isn’t much. It is difficult to imagine Lombards voted for something in Neapolitan dialect or Calabrians voting for something in Friulano. The song was out on the first night, and the debate was not advanced much by D’Angelo’s unpleasant attitude.

Povia tried to repeat his success in stirring controversy (last year he presented the abysmal song “Luca era gay” about a gay man that is “cured” of homosexuality by a beautiful woman). This year he has presented a song about a woman named Eulana Englaro, who had been in a coma for twenty years, and whose family decided to turn off life support. Fortunately, the public seems to be getting tired of his self-importance, and the song, though fairly good, did not get very far.

Another minor controversy was Simone Cristicchi’s song about Carla Bruni, “Meno Male.”

And then, of course, the brouhaha surrounding “Italia, Amore Mio.” It was milked to death by Pupo all week long, as he appeared on talk shows playing the victim. In a further effort to provoke antipathy, the trio appeared with Marcello Lippi, the manager of the National Soccer Team, who made a speech in support of the song, completely disregarding the rules of the competition. Less said about this tempest in a teapot, the better.

Tuto Cotugno participated, but he only succeeded in demonstrating that his voice no longer has the flexibility that it once had. He ended up shouting his lyrics unpleasantly. The song was an old fashioned trifle, very “sanremese,” and was eliminated as quickly as possible.

This being the sixtieth edition of the Song Contest, the third night (the contest runs over a period of five evening performances) luminaries from the world of Italian popular music were invited to present their own interpretations of classic Sanremo songs of the past. Carmen Consoli gave a truly inspired performance of the Nila Pizzi classic from the very first Sanremo festival in 1951, “Grazie dei Fior’. The Rai block on these You Tube videos is especially deleterious in this case: where else will people be able to hear or see this great performance?

In the “New Generation” category, Nina Zilli presented a song that provided a great showpiece for her beautiful Mediterranean jazz vocal style, also recalling Mina in some ways.

The Sanremo CD

February 21, 2010 Posted by | music, performances | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments