Italy, Film and the Arts

Wednesday, August 30 at 7pm


Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy/France 1971) 111 min. 35MM. With Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli, Angela Luce. Italian with English subtitles.

In The Decameron, based on the sexually supercharged tales of Boccaccio, the outspoken Italian postwar artist Pier Paolo Pasolini (filmmaker/poet/novelist/painter/playwright, Christian, Communist and self-proclaimed “inconvenient guest” of modern society) plays the role of an aspiring fresco painter who is advised that his completed work will never be as satisfying as his dream of that work. A bawdy comedy and one of the director’s most popular films, this first installment in Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life” established the raw viscerality of the series, combining gorgeous period locations with poetry, social satire, slapstick and sexuality.


Wednesday, September 6 at 7pm


Derek Jarman (UK 1986) 93 min. With Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Garry Cooper, Tilda Swinton.

Derek Jarman’s most profound reflection on art, sexuality and identity retells the life of the celebrated 17th-century painter through his brilliant, nearly blasphemous paintings and his flirtations with the underworld. Caravaggio incorporates the painter’s precise aesthetic into the movie’s own visuals, while touching on all of Jarman’s major concerns: history, homosexuality, violence and the relationship between painting and film. Derek Jarman, arguably Britain’s most visionary filmmaker, was also the world’s leading gay filmmaker of his day; with its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, the seven-year-in-the-making Caravaggio brought Jarman recognition in the United States as a major filmmaker.

“Jarman felt a kinship with the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, not only as a fellow queer filmmaker, but also as another critically problematic director who had gained an unshakable, though partly undeserved, reputation for controversy, despite being largely drawn to ‘traditional’ material. Indeed, as Jarman himself noted of his own work, ‘Shakespeare, the Sonnets, Caravaggio, [Benjamin] Britten’s [War] Requiem, what more traditional subject matter could a filmmaker take on? And yet I’m still seen by some as a menace.’” – Brian Hoyle, Senses of Cinema


Wednesday, September 13 at 7pm


Eugène Green (Italy/France 2014) 100 min. With Christelle Prot Landman, Fabrizio Rongione. French and Italian with English subtitles.

American expat Eugène Green began making films when he was 53. Thoroughly singular in form and substance, they are an expression of his deep engagement with 16th century Baroque modes of thinking. But the stories are set in contemporary Europe: La Sapienza concerns an architect who goes to Italy to complete his book on the extraordinary Francesco Borromini. He is accompanied by his wife, and their strained relationship shifts upon befriending a pair of Italian siblings, one about to embark in architectural studies, the other suffering from a nervous disorder. Both an art-as-therapy narrative and a moving tour through Borromini’s body of work, Greene’s rumination on the inner soul of people and artistic inspiration is “one of the great documents of an architect’s magisterial brilliance to appear in cinema… Gliding up and across Borromini’s intertwining arches and rings, Green’s camera caresses the intricate ridges of his Roman churches and courtyards. Tilting up until our gaze surpasses the domes’ peaks—often decorated with a cross—he stretches our eyes up into the sky, as if willing the spiritual euphoria that he believes his medium is so inadequate in delivering. And yet, as if by a miracle, it does arrive, falsifying whatever evidence compelled Green to assume he was using a medium built for solely secular pleasures” (Blake Williams, Cinema Scope).


Wednesday, October 25 at 7pm


Nino Oxili (Italy 1915) 45 min. DCP. With Lyda Borelli, Andrea Habay, Ugo Bazzini. Silent. Tinted, toned and stenciled.

In deference to the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) of Wagnerian fame, Rapsodia Satanica condenses pictorial quotations that range from Symbolism to the Pre-Raphaelites, literary references to the Faust legend and Dannunzian decadence, spectacular architectural allusions to art nouveau, all embellished with original music by Pietro Mascagni. Director Nino Oxilia’s poetic sensitivity and Lyda Borelli’s extraordinary performance – its distillation of the sensuality of eroticism, the raving hysteria of madness and the dark mood of death – are presented here in a beautiful new restoration flown in from the Cineteca di Bologna Archive.


Wednesday, November 1 at 7pm


Sam Wood (U.S. 1935) 93 min. 35MM. With Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Sigfried Rumann. 

The Marx Brothers’ first film for MGM lacks the unrestrained insanity of the earlier comedies, but it is filled with memorable gags (including the famous stateroom routine) that shine gleefully alongside the love interest plot and straight musical numbers inserted by the studio. As the hilarious Marx Brothers try to help a duo of aspiring opera singers gain their rightful place on stage, Margaret Dumont plays a patron of the opera, standing-in for a whole class of people whose solid comfort the Brothers are bent on disrupting. But A Night at the Opera reverberates beyond class consciousness to informed anarchy. Verdi’s Il Trovatore will never be the same. (Adapted from Pacific Film Archive program notes).


Wednesday, November 29 at 7pm


Federico Fellini (Italy 1972) 120 min. DCP. With Peter Gonzales, Fiona Florence, Pia De Doses. Italian with English subtitles.

Travelogue, memoir, and outrageous cinematic spectacle converge in this kaleidoscopic valentine to the Eternal City, composed by one of its most iconic inhabitants. This urban fantasia by Federico Fellini interweaves recollections of the director’s young adulthood in the era of Mussolini with an impressionistic portrait of contemporary Rome, where he and his film crew are shooting footage of the bustling cityscape. The material delights of sex, food, nightlife, and one hallucinatory ecclesiastical fashion show are shot through with glimmers of a monumental past: the Colosseum encircled by traffic, ancient frescoes unearthed in a subway tunnel, a pigeon-befouled statue of Caesar. With a head-spinning mix of documentary immediacy and extravagant artifice, Roma penetrates the myth and mystique of Italy’s storied capital, a city Fellini called “the most wonderful movie set in the world.”