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The finest in New Italian Cinema returns to Lincoln Center

Don’t bet on the number 13 in the Italian National Lottery. It’ll never come up. If a hot number in Firenze invites you back to his place at Piazza Pitti, 13, toss that address. Love don’t live there. No one does.

But when it comes to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Open Roads Film Festival, Italian superstition goes right out the window.

Thirteen is the exact number of new Italian films on export through June 10 in the fourth annual edition of this steamy festival at the Walter Reade Theater. As with most regional foreign film festivals at Lincoln Center, this is often New York’s first peek at gay films from around the world.

Sure, The New Festival will screen Robert Salis’ fleshy Fassbinderama “Grand Ecole” in June, but the Film Society ran it for three sold-out screenings in March as part of its French film sampler “Rendez-Vous.” It may not seem like much of a lead, but it could have meant four months of better tables at Florent. No small potatoes.

And neither is this year’s Open Roads. Penelope Cruz opens the festival and “Steam” and “His Secret Life” helmer Ferzan Ozpetek wraps it up. Two films—”The Wind, in the Evening” and “Facing Windows—have gay storylines while two others—”La Destinazione” and “Remember Me, My Love”—look at the carabiniere and velina respectively. Roughly translated, these two Italian words mean the cops and Vanna White. It’s pretty easy to figure out which is which and four out of 13 films sure beats Kinsey’s odds.

But where would an Italian film festival, or Kinsey for that matter, be without some hard Cruzing? “Don’t Move” is a film Penelope can really be proud of. It’s based on Margaret Mazzantini award-winning novel that’s a best-seller in Italy, but not yet available here and tells the story of a surgeon whose own daughter is wheeled into the ER after a motor accident. As her life hangs in the balance, the doctor, played by the film’s director, Sergio Castellitto, confesses a trashy affair with Italia, a woman of the streets, played with lose-the-makeup bravura by Cruz.

From the first frame—an overhead shot of falling rain—”Don’t Move” announces itself as a mannered, obstacle course for camera, but as long as it’s upfront about its need to gun film like a Ferrari, who cares? It’s also unafraid to give itself away in broad strokes. One glimpse of that off kilter cross in Cruz’ jacked-up love nest and you know things won’t end well for her. I mean, this is Italy we’re talking about. A throwaway line neatly sums the entire film as one character who pops out of nowhere asks, “Why do women watch pornos all the way to the end?” Because they keep hoping he’ll marry her, natch.

We can’t help hoping the same as an audience. Just know that “Don’t Move” is the title, not a direction Castellitto ever gives to Gianfilippo Corticelli, his cinematographer. Sometimes it works, as when Castellitto’s white shirt bisects a dark country road and the camera descends and settles neatly in his shoulders. Other times, it’s like something out of “Airport ‘77” as the camera tracks up the aisle of a commuter airline, threatening to take flight before the plane.

Still, if “Va Savoir,” “Mostly Martha,” and “My Mother’s Smile” haven’t already made Castellitto a familiar face on the festival circuit, his directing/star turn on this film will. His appearance as the frustrated professor and father of the title character in “Caterina in the Big City”—also screening here—insures he’s the “get to know me” guy of Open Roads.

Cruz, on the other hand, does a bang-up job of downplaying her celebrity. Between donating proceeds of her first film to Mother Theresa those persistent rumors that her English is only phonetic, not to mention that other Cruise, there’s lots to live down. But hey, Anna Magnani was hooked on phonics, and she’s got an Oscar. And Nicole Kidman was hooked on Tom and she’s got one too.

Here, Cruz’s Italian plays more believably than her English. If you don’t see the problem, there’s a date with Captain Corelli in your future, but in this film it just seems on par for the kicked to curb young tough she plays. All bad teeth and chunky highlights, the cheekily named Italia is raped by Castellitto on their first date and almost raped again by the incessantly telescoping camera work. It would be nice to say it’s upward from here, but this hard luck Italia is in the mold of Giulietta Masina: gorgeously downtrodden. Fellini would have loved her.

Freshly scrubbed Italian Jews dodgie Hitler’s bullets in Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek’s Italian language film “Facing Windows.” Though the story of Roman gays circa 1943 almost finger-waving la dolce vita into existence seems a tad airbrushed, it’s not nearly as offensive as Jorge Ameer’s recent feature “The Singing Forest” in which a father comes to believe his daughter’s fiancé is his reincarnated gay Nazi lover. But still, one certainly can’t offer Ameer’s film as an excuse for whitewashing the Holocaust. And don’t the Turks have their own genocide to work through?

But away from the Turkish baths of 1997’s “Steam” or even the extended contemporary family of 2001’s gay festival hit “His Secret Life,” Ozpetek stumbles. Instead of the frank homoeroticism of “Steam” or the Almodovarian juggle of “His Secret Life,” Ozpetek serves up a stale baking metaphor in a Hitchcockian morass. You’re almost left waiting for Diane Lane to walk in and put the pies on the sill. Let’s face it, Ozpetek is never going to make a film about West Hollywood faggotry, but the trannies, dykes, prosties, even the mom that peopled “His Secret Life” were a whole lot more interesting than the cast assembled here. Where we had Italian it boy Stefano Accorsi, we now have senior citizen Massimo Girotti, who can’t remember his own first name let alone his long extinguished boyfriend who perished in the Second World War.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Raoul Bova do a nice slow burn as mother of two—Three? Four? They seem to multiply under foot—and her peeping tom neighbor, but I lost interest when Bova stopped hinting that he might be gay and put the moves on Mezzogiorno. It’s one of those unconsciously creepy filmic romances like “You’ve Got Mail” where all through the heavy-handed love scenes your find yourself thinking, ‘Wait a minute, this guy stalked you for, like, the entire movie!’ That’s fine for Meg Ryan, but aren’t Italians supposed to be a bit more, how you say, worldly?

Still, Mezzogiorno does the most with a thankless role. She finds herself torn between her husband Filippo Nigro, who looks awfully good in all those tight, colored Tees he sports, and her horny neighbor, who’s forever doing the glasses on, glasses off, dashing thing. Why not give her a real dilemma and throw in an Alzheimer’s ridden old man who’ll peer creepily into the children’s bedroom at night? And you thought it was just Hollywood that had that hush-hush computer program capable of generating screenplays.

Frankly, I was ready for the camera to spend more time downstairs with Serra Yilmaz, Italy’s answer to Roseanne, and Billo Thiernothian, her humpy black boyfriend. It’s more ready for a fortune cookie than a 13-course Italian feast, but my bit of wisdom to both Ozpetek and Open Roads is sometimes the Mary just looks like the Rhoda.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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