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by Serena Scateni

Think of Italian cinema and the first names popping to mind are the well-known, glorified ones of the likes of Antonioni, Fellini, Monicelli, Bertolucci, and so on. As the same goes for any other country-specific cinema, charting the undiscovered territories of short films may prove both satisfying and intriguing. Then why not step out of the comfort zone induced by such fail-proof, renowned directors to dive deep into the works of some of the new names on the Italian film scene? This coming Friday, Cinetopia will pair a bunch of Italian short films with Giuseppe Tornatore’s Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso (1988) for a thrilling night of Italian vibes galore at Custom Lane.

Italy’s a country of contradictions. A country of set-in-stone traditions gushed by fast-approaching winds, bringing diversity but also uncertainties and fears. To cope with unsettling times, some of the directors of the selected shorts approached their subjects with a sense of unfathomable doom while others addressed social issues and undying superstitions with refreshing levity. The result is a dynamic portrait of contemporary Italy, forged by the common efforts of such diverse sensibilities.

Mario Piredda’s A casa mia (2016) shines like a hidden gem in this selection. In an almost deserted fisherman’s village somewhere in Sardinia, two old people are in love and wish for winter to never end. When summer comes, Lucia has to leave her house on the seaside as her daughter wants to let it to tourists to make some extra cash. Enriched by a grave, dramatic cinematography, A casa mia alternates contemplative shots of the immutable sea and measured, more private ones indulging in sparse conversations between the characters. Looming in on Lucia is the impending and forced separation from everything she holds dear, before opening up to one last fantasy of life together with her beloved Peppino.

From another Sardinian filmmaker, Bonifacio Angius, comes Domenica (2016), a short that gives a new twist to the common trope of the ever-so-dreamed-of summer love story. On a torrid day like the ones you experience during typical Italian heat waves, a man attempts to take his own life after a medical check. The sorrowful look in his dog’s eyes is the only thing that prevents him pulling the trigger and paves the way to a fateful encounter. In Domenica, the carefreeness that comes with the summer months is gone: no one is gathering on the beach, no one is enjoying ice-creams at the bar on the shore. The indolent ennui that creeps below the surface and gnaws at the heart of a dying man gives way to an ephemeral glimpse of romance – the last thing standing in this story of alienation.

Leaping from these dark corners of existence, Alessandro Palazzi’s Gas Station (2015) takes on the migrants’ emergency that Italy still faces today, with a witty script and an unexpected yet powerful comedic duo of non-professional actors. Taking over an isolated gas station in Rome at night, Rashid and Jamal are working illegally to earn some loose change. In an amusing sequence of calibrated sketches, the two jump from one driver to another as timely issues of inclusion and cultural differences are faced with a light-hearted tone. The running time of 11 minutes literally feels like nothing, leaving the viewer wishing for more.

What if a black cat crosses the road out of the blue in front of a hearse? What if the funeral director is so superstitious he wants to turn back despite reaching the service quite beyond his scheduled arrival? In L’Ultimo Viaggio (2015), Valeria Luchetti has a laugh at the typical Italian obsession with superstition, centering her short on a couple of undertakers – a profession usually associated with bad luck. Featuring the unavoidable cornetto (the red horn amulet that is said to keep away the evil eye), L’Ultimo Viaggio is not only an unusual road trip in the pianura lombarda but it’s also a journey into the deep-rooted nature of superstition and its comic side.

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Cinetopia’s Italian-themed ‘Cinema on the Shore’ takes places this Friday May 10 at Custom Lane. See you folks there!

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