Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2016 10:12 pm 
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Intense life on the Roman margins

Italy’s submission (though not a finalist) for the 2015 Best Foreign Oscar was Don't Be Bad/Non essere cattivo, the late Claudio Caligari's seventh and final film. Caligari, who died of cancer at the age of 67 during post-production, made four features and three documentaries, little known outside Italy but admired for their authentic focus on marginal Roman lives of drugs and petty crime. Don't Be Bad's failure to win Oscar finalist status may be traceable to its relentless, unstructured pace. What holds the attention are the energetic, committed performances of Alessandro Borghi as Vittorio and, even more so, Luca Marinelli (also seen as the nutty young mafioso "Gypsy" in N.I.C.'s They Call Me Jeeg) as Cesare. They play two young pals in 1995, inseparable since childhood, who do a lot of drugs, mostly coke and pills with a variety of exotic nicknames, and indulge in petty crime together. The setting is a suburb of Ostia, the seedy seaport town so dear to Pasolni and also the setting of Fellini's debut film I Vitelloni. There are occasional scenes of hanging out at an outdoor café that resemble Fellini's.

Vittorio doesn't handle the drugs as well, or goes deeper into them, and after he has an all-too-real Felliniesque hallucination of a wild crowd around a bus in the middle of the road and then sees the Devil's face in a frying pan he renounces drugs and gets a construction job. He tries to get Cesare to join him, but Cesare's idea of work is to tear up the workplace and con the bosses out of money. Their ifestyles drift apart and they struggle to maintain their bond, but when Cesare's little sister Debora (Alice Clementi) dies after a long doomed illness (his home life is relentlessly downbeat), the film's overly busy opening hour finally pauses as, grieving together, the two men do drugs together again.

Caligari was influenced by Pier Paolo Pasolini in telling the story of the Italian fringe drug culture. He spent years researching and documenting addiction. His 1983 documentary Amore tossico ("Toxic Love"), which examines heroin addiction, had attained semi-cult status. There is little knowledge of Caligari and almost nothing has been written about him in English. For an exception see Ruben Demesure's "A Cinema of the Margins: The Curious Case of Claudio Caligari" in Cinema Scope.

Italy had a shortlist of nine films for Best Foreign submission that included Mario Martone's Leopardi, Cristina Comincini's Latin Lover (N.I.C. ), Piero Messina's The Wait, Nanni Moretti's US-released Mia Madre (NYFF 2015), Sergio Castellitto's You Can't Save Yourself Alone, Giuseppe M. Gaudino's For Your Love, Marco Bellocchio's (much admired and internationally feted) Blood of My Blood, and Laura Bispuri's Sworn Virgin (SFIFF 2015).

Don't Be Bad/Non essere cattivo, 100 mins., debuted out of competition at Venice Sept. 2015; also four other festivals including Gothenberg. Released in France 11 May 2016 as Mauvaise graine it was a mild critical success (AlloCiné press rating 3.3/14) but Les Inrocks noted the two actors are "remarkable" and Caligari "shows a profound tenderness for his characters." Its awards include a whopping five Davide di Dontello awards and eight nominations; seven prizes at Venice and other Italian awards. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco New Italian Cinema series (16-20 Nov. 2016).


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