September 9, 2010 / 2:57 PM / in 7 years

Italian films get mixed reaction at Venice festival

VENICE (Reuters) - The four Italian films in competition at this year’s Venice film festival have failed to generate much buzz, with none seen as a serious contender for the top Golden Lion prize that will be awarded on Saturday.

Most applauded by the domestic press was “We Believed” by Mario Martone, is a 3-1/2 hour historical epic about the years that led to the unification of Italy as a single state in the 19th century.

But despite casting some of the country’s most respected actors, and handing out some clues about how that period influenced contemporary Italy, it cut no ice with foreign critics.

Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication, called it an “arid, anonymous made-for-TV film” that plays “like a disjointed, rhetorical Wikipedia entry.”

Another film that was much talked about in the run-up to the festival, once the showcase of great Italian cinema, was Saverio Costanzo’s “The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” the coming-of-age story of two awkward, traumatized teenagers.

An adaptation of a novel which won Italy’s most prestigious literary prize and has sold more than a million copies worldwide, it had a lukewarm reaction at a press screening on Thursday.

“The Black Sheep,” comedian Ascanio Celestini’s directorial debut, was praised both by Italian and foreign critics for its personal tale of the world of mental institutions.

But neither of those themes seem likely to impress the head of the festival jury, Quentin Tarantino, who had the domestic film industry up in arms three years ago when he called new Italian cinema “depressing.”

“Recent films I’ve seen are all the same. They talk about boys growing up, or girls growing up, or couples having a crisis, or vacations of the mentally impaired,” he said then.

The only pure Italian comedy in competition, “The Passion” by Carlo Mazzacurati, is not in the “depressing” category but, judging by early reviews, it did not go down well either.

“This is an unrefined and almost deliberately provincial comedy that is designed to comfort at home rather than challenge abroad,” wrote Lee Marshall of Screen Daily.

This year’s festival was heavy on Italian titles, with 43 films screening in various sections, so the general lack of enthusiasm will be all the more disappointing for an industry holding high hopes after the success of “Gomorrah” and “Il Divo” in Cannes two years ago.

Director Costanzo candidly summed up the pressure he had felt presenting his film in the main line-up as the festival starts to wind down, and sought to play down expectations.

“I read in the papers it was eagerly anticipated. But then one goes to the movies and expects to see God knows what, a new ‘The Leopard’. Instead it’s just a normal film,” he told reporters.

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