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Writer’s Recap: ‘Italian Film Festival Manila’ transcends cultural boundaries

With moviegoers gradually trickling back into theaters, the film industry has to put its best foot forward as it reintroduces itself once again to mainstream audiences. After Filipinos were forced into social distancing for two years, the Italian Film Festival Manila (IFFM) highlighted the cinema’s ability to transport viewers to new locales through a diverse array of films. 

In an interview with The LaSallian, IFFM Artistic Director Antonio Termenini reveals that showcasing a wide variety of genres was intentional. “The idea behind the selection is to put different kinds of movies…to give a broader picture of the Italian cinema right now,” he expresses. From light comedies such as Alessandro Gassmann’s Il Silenzio Grande (The Great Silence) to stirring dramas like Giuseppe Bonito’s L’Arminuta (The Return), IFFM opened its doors from September 29 to October 2 at the Venice Grand Canal Mall (VGCM) to moviegoers who yearned for an exhilarating journey across many storied Italian experiences.

Bonds built, barriers broken

The IFFM opening salvo, held last September 29, felt as if one was being transported to the Italian Riviera. Guests were greeted by bursts of jubilation from animated Italian mimes as they exchanged salutations with one another—subsequently indulging in the warm and welcoming atmosphere. 

In the words of His Excellency Marco Clemente, ambassador of Italy to the Philippines, the film festival aimed to celebrate the “new cinema of Italy” and emphasized that the affair provided “many reasons [for everyone to rejoice].” In the same vein, Megaworld Lifestyle Malls Head Graham Coates touted the “very joyous” event as a “sign of recovery, a sign of our renewal for our business, and associations, and all our relationships with everybody.”

Termenini subsequently emphasized the cultural exchange between Italian and Filipino cinema over the years and mentioned how Italian film festivals used to be in the habit of showcasing the works of Filipino filmmakers.

The opening program concluded with a toast spearheaded by Clemente, Coates, Termenini, and Taguig City Mayor Maria Laarni “Lani” Cayetano—kicking off the inaugural IFFM. To set the tone for the subsequent film screening, lovely renditions of Italian operatic songs were sung by seasoned performers to the guests from stylish gondolas.

A darker tone

Despite the extravagant pleasantries that preceded it, the main event was unquestionably the opening night screening at the Venice Cineplex. Terminini acknowledged the event as a “fruitful collaboration with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP)… [to promote] the cultural exchange [between] Italy and the Philippines.”

Through a video message, FDCP chair and Chief Executive Officer Tirso Cruz III championed this blooming relationship among both countries. “It is critical that we work together as a film-loving community in bringing back the vibrance [the film industry] once had,” he posits. “The road to recovery is steep, but the journey becomes bearable when you have a community that has your back.”

Once the video message concluded, Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo’s America Latina opened the film festival. The film follows Massimo (Elio Germano), an affluent dentist who seems to have his life together—a perfect family, friends to be with, and a stable income. Tragedy strikes as he finds a little girl in his basement; throwing his life into chaos and revealing itself to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Starting off with shots showcasing the Italian province of Latina, the filmmakers’ style was easily translated on the screen. The thrilling film’s harsh neon lighting and unmissable zoom cinematography paired with unexpected plot twists left the audience on the edge of their seats. Undeniably, America Latina was the best movie to do the job of piquing the interest of those interested in Italian cinema. 

Moving closer to home

The following day, the IFFM was brought directly to the University in the form of a special screening of Francesco Bruni’s Cosa Sará (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright) in Room 408 of the Don Enrique Yuchengco Hall. Termenini launched the screening with a short speech about the background and the main theme of the film, highlighting how it is “not [solely] drama and not [solely] comedy; you can find both in it, together.”

Lasallians embarked on a journey of love, secrets, and new beginnings as they joined the main character, Bruno (Kim Rossi Stuart), in navigating the aftermath of being diagnosed with leukemia. With the right balance of soul-stirring plot points and comedic quips, the film enraptured the audience and took them along a narrative that reflected the fragility of life and the inevitable pull of the string between family members. 

Termenini divulged that the film was chosen for this screening because students could relate to and empathize with the story. “I think it’s a good [thing] to…watch an ordinary person…an ordinary family facing ordinary problems,” he elaborates during the forum. The film served as a mirror to modern society and grounded the audience, helping them realize that every life is somehow connected to another. 

Stepping out of the box

Ultimately, the goal of the IFFM is to expand Filipinos’ cinematic horizons. With the variety of genres that Italian cinema has to offer, Filipinos can definitely find worthwhile treasures that, perhaps, they didn’t even know they would enjoy watching. “I think the challenge is not just for Italian cinema—the challenge is to watch foreign movies, especially European movies,” Termenini relays thoughtfully.

This is certainly not the first Italian film festival to grace the country, and one can only hope that this will not be the last. Many factors play into the decision-making of whether or not there will be future editions of the IFFM, but given the strong and fruitful bonds established through and with the Philippine Italian Association, it is definitely not impossible.

More than anything, Termenini believes that “the success [of the event], and the feedback from the audience and the media in each country [we visit], are important for the future of the festival.” Though it’s undeniable that there are still gaps that need to be closed, Termenini concludes succinctly that since the Philippines and Italy share many cultural aspects with one another, Filipinos should not be afraid to dip their toes into the diverse pool of marvelous Italian—and by extension, European—films.

By Alessandra Pauleen Gomez

By Andy Jaluague

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