Two from Italy

The Golden Door (in Italian Mondonuovo or New World) had particular resonance for me, with its long sequence showing a nightmare “steerage” sea passage from Sicily to New York. I remember my father telling me of a similar voyage he made at 18. Although comfortably settled in London after immigrating there from Italy at age 13, he and some bachelor friends thought they’d try their luck in New York. Father stayed 28 days and then returned to England.

As graphic as my father’s description of his voyage had been, nothing prepared me for that harrowing sequence in The Golden Door, directed with great feeling by Emmanuele Crialese. The film will be Italy’s official entry into the 2007 Oscar race.

This is the story of he dirt poor Mancusos, a Sicilian family lured to the United States in 1913 by a seller of sea passages whose pitch is the usual “streets of gold” myth that sent so many Italians into the great unknown. As the oldest son and real strength of the family, Vincenzo Amato’s performance speaks for the resolve of immigrants everywhere to create a new life. But also each of the family members inhabits his/her role with the utmost conviction

With them on the voyage goes an Englishwoman, stranded in Naples and desperate to reach New York, whom they befriend. Charlotte Gainsbourg introduces a character who, though her motivation is never fully explained, intrigues through convincing interpretation.

The Golden Door moves through three long chapter-like sequences: The Mancusos at home facing a decision to emigrate; enduring the misery and tragedy of the voyage; arrival at Ellis Island and the ordeal of waiting and hoping for acceptance. And it stops there as those who pass the immigration requirements face the New World.

Is Crialese planning a sequel? I asked myself. The film was so arresting that I left the theatre curious to know what happens in New York, but also aware that so many sequels fail to keep faith with the spirit of the original.

Il Caimano (The Caiman), is a vigorous satire on Italy’s film industry and the nation’s political scene. Directed and co-written by Nanni Moretti the film begins with B-film director Bruno (Silvio Orlando) struggling to make a comeback with a film about Christopher Columbus. Orlando is a skilled comedian who can command our sympathies even as we laugh at his antics.

Nanni Moretti

Nanni Moretti: as always, politically committed. 

Bruno’s abortive efforts have come to a full stop when he is approached by Teresa (Jasmine Trinca) a young woman who says she has a screenplay he should look at.

The subject of the film-within-a-film is a predatory Italian tycoon-politician whom Bruno soon begins to realize is none other than a thinly disguised real-life Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Warming to his subject Bruno faces many hurdles as he tries once more to make a film. The finished product stars Nanni Moretti himself as the prime minister, but along the way we see several newsreel shots of the real Berlusconi

The story plays out against the background of Bruno’s separation from the wife he adores and his serio-comic efforts to win her back.

It’s no surprise to learn that the politically-committed Moretti made this film with the explicit intention of helping to defeat Berlusconi in the 2006 national elections. And to date, it has proved his greatest success at the box office. Which has something to say about the power of the celluloid weapon

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