Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:52 am 
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One man's war

Sailing around the landscape is something tie Taviani brothers (who made films in tandem for 62 years) always excelled at: their 1982 Night of the Shooting Stars/La notte di San Lorenzo is full of that. And it happens here, in this feature completed by the 86-year-old Paolo in the absence of his brother Vittorio, who died in April at 88. Based on Beppe Fenoglio’s 1963 novel, this is a war story with a peculiarly Italian focus, Italy’s mid-1940's civil war between partisans and fascists. It's not about the outlines of the conflict but a personal struggle, a "private issue," as the Italian title says, Una questione privata .

Roger Ebert wrote about La notte di San Lorenzo, which is impressive without being moving, that it was "[a] beautiful film, but it's a disappointment, a series of scenes in which peasants to wartime Italy seem to be posing for heroic post office murals." One can see Rainbow much the same way, only the tableaux are not so heroic. The focus is on the effort of Milton (Luca Marinelli), so nicknamed for his love of English literature, to find a fascist captive to trade for his partisan best friend, who has been caught by the other side.

Luca Marinelli is tall and handsome in a soulful Italian way, dramatic features, big blue-grey eyes, though he's most notably played a crazy drug addict and a petty criminal in They Call Me Jeeg and Dn't Be Bad (both N.I.C. 2015). We spend a lot of time with him, but it's the captured best friend Giorgio (Lorenzo Richelmy) who's considered the handsome one. Flashbacks show they and the girl they both loved, Fulvia (Valentina Bellè). She is a thin, angular young woman who likes to dance. Valentina Bellè looks good in Forties clothes and hairdo. They loved the record of the Wizard of Oz song by Yip Harburg, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." A couple of years ago they spent an idyllic time at Fulvia's family villa, which Milton nostalgically revisits. It's empty now; Fulvia has gone to Turin.

Milton is in dangerous situations, as he goes from one partisan base to another, but his obsession is finding a scarafaggio (roach) to exchange for his friend. Loyalty and jealousy war within him, as he fears Fulvia may not only prefer Giorgio, but even may have lost her virginity with him. He wants to know.

Some vignettes stand out. Milton finds a crazy scarafaggio chanting and beating imaginary drums (Andrea Di Maria). He's a prisoner, but apparently he's so crazy no scarafaggi want him. He gets one scarafaggio (really, they use this term exclusively), but we know it's going to go badly when Milton asks the man what his name is and where he's from. Deborah Young in her Hollywood Reporter review notes with approval that all this is without the usual macho posturing and heroism of most war movies. True, but it is dominated not so much by excitement as a vague anxiety. Pursuing his own private project, Milton is among the partisans but not quite one of them.

This film has a certain quiet grandeur about it. The Tavianis are on very familiar ground here, going back to the time their first films focused on and the moment that ushered in Neorealism, when Italian cinema had its period of greatness, its renaissance. But this movie arouses mixed reactions. Rather than a "bland literary adaptation" (according to Jay Weissberg's Variety review)- or "a quiet classic," as Deborah Young says in Hollywood Reporter, it's obviously somewhere in between, but Weissberg has a point when he says the fog flowing over the Piedmont hills in this movie symbolizes a "hoary artificiality" - fine cinematic tradition that this time has lost its vigor. But this does not detract from the Taviani's fine work in the past, and just six years ago their film of a prison drama production Caesar Must Die (NYFF 2012) was original and powerful.

Rainbow: A Private Affair/Una questione privata, 84 mins., debuted at Toronto; seven other festivals including Busan, Rome, Tokyo and Belgrade. Screened for this review as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series 31 May-6 Jun. 2018 at Lincoln Center.

Showtimes (Walter Reade Theater)
Friday, June 1, 2:00pm
Monday, June 4, 6:30pm

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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