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An Italian feast

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  August 7, 2007

Unlike these two, BELLISSIMA (August 10 at 8 pm; August 16 at 2 pm), the finest film in the series, turns up now and then, but it’s nowhere near as famous as it deserves to be. (I think it’s a masterpiece.) Under Visconti’s direction, that soulful icon of Neo-Realism Magnani gives one of her most staggering performances as a working-class housewife who brings her six-year-old daughter to an audition at Cinecittà, where hundreds of women like her are pushing their children forward. It’s a study in the bizarre phenomenon of stage-mothering, where the stakes are higher for the mother than for the child. But Bellissima isn’t Gypsy. Magnani’s Maddalena is neither a steel-edged pragmatist nor a desperate opportunist, and the film, though sometimes wrenching, is ultimately a comedy.

Comedies make up half the series, including the genial PANE, AMORE E FANTASIA|BREAD, LOVE AND DREAMS (August 17 at 8:15 pm; August 23 at 3 pm), with Lollobrigida as a poor girl who falls for one of the local carabinieri and Vittorio De Sica — almost as good an actor as he was a director — as their newly arrived chief; and IL VEDOVO|THE WIDOWER (September 1 at 1:40 pm), which is the funniest movie I’ve seen all summer. The official reason for its inclusion is the quick-witted Franca Valeria, but the star is Alberto Sordi, the comic genius Fellini featured in Lo sceicco bianco|The White Sheik and I vitelloni. Sordi plays a small-time industrialist on the verge of bankruptcy whose luck changes when his wealthy, hated wife (Valeria) dies in a train accident. The director, Dino Risi, is also responsible for LA STANZA DEL VESCOVO|THE BISHOP’S BEDROOM (September 9 at 11 am), a lush Technicolor sex comedy about a young sailor (Patrick Dewaere) who accepts an invitation from a middle-aged would-be adventurer (Ugo Tognazzi) to come to his wife’s villa, where he is entranced by his host’s widowed sister-in-law (Ornella Muti). La stanza del vescovo is also great fun, especially in its first hour, which is anchored by two different kinds of sensualists, the foxy, avaricious Tognazzi and the generous, freewheeling Dewaere. Has there ever been an actor more gifted at conveying erotic bedazzlement than Patrick Dewaere?

I wouldn’t recommend the third Risi film in the series, LA NONNA SABELLA|OH! SABELLA (August 18 at 1:45 pm), with Tina Pica as an iron-willed grandmother who makes the life of everyone around her miserable but is somehow meant to be a thoroughly delightful character. And I seem to be immune both to the charms of Fellini’s GIULIETTA DEGLI SPIRITI|JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (August 19 at 1:15 pm) — which is built around his wife, Giulietta Masina — and to Lina Wertmüller’s MIMÍ METALLURGICO FERITO NELL’ONORE|THE SEDUCTION OF MIMÍ (August 26 at 1:20 pm), with Giannini and Melato, and to whatever depths others have discovered in Pasolini’s TEOREMA (August 25 at 12:45 pm). (In the last, everyone he encounters, female and male, falls into bed with Terence Stamp — a decision that seems entirely reasonable. It’s the movie’s claim to be some kind of religious parable I don’t get.) The earliest offering, PICCOLO MONDO ANTICO|OLD-FASHIONED WORLD (August 11 at 2 pm), is a dull costume melodrama, but it does give Alida Valli — best known as Orson Welles’s sad-eyed girl friend in The Third Man — a few memorable scenes.

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