Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Morning of Italian Fim and Food

It wasn't my first time at the Italian Film & Food Festival, but it was the first time I attended the first showing of the day. I met a friend (and his friend) there, someone who works in the restaurant business and wouldn't normally choose to be anywhere at 10:30 in the morning and who desperately needed wake-up caffeine.

Luckily for him, one of the sponsors of the fest was Caffe Espresso so he ordered an Italian coffee from the very Italian proprietor (dark curly hair, dashing scarf). When asked what I wanted, I declined, saying I don't drink coffee. "You don't drink coffee?" he asked, clearly appalled. "That's not Italian!" Even given my Irish heritage, I somehow felt like a failure to this man.

The food part of the morning was a surprise since I'd always gone to later screenings and they couldn't very well serve dinner before noon. We were treated to two kinds of soup, one a veggie lentil and the other a chicken stock-based soup with egg and Parmesan; both were terrific. Accompanying that were Prosciutto and cheese on rolls, smoked salmon and cream cheese with capers on crostini, hard-cooked eggs in a tuna cream sauce and a rich little dessert, which I was told consisted of an almond cookie dipped in egg and covered in phyllo dough and baked. It was a perfectly lovely Italian breakfast.

We were seeing Fists in the Pocket directed by Marco Bellocchio from 1965. Made at a time when post-war Italy was still adrift, it was a very dark film. It was Bellocchio's first film, made on an extremely slim budget by a young anarchist searching for his way in the film world. The movie about a highly dysfunctional family was all about subverting institutions: the family, marriage, the church, even the confessional.

Considered part of the Second Italian Renaissance, the film was considered at the time to be the start of a new era in Italian film. Given the heavy plot, complete with epilepsy, blindness and murder, it must have been shocking when it came out. But it was 1965, so there was a 60s party scene, complete with stylish young people dancing to current music and clearly part of the "in" crowd.

The last minute of the film was completely improvised by the lead actor, the anti-hero who was considered an Italian Brando. It was an incredibly powerful way to resolve the family drama and no doubt difficult for audiences at the time. Bob Ellis from VCU introduced the film and said that when he first saw it, he found it to be the most excruciating and depressing film he'd ever seen.

That said, it was absolutely worth getting up early to see on a Saturday morning. Bourgeois dysfunctional families may not be a new topic, but in the hands of a serious Italian talent like Bellocchio, it was riveting. Breakfast from the kitchens of Mam Zu's. Edo's Squid and 8 1/2 only made it more irresistible. It truly was a feast for all the senses.

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