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Italy celebrates three generations of filmmakers in Cannes

Marco Bellocchio, Nanni Moretti and Alice Rohrwacher are competing for the Palme d’Or with three takes on their country’s history

A still from 'Kidnapped' by Marco Bellocchio.
A still from 'Kidnapped' by Marco Bellocchio.

In the last leg of the Cannes Film Festival, the Italian language appears to be taking over. Three generations of Italian filmmakers, Marco Bellocchio, Nanni Moretti and Alice Rohrwacher, are competing with films that examine Italian life and the country’s history. So far two have been screened, Kidnapped, by Bellocchio, and The Sun of the Future, by Moretti. The third, perhaps the most eagerly awaited due to the youth and talent of its director, is Rohrwacher’s The Chimera, which will be screened on the last day of the festival, May 26.

At 83, Bellocchio has given us a master class in historical-political cinema. His film Kidnapped revolves around the Catholic Church’s abuse of power. In the mid-19th century, Pope Pius IX, a radical anti-Semite, enforced a law that said that if a Jewish child was baptized behind his family’s back, the child would then legally be considered a Christian and could no longer be raised by Jewish parents. Exploiting this legislation, the Vatican kidnapped Edgardo Mortara Levi, a six-year-old Jewish boy who, along with other Hebrew minors, was forcibly converted to Catholicism. For decades, Edgardo’s family tried to recover their lost son.

With a narrative pulse that offers little respite, Bellocchio portrays the struggle of the Mortara family in the face of a tyrannical Church that destroyed everything they held dear in the name of God. It is a terrifying episode in Italy’s history in which the monsters wear cassocks. The veteran director is so wise, his work so profound and thrilling, that no matter how tired visitors to the festival might feel after so much screentime, his film keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. Steven Spielberg has long wanted to bring the life of Edgardo Mortara to audiences, but it would be hard to better Bellocchio’s efforts.

Nanni Moretti in 'The Sun of the Future'

Meanwhile, The Sun of the Future by Nanni Moretti, 69, stars Moretti reflecting on contemporary cinema, the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and a loss of hope. The filmmaker returns to themes thrown up in Caro Diario, as he plays a filmmaker who increasingly fails to understand his craft while shooting a film about the communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti, and the impact of the Soviet invasion of Hungary on his party.

With some hilarious sequences — especially one regarding Netflix — Moretti sprinkles his film with homages to other films, including Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. If Allen ventured into the realms of the bizarre in Annie Hall by handing Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan a walk-on role, Moretti does likewise by giving architect Renzo Piano a cameo. Proposing an alternative history of the PCI at the turning point of the so-called Hungarian autumn, The Sun of the Future is musical and funny and flags up the old Trotskyism with thrilling political vigor in a country currently controlled by the ultra-right.

Alice Rohrwacher, 42, is the youngest of the three Italians screening their work, but the director of the wonderful Happy as Lazzaro is one of the most relevant women on the international film scene. Her movie The Chimera stars British actor Josh O’Connor, Isabella Rossellini and her sister Alba Rohrwacher, a regular on her sets. The film takes place in the 1980s and revolves around a group of looters of archaeological treasures. Little else has been revealed, but The Chimera has one of the best posters in Cannes, to rival that of Strange Way of Life, Pedro Almodóvar’s short. The promo for Rohrwacher’s film has an esoteric feel, consisting as it does of a drawing of a man dressed in a light suit, hanging upside down from a tree while gold coins fall from his pockets to form a mound under his head. Men, gold and nature, a clue to Rohrwacher’s latest work.

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