Italian Contemporary Film Festival

Taking a cinematic trip to Italy

ITALIAN CONTEMPORARY FILM FESTIVAL from Wednesday (June 26) to July 6 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West), the Royal (608 College) and the AMC Interchange (30 Interchange Way, Concord). See listings.

The programmers of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival may not have secured a title as splashy and star-studded as Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, but that’s okay. The second edition of the ICFF is more about confidence than dazzle.

This year’s festival casts a fairly wide net.

A number of titles have been sourced from last year’s Toronto Film Festival and screen in advance of their summer commercial release dates.

In Hideki Takeuchi’s manga-based comedy Thermae Romae (June 30, 7 pm, Lightbox 2 rating: NNN), an ancient Roman architect discovers contemporary plumbing technology when a wormhole burps him into present-day Tokyo.

Matteo Garrone’s Reality (July 5, 9:30 pm, Lightbox 2 rating: NN) is a satirical comedy in which an extroverted Naples fishmonger (Aniello Arena) auditions for a spot on the Italian version of Big Brother and slowly becomes obsessed with appearing on the show.

It’s a promising idea, but Garrone exhausts its comic potential after about an hour, leaving Reality wheezing toothlessly in a feedback loop of obnoxious behaviour and increasingly obtuse plotting. Some critics have called Garrone’s treatment of his grasping vulgarian characters Felliniesque, but I just saw a lot of cheap shots.

More consistently intriguing is Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (July 3, 7 pm, Royal rating: NNN). It takes place almost entirely within the confines of the eponymous Italian recording facility, where a repressed British engineer (Toby Jones) has arrived to mix a bloody giallo called The Equestrian Vortex.

As our twitchy hero begins to come apart under the stress of the job (and the implied horrors of the movie on which he’s working), Strickland replicates his crumbling state of mind by coming unstuck in chronology and language – sort of. It evaporates like a bad dream as soon as the lights come up, but the experience is still worth having.

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