FILM Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy cheats on girl. They yell. A lot. If the story sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve seen it in any number of contemporary Italian films. That’s not to discount modern Italian cinema as a whole — for every rehashed infidelity plot, there’s a subtler treasure.
Ferzan Ozpetek is one of those original voices. With his Turkish background and queer identity, he brings a unique perspective to the table. And his best films showcase aspects of Italian culture that might otherwise go unexplored.
The San Francisco Film Society honors Ozpetek as part of its “New Italian Cinema” festival — screening his most recent movie, Loose Cannons, along with some of his past work. For those unfamiliar with Ozpetek, this is a primo opportunity to get acquainted. And if you need added incentive, he has a knack for procuring plenty of Italian eye candy.
Ozpetek’s first film, Steam: The Turkish Bath (1997), is likely his most amateur effort — and that’s to be expected. But there’s still plenty to enjoy about this surprisingly restrained drama. The porny title is a tad misleading, though Steam does establish Ozpetek as a filmmaker who can make a film sensual without baring it all. It also introduces his recurring themes of sexual awakening and culture clash. The film’s protagonist, Franceso (Alessandro Gassman), is an Italian living in Turkey — a reversal of Ozpetek’s status as a Turkish immigrant.
Ozpetek really hit his stride with 2001’s His Secret Life. While it’s not screening as part of “New Italian Cinema,” it’s certainly worth checking out. The film has a charmingly unpolished feel, with great performances from Margherita Buy and Stefano Accorsi. You might recognize them from about a dozen other recent Italian movies.
Thankfully, the festival is screening Ozpetek’s best film, Facing Windows, a drama that manages to integrate the Holocaust, forbidden gay love, and voyeurism without becoming overwrought. The script, which Ozpetek cowrote with Gianni Romoli, is tightly woven. Much credit is also due to Giovanna Mezzogiorno, a welcome presence in all her films. Yes, there are extramarital shenanigans, but the story feels fresh. And who wouldn’t concede to a dalliance with Raoul Bova?
It’s regrettably tricky to find a balanced, thoughtful queer film — much less when it’s an Italian import. That’s why it’s important to honor filmmakers, like Ozpetek, who challenge their viewers and subvert the norm.
“NEW ITALIAN CINEMA”
Nov 14-21, $12.50–$20
One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level, SF