The history of post-war Italian cinema is a mellifluous litany of household names, from Rossellini and De Sica to Taviani and Benigni. But recognizable icons are in short supply these days, a byproduct of the vagaries of foreign film distribution in the U.S. So partly by happenstance and partly by design, the annual New Italian Cinema series, running Nov. 30–Dec. 2 at San Francisco's Vogue Theatre, is a festival of discovery.
The "design" element is embodied by the City of Florence Award competition of first or second features. The six new talents on offer range from wunderkind scaremeister Antonio Padovan's Northern Italian murder mystery The Last Prosecco (Dec. 1 at 6pm) to documentary filmmaker Andrea Magnani's poignantly comic narrative debut, Easy (Dec. 2 at 4:30pm), about an overweight slacker determined to transport the body of a Hungarian construction worker to his home.
"Happenstance" is an unfair word to apply to the rest of the program, except in the sense that every festival of new films is dependent on this year's output. The Italian Cultural Institute (who presents the fest with New Italian Cinema Events of Florence) has done the great service of programming a pair of one-hour docs about Italian institutions (Dec. 2 at 7:15pm) that U.S. audiences would almost certainly never see otherwise: Enrico Maisto's verite The Call spends a day in Milan's criminal courts with a batch of querulous jurors, while Silvia Bellotti's Open to the Public visits the offices of Naples' public housing administrators. Humanity meets bureaucracy, Italian-style.