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Peter Calder reveals what to expect from the upcoming Italian Film Festival.

Road movies feature prominently in the 17th Italian Film Festival, which opens in Auckland next week. Three of the festival's 20 titles - 18 Years Later, Basilicata Coast to Coast and Italy: Love It Or Leave It - use the form, though they differ dramatically in tone and style.

The most pointed and astringent is the third mentioned, in which film-makers Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi travel through the country, making a stocktake of the state of the country's economy, politics and environment - both literal and cultural. It is not without significance that the two men are partners, since their quest is not detached, but personal: they are trying to decide whether to stay in Italy or join the gay exodus to what they see as more culturally enlightened cities such as Berlin or Barcelona.

But this is much more than a gay film. The pair's concerns over political corruption and the degradation of social discourse that allowed Silvio Berlusconi to continue to preside even when he was an international joke, make for a searching examination of the country. Whether talking to a Fiat worker whose conditions are now a kind a slavery, examining the outsourcing of the manufacture of the iconic Bialetti stove-top espresso machine to Romania or detailing the pollution of Lake Como, where stars including George Clooney spend much of their time, the film examines a country in crisis.

The challenge issued to them by one interviewee - that they have a duty not to leave - will ring a few bells here.


More lighthearted is 18 Years Later, a predictable but well-discharged story of estranged brothers forced to spend several days together honouring their father's dying wish that his ashes be taken from Rome to Calabria - the poor "toe of the boot" in southern Italy.

The two men, played respectively by the film's director and co-writer, haven't spoken for 18 years for reasons that only slowly emerge. A mouthwateringly handsome Morgan open-top tourer is the main co-star and, if there's nothing profoundly innovative going on here and the ending is rather overwrought, it's worth seeing before the inevitable American remake comes along.

Another southern region - the arch of the foot, just north of Calabria - is on show in Basilicata Coast to Coast, an altogether more offbeat blend of road and buddy movie, which tips its hat to Fellini's La Strada more than once.

Director Rocco Papaleo stars as Nicola, the frontman for a small band invited to take part in a music festival. He sees publicity potential in the idea of having the band walk across Basilicata - the region has coasts on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas.

Unsurprisingly, things are not that simple and, though the pace flags in the third quarter, it is a warm-hearted and charming little film set in a little-seen part of the country.

The only other film previewed, A Second Childhood, treads ground that has been well-worked in some excellent recent movies from the US (The Savages and Away from Her), Sweden (Song for Martin) and Britain (Iris): the impact on long-established relationships of the remorseless creep of senile dementia. This quiet, mature and impeccably acted film by prolific festival regular Pupi Avati takes an original approach to the story of a couple by interleaving childhood flashbacks, which lend an even greater poignancy.

The festival reprises what is probably the most successful Italian movie of the past generation, Cinema Paradiso, in which a successful director remembers his childhood in a Sicilian village when he escaped from the privations of post-war life into the landscape of the imagination at his local movie house. The landmark film sparked something of a renaissance in the Italian movie industry, which was in the creative doldrums in the 1980s, and won the best foreign film award in the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Baftas as well as the Jury Prize at Cannes.

And the other notable inclusion is Welcome to the South, a remake of the French hit Welcome to the Sticks (which in the French case was the far north). The Italian version is about a postal worker who had hopes of a transfer to Milan but ends up in a village south of Naples in Mafia-controlled Campania.

In Italy, where the Milanese think they carry the wastrel southerners, the north-south rivalry made this a box-office smash and the Variety reviewer remarked that it was that rare thing: a remake better than the original.

What: The Italian Film Festival 2012
Where: Rialto and Bridgeway Cinemas, Auckland, September 26-October 14; Rialto Tauranga and Lido Hamilton, November 15-28