Cannes got a dose of REAL movie star glamour over the past two days when the legendary Sophia Loren came to town for a special screening of her new film, The Human Voice Tuesday night at Salle du Soixantieme and a two hour “Master Class” at the Bunuel on Wednesday afternoon. The film, based on the Jean Cocteau play and basically a one woman show finding her running a gamut of emotions while on the phone, is a 25-minute short directed by son Edoardo Ponti that gives the 79-year-old actress one of her meatiest and most emotional roles in years, a real reminder that once a star, always a star. It preceded a stunning 50th anniversary 4K restoration premiere of 1964′s wonderful Marriage Italian Style, one 14 collaborations with director Vittorio De Sica and co-starring 12-time leading man Marcello Mastroianni. The film brought Loren her second (and last) Best Actress Oscar nomination, and it still holds up today. The audience gave her a 5-minute ovation at the end of the short , and again at the end of the feature, moving her, from my vantage point directly across the aisle, to tears. I asked her how she felt about watching the two performances — performed a half-century apart — and she had one word: …
In a category that sometimes seemed like a two-horse race between The Great Beauty and The Hunt, with the possible squeaker of The Broken Circle Breakdown, it was ultimately Paolo Sorrentino’s love letter to Rome that triumphed. Great Beauty is the 11th win for Italy at the Oscars and the first time since Roberto Benigni’s 1998 Life Is Beautiful that the boot has kicked up a Foreign Language score. Sorrentino told me in December that he was very honored by just the nomination. “It’s a great responsibility. It’s a case in which I represent Italy and so it’s important in this moment when Italian cinema isn’t having a great time in its life… I hope we go ahead not only for me, but also for Italian cinema,” he said. Go ahead he did tonight and thanked his inspirations who include Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese (in the house at the Dolby Theatre), and Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona. Sorrentino also thanked the cities of Rome and Naples, as well as his family.
The Great Beauty has been compared to the work of Fellini, especially Roma and La Dolce Vita; it’s the story of an aging writer in the Eternal City recollecting his lost youth (see the trailer below). Sorrentino told me late last year that he had long been collecting “little anecdotes” linked to Rome and decided to put them all together into a film so that the lead character would be a witness to that world.
UPDATE, 12:50 PM: Italy’s Supreme Court has upheld the tax fraud verdict and one-year prison sentence for billionaire Italian politician/media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, but because of his age (he’s 76) it’s unlikely he’ll go to jail, the BBC reports. The court did order a review of a five-year ban on public office that was part of the original sentence. Berlusconi faces house arrest or community service according to the report. The ruling today by Rome’s Court of Cassation came after a three-day hearing.
PREVIOUS, Tuesday: Italy’s Supreme Court will deliver its verdict in the tax fraud case against billionaire Italian politician/media mogul Silvio Berlusconi either tomorrow evening or on Thursday, his attorney said today. The court started hearing the case today and is the last stop on the appeals circuit for the Mediaset chief. He was sentenced in October last year to four years in prison and a five-year ban from politics for having inflated prices paid for broadcast rights to U.S. movies and TV shows via offshore companies controlled by his Fininvest holding company. Berlusconi and other execs were then alleged to have skimmed off part of the money to create illegal slush funds. Mediaset has benefited from an essentially free pass in terms of antitrust and other rules thanks to Berlusconi’s place in politics. But if the mogul were no longer allowed to stand for office, the conglomerate could be subject to any number of unfavorable new laws. Shares in Mediaset and other companies controlled by Fininvest were all up in trading today.
Italy’s movie business continues to get slammed harder and harder as part of the country’s overall economic crisis. Lately, a kerfuffle over production tax credits threatens to further stymie growth while the country’s government may be on the brink of collapse given media mogul/former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s legal troubles. And, the lack of a strong VOD offer continues to bedevil an industry plagued by piracy. There have been some bright spots this year including Giuseppe Tornatore’s Warner Bros.-produced The Best Offer which was well-received by audiences and awards bodies and managed to travel some. Meanwhile, local comedy Il Principe Abusivo is currently the No. 2 film at the box office for the year with over $18M in receipts, but that’s a drop from high-performing comedies of recent years. Italian industry execs are not entirely glum, and some are taking the optimistic view that crisis can lead to renewal, but caution still dominates.
Although Rai acquired Sean Penn starrer The Gunman from Studiocanal in Cannes this year – the first straight buy its made in a year – watchers say this doesn’t mean a complete shift. With traditional film partners pulling back on investing, a local distributor says, “It’s almost impossible to finance a movie today. Even if you’re lucky enough to get TV, the amount of money is a lot less than it used to be. Most Italian movies don’t travel” so they “have to make money back inside the territory.” If a movie “ends up getting recognition abroad, that’s icing. It can’t be part of your plan.”
Exacerbating the financing issue is the current production tax credit crisis. Plans are not entirely set in stone, but the government is expected to push forward with a massive cut to the annual 90M euro ($117.6M) fund that gets doled out on a first-come-first-served basis. The credits are expected to be extended for the next three years according to local sources, but the war chest will drop severely to 45M euros or less per year. Italian unions have understandably been up in arms, but an exec tells me, “Given the overall circumstances – everybody has tax cuts – I would say it’s very coherent with what’s happening in the country.” New measures should be entered into the law later this year.
What the cuts mean in reality is that “a lot of movies aren’t going to get made.” In turn, insiders believe that will impact the emergence of new talent. “Up-and-comers are having a very difficult time because fewer films are being produced, and the ones that are being produced seem to be from surefire auteurs. A lot of would-be new talent isn’t getting a shot,” I’m told.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., June 12, 2012 — Universal Pictures, one of the world’s leading producers and distributors of filmed entertainment, has acquired distribution rights in Italy to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the next installment of Lionsgate’s blockbuster Hunger Games franchise, it was announced today by Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Co-Chairs Patrick Wachsberger and Rob Friedman.
The first film in the franchise, the global blockbuster The Hunger Games, has already grossed $400 million at the North American box office, the 14th highest-grossing film of all time, and is nearing $650 million at the worldwide box office with a nationwide launch in China upcoming later this week.
“We are delighted to expand our successful international partnership with Universal to Italy on this exciting franchise,” said Lionsgate International President Helen Lee Kim, who orchestrated the deal along with Wachsberger. “We have enjoyed a productive relationship with Universal in several territories on such recent Lionsgate and Summit films as the Step Up franchise, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and The Cabin in the Woods. The Hunger Games has emerged as a truly global phenomenon, and we believe that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will elevate the franchise to a new level of performance at the international box office.”
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will go into production in September and will be released worldwide on November 22, 2013.
Silvio Berlusconi’s rivals in the media industry for years have accused him of massive conflicts of interest running the government that regulates Italy’s media industry, of which he is such a big part. Lawsuits, scandals, and plenty of brash talk from the outspoken mogul who defied every controversy were normal during his time in office. But today in Rome the billionaire media baron did what his political and media enemies have wanted him to do for years: he resigned. This will leave him time to focus on his conglomerate Mediaset, Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster that also runs Spain’s Espana Comunicacion and has a stake in Dutch reality TV giant Endemol among its many interests. Berlusconi had 3 separate stints as Italy’s prime minister over a 17-year span. This week he pledged to step down after the government finally passed a package of harsh economic reforms designed to keep Italy from defaulting on its $2.6 trillion debt and avoid the market meltdown that threatens to sweep through Europe. Berlusconi handed in his resignation at the presidential palace, where thousands gathered to cheer his ouster, yelling “buffoon,” “Mafioso” and “shame” as he arrived, according to news reports.
EXCLUSIVE: I’ve just learned that Oscar’s ever-growing Foreign-Language Film lineup has received shockers from Spain and Italy. Spain didn’t select the presumed favorite, two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar with his The Skin I Live In starring frequent Almodovar collaborator Antonio Banderas. Instead, Spain chose the more obscure Pa Negre (Black Bread), an eerie mystery set in the years following the Spanish Civil War. It swept the Goya awards in February, winning 9 out of 14 nominations. (Almodovar’s film just opened in Spain this month and won’t be eligible until next year’s Goya contest.) It is true that Almodovar has been consistently snubbed by the Spanish Film Academy, which makes the selections. The renowned director was bypassed for Talk To Her and Broken Embraces after winning the Oscar for Spain for All About My Mother in 1999. The situation got so contentious for a while that Almodovar actually resigned from the Spanish Academy as a protest against what he perceived as unfair voting practices. However, letting bygones be bygones, he did rejoin in April of this year. It was expected that goodwill gesture would be enough to put him back in the driver’s seat when it came time to vote for the Academy submission. But once again Spain’s most famous director has been overlooked in favor of another: the talented Agusti Villaronga, who does not nearly enjoy the international reputation of Almodovar. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and will release it stateside on October 21st. Pa Negre has played …