Cine Italiano! Italian Film Week in Hong Kong
As the second annual Cine Italiano! film festival returns, director Luca Barbareschi and festival organiser Bede Cheng explain to Ben Sin the essence of Italian cinema
It would be easy to assume, upon hearing news that Luca Barbareschi has made a film about the dangers of adulterated food trafficking in China, that the renowned Italian renaissance man – in his four-decade career, he’s starred in over 30 films (including the notorious Cannibal Holocaust), 80 TV serials and 30 theatre shows, along with holding office in cinema institutions and politics – is trying to make a political statement with his directorial debut.
But that would be incorrect. The counterfeit-food plotline for his film, Something Good, was, in fact, an adaptation of an Italian novel by the name of I Trust You. That the story just happens to coincide with a myriad of food scandals on the Mainland was purely coincidental (and perhaps unavoidable, considering these events pop up just about every month).
Politics intrudes too deeply into art, Barbareschi believes. And though he was once an outspoken member of the Italian Parliament (he’s since joined another political party), the 57-year-old would like to keep his side job separate from his day job.
“Intellectual honesty and a sense of aesthetics are values I believe in when it comes to cinema,” he says. “It’s horrible and senseless to tie politics with films.”
Of course, having come from a country whose film industry started out as a mouthpiece for the Italian Fascist government – it was not unusual for the government-funded industry to release propaganda films in the 1930s – Barbareschi is probably extra sensitive. He says Italian cinema is still too strictly connected with politics, and he dreams of ‘an independent cinema, one that’s free from the logic of power and privileges of a few’.
And so, with Something Good, Barbareschi says he’s merely trying to tell an interesting story about love and redemption – nothing more, nothing less. Still, the film’s setting (Hong Kong and Italy) and cast (Barbareschi himself stars alongside a cast of faces familiar to local audiences, such as Zhang Jinchu, Kenneth Tsang, and Michael Wong), has made it a perfect film to represent Italian cinema in the second annual Cine Italiano!, a boutique film festival jointly organised by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, the Italian Consulate of Hong Kong, and Zetema Progetto Cultura of Rome.
“When I heard of this Italian film that was set in Hong Kong and starred Chinese stars, I thought to myself, ‘this would be perfect for our festival!’” recalls Bede Cheng Tze-wang, programme manager of the HKIFFS.
If Barbareschi thinks Italian cinema is too tied to politics, then Cheng, along with a score of other local film buffs, believes Hong Kong’s film industry is too tied to commercialism. Cine Italiano! is a much-needed festival in this city, Cheng explains, because there are so few places one can watch
“Almost all the theatres in Hong Kong are completely dominated by mainstream Hollywood films,” Cheng says. “There’s very little space for ‘smaller films’. If we don’t bring these films, they’ll never make it out here.”
Aside from Something Good, which opens Cine Italiano! with a world premiere this fortnight, the festival brings seven other Italian films to Hong Kong, almost all of which make their only theatrical run in this region during the programme. The HKIFFS, with help from the various Italian cultural organisations, has selected a diverse range of films that includes A Five Star Life, an inspirational drama that Cheng has dubbed ‘the female version of [the George Clooney hit] Up In the Air’, and Long Live Freedom, which stars Toni Servillo, one of Italy’s most established actors.
Perhaps more importantly to local fans: Long Live Freedom is very much a Hong Kong-style comedy, claims Cheng.
“I think there’s a misconception that Italian films are mostly very serious, very artsy,” Cheng says. “But there are lots of films that are very loose and hilarious, with a very Hong Kong feel.”
While festival headliner Something Good won’t be loose or hilarious, its Hong Kong backdrop should resonate with audiences.
Barbareschi had never visited the city before filming, and he left with a strong impression. “Everyone here was so professional,” he says. “Everybody moved fast.”
Cine Italiano! The Grand Cinema, Sep 18-22.