Arts Express: A Lonely Hero at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema Festival

With the surging jobless rates concurrent with slashes in subsistence benefits around the globe, governments may act oblivious but filmmakers have certainly taken notice everywhere. And, turning out dramatic features that no matter what the subject, more often than not are part of a repeatedly noted trend of economic crisis cinema. And dismal circumstances which increasingly inhabit film festivals as well. That includes Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, a current presentation unreeling at New York City’s Lincoln Center.

Among those offerings is Sydney Sibilia’s dark comedy, I Can Quit Whenever I Want [Smetto quando voglio]. In which a determined band of unemployed and underemployed egghead professors, researchers and scientists reluctantly turn to a life of banditry in order to survive. A subversively satirical descent into desperation intimating Breaking Bad and Trainspotting, and a daffy when not dark parody channeling the plight of the Italian middle class, caught as well in the web of the downwardly spiraling EU economic crisis.

Likewise a US premiere intimating universal economic misery, is Gianni Amelio’s L’Intrepido [A Lonely Hero]. Antonio Albanese is the Chaplinesque doomed but determined figure of Antonio Pane, a middle-aged, jobless schoolteacher struggling to survive as a day laborer drudge, while financially exploited by the corrupt boxing gym racketeer assigning him to a series of random, transient eclectic positions. Including instant jack of all trades high rise construction worker, laundry presser, sports stadium sweeper, trolley driver, dishwasher, shoe store salesman and elder home care attendant – for a withdrawn, clueless mute invalid to whom he tells all his troubles.

And though persistently stoic no matter how dismal or dubious his daily fate, Antonio’s optimism does come close to cracking under this enormous psychological weight on occasion. In particular when confronting the even greater hopelessness and destructive despondency being visited upon the younger generation to follow. Counting his vulnerable musician son, and an emotionally fractured young woman he befriends at a government exam attended by hundreds, for potential employment that likely exists for none of them.

A Lonely Hero is a stinging and sobering portrait, yet simultaneously laced with muted comedic charm. And a triumph in pulling off a cautionary contemporary tale steeped in magical realism, a resonant fusion of political reality and personal human pain.

More information about Open Roads: New Italian Cinema is online at: filmlinc.com

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.