The Conformist (1970)

Impression: The cinematography and locations/set design are beautiful in this film. The vast empty spaces in giant buildings with only one or two characters inside each frame, the very stark architecture, the black and white colors and the very clean lines are the main  settings in the first part of the movie. While it is set during the fascist era in Italy, the film is more than just a commentary on political conformism; it tackles conformism in general. In the beginning, there is a scene where it is explained that the main character’s reasons for joining the fascists are not typical: it is usually done for money, but he just wants to belong. It is particularly strange, because unlike his wife, who is blissfully unaware of alternatives, he is fully aware that it is possible to not conform in political views,  in sexuality, etc, but he actively rejects those options in favor of fitting in. The plot constantly jumps through time, that it is almost dizzying to keep track of where in the story you land from shot to shot. But the flashbacks to his childhood and the scenes with his family, convey that he had grown up feeling disconnected from the rest of society, by the virtue of his family’s wealth and position. As a result, his wish to conform is strong. He forgoes his interest in studying philosophy and any wish to find a genuine love interest, in order to serve the system and marry the most mediocre woman he can find, so he can feel ‘normal.’ He eventually develops strong feelings for another woman, but when faced with a choice that would jeopardize his belonging, he chooses belonging over her. At the end of the film, when the regime changes, he is not so much afraid of the political retribution or even for his life, as he is that he will no longer be ‘normal.’ His instinct is to denounce his friend.  In a way, The Lobster which was made 45 years later is a complementary piece to this film. While this film explores, the need of one person to conform, the Lobster explores how a society, even one formed by people who did not want to conform to mainstream rules, enforces its own strict rules, and essentially demands conformism.

Facts: A man in fascist Italy actively makes choices that conform with what is expected of him, in choosing what to pursue in love and work.

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Ignorant Fairies (His Secret Life) (2001)

Impressions: The film opens with a sequence showing a woman who seems to be leading a very happy, if not perfect life.  She is married to a great guy, she has an important job where she is respected. Ok, maybe she doesn’t get along with her housekeeper. A major tragic event interrupts her life, and leads her to seek answers to her past, which leads her into a world completely foreign to her.  Through her sadness and confusion, she slowly gets sucked into this world, and keeps revisiting it. The communal type life, the fabulous Sunday meals on a gorgeous terrace overlooking rooftops of Rome are all so attractive that she soon becomes a part of that community.  The shots of food preparation, the splashes of color, the colorful characters, they are all like something very much out of an Almodovar movie. Who wouldn’t want to be preparing food with these people every Sunday?

Facts: A sudden tragic event, leads a woman into a world she knew nothing about, and sends her on a major re-evaluation of her identity and place in the world.

Extras: In 2001 when I saw this film, it was titled Ignorant Fairies. For some reason for the American distribution it got renamed into His Secret Life. This is still my favorite movie I have ever seen during 11 years of going to TIFF and probably close to a 100 movies. Getting to see it by not making the line to another one, made it even more of a treat, and actually inspired the way I do festivals from then on: always open to serendipity and suggestions, and very light on prep and background, because my favorites have always been the ones that did not sound interesting when I read the descriptions. It’s maybe also inspired how I live my life, but that’s a whole other post :).

The Wait (2015)

Impression: The best movie I saw at TIFF 2015, and the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s Piero Messina’s first feature. He was the assistant director on The Great Beauty, though. From the first stunning spiraling shot of a Jesus statue, to the ending shot of Juliette Binoche, this movie is not only gorgeous throughout, but it masterfully builds tension. And it’s not because you don’t know what will happen, it’s exactly because you DO know from a few minutes into it what must happen, that this is incredible. It’s hard to say anything more about the plot without ruining it, so I will stop there. Oh yeah, and Juliette Binoche is the greatest living actor. There is an amazing preview of this one on youtube which shows you how gorgeous it looks but reveals absolutely nothing of the plot. Watch it!
Facts:  A woman in a gorgeous Italian villa hosts her son’s French girlfriend.  No more can be said without revealing the plot.