11 Contemporary Italian Directors Everyone Should Know

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Film Society of Lincoln Center is treating us to a survey of new Italian cinema in their annual Open Roads program. Veterans and emerging directors alike will screen for New York City audiences, featuring the newest and greatest comedies, indies, and experimental features. To get into the spirit of the diverse lineup, we’ve highlighted the works of ten contemporary Italian filmmakers you should know — a starting point for newcomers. But this is hardly a complete list, so feel free to mention the recent films from Italy you loved, below.

Nanni Moretti

Films to watch: Caro diario, The Son’s Room, We Have a Pope, Mia madre (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “Actor-writer-director Moretti, a darling of Cannes, where We Have a Pope premiered last May (and where he will serve as president of the jury next month), has often been referred to as the “Italian Woody Allen”; in his earlier works, like Caro Diario (1993), he turned the camera on himself and his foibles. Here, as in his previous film, The Caiman (2006), which takes aim at Silvio Berlusconi, he attempts to scrutinize the oddities of all-powerful leaders and institutions.” —Melissa Anderson for the Village Voice, We Have a Pope

Paolo Sorrentino

Films to watch: The Consequences of Love, Il Divo, The Great Beauty, Youth (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “People are likening this Italian nominee for Best Foreign Language Film to Fellini’s work, and certainly his fans won’t be disappointed. But The Great Beauty also asks hard questions about the very world Fellini depicted; most powerfully, it wonders whether living the flamboyant life of an artist, surrounded by sensual pleasures of all kinds, can kill any inspiration or urgency one has to actually make art.” —Our own Judy Berman, The Great Beauty

Matteo Garrone

Films to watch: The Embalmer, Gomorrah, Reality, Tale of Tales (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “Garrone uses an unadorned documentary style, lean, efficient, no shots for effect. He establishes characters, shows their plans and problems, shows why they must kill or be killed — often, be killed because of killing. Much is said about trust and respect, but little is seen of either. The murders, for the most part, have no excitement and certainly no glamor — none of the flash of most gangster movies. Sometimes they’re enlivened by surprise, but it is the audience that’s surprised, not the victims, who often never know what hit them.” —Roger Ebert, Gomorrah

Carlo Verdone

Films to watch: Bianco, rosso e Verdone, Compagni di scuola, In viaggio con papà, Borotalco

A critical view: “Carlo Verdone is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to cinema. He began his career in television in the 70’s. With the guidance of legendary director Sergio Leone, Carlo Verdone made a smooth transition to the big screen. Since the success of his first film in 1982, In Viaggio con Papa (Traveling with Papa), Verdone has been regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of our time. In recent years, he’s gone beyond the boundaries of acting to find further success in directing and screenwriting.” —Blog Italian Cinema & Art Today

Paolo and Vittorio Taviani

Films to watch: Padre padrone, La notte di San Lorenzo, Caesar Must Die, Wondrous Boccaccio (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “A distinctive force in European cinema for over 35 years, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani achieved from their first films an eloquent stylistic bridge between Rossellinian stringency and Fellinian braggadocio. Their movies are often framed like friezes, but the chaos of human whim always muddies the compositions. Appropriately, the Tavianis began as political barnburners, fashioning absurdist parables and sometimes cosmic commedia from Italy’s lunatic flirtations with extreme movements. No European filmmaker has ever been as dedicated to their nation’s peasant legacy, and no one on the continent since the ’70s has made such potent and revealing use of their native landscape.” —Michael Atkinson for IFC, The Night of the Shooting Stars

Asia Argento

Films to watch: Scarlet Diva, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Firmeza, Misunderstood (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “There’s something irresistibly hip about Asia Argento, even as a concept. The sultry, pouty daughter of trash-horror maestro Dario Argento, her public image as a wild child jack-of-all-trades-as-long-as-they’re-kinda-glamorous (actress, singer, model, director) does make her something of a poster girl for tough, troubled, attitude-y cool (just check out her Cannes red carpet pic or her Twitter account for that matter). But after her first two forays into directing, “Scarlet Diva” (in which she also starred as a self-destructive starlet) and child abuse chronicle “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things,” she has shifted gears in several ways with her third: she makes a brief, Hitchcock-level cameo but doesn’t star, and most welcome, she moves from straight-up miserablism to a beguiling cockeyed whimsy.” —Jessica Kiang for The Playlist, Misunderstood

Alice Rohrwacher

Films to watch: Corpo celeste, The Wonders (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “The narrative is also dreamlike at times, skipping a few links like a bike with a loose chain, as when the fate of a deeply traumatized juvenile delinquent Wolfgang brings in to work for the summer becomes a central mystery and is left only partially solved. But those gaps feel like gifts rather than errors, signs of respect from a director who wants to leave space for us to imagine our way into the world she creates. Like a rural Fellini, Rohrwacher mixes the mundane with the absurd to create a sometimes fabulous tale that always feels palpably real.” —Elise Nakhnikian for Slant, The Wonders

Ferzan Ozpetek

Films to watch: His Secret Life, Facing Windows, Sacred Heart, Fasten Your Seatbelts

A critical view: “Born in Istanbul, the Italian director Ferzan Özpetek’s themes of family bonds, secret sexual identities and interracial relationships have been clearly defined in films such as Hammam: The Turkish Bath (1997) and Le Fate Ignoranti (2001). Moving more towards the mainstream, Özpetek ties these themes to a more conventional romantic thriller situation – and quite successfully judging by the 5 Donatello awards the film picked up in 2003 – but Facing Window seems to constantly lose focus in the process.” —Noel Megahey for The Digital Fix, Facing Windows

Laura Bispuri

Films to watch: Passing Time, Sworn Virgin (coming soon to the US)

A critical view: “The question of body, gender and sexuality is one of the most explored themes in contemporary cinema and has taken a myriad of forms, from Lucia Puenzo’s XXY to the Afghan tale Osama. In brief, it’s hard to find new things to say on the subject. Sworn Virgin (Vergine Giurata) taps patriarchal Albanian tradition to ask whether renouncing sex can ever be the path to personal freedom. The answer is pretty clear. Award-winning short filmmaker Laura Bispuri has made an impressive leap into Berlin competition with this well-made feature bow, where critical response should be encouraging and help this small, special film find its niche.” —Deborah Young for The Hollywood Reporter, Sworn Virgin

Valeria Golino

Films to watch: Armandino e il Madre, Honey

A critical view: “With grace and understanding, actor-turned-filmmaker Valeria Golino explores the inescapable eventuality of human mortality: that one day, each and every life will come to its conclusion. The means and method provide her plot, as ensconsed in an issue topical and controversial; yet, the film’s fictional narrative is steeped in emotion, rather than rhetoric. In Honey (Miele), it is the time leading up to that unavoidable end that matters, and the ways in which we accept our fate that proves most pertinent.” —Sarah Ward for ArtsHub, Honey