Monday, February 23
Well, Oscar night has come and gone and the verdicts are in. I for one was absolutely blown away by Slumdog Millionaire (called here simply Millionaire), so was thrilled by their garnering of so many awards. In Italy, Oscar night usually brings with it a great deal of fanfare as the Italians, as much as they hate to admit it, love our films. None of that “we don’t need your crass and petty films” like the French.
But, this year did mark a disappointment for Italy for the terrific docu-film, Gomorra. I thought it was excellent, especially concerning the taboo subject matter taking on organized crime from North to South. Although it was a bit hard to follow at times, a bit too dark (literally, if not also figuratively), and perhaps with less of a true plot than the simple minds that the Americans in the Academy could handle.
And in Italy, when every major public event is marred by petty grievances, overdoses of gossip, and out-and-out political rivalries splattered across every newspaper page, well, the Oscars did not disappoint. Oscar time is also Sanremo Music Festival Time – more than showcasing the terrific young stars of the day, the papers and TV are fully consumed by controversy. Ditto for the Venice Biennale. For the foreign press, it’s a parody right out of a Fellini film – talk about the severe need not to air your dirty laundry…
But this is the country that when Benigni won for his highly controversial humor to recount the Holocaust (with his improbably entitled film, La Vita è Bella)…well, every Italian worth his subterfuge self uncovered the depths of his conspiracy which went something like:
Benigni made a film to touch the hearts of the Jewish American population (esp. studios and Academy voters) deliberately to win. As if that conclusion had been a shoo-in, but still…
Of course, reading between the lines, it was as if it were a bad thing to actually try and make a film that might actually show some merit in the all-consuming no. 1 film market (in terms of box office draw) and garner a few prizes along the way. They even begrudge their own talented Muccino working in L.A. with Wil Smith (Pursuit of Happyness) because uhhh…he makes films with happy endings (can someone tell them it was based a true story?) and he jumped ship where he could make it on merit.
And so, the Italians did not take the snubbing of their worthy film very well. Off charged the criticism, controversy and the challenge to change the game: With all the bickering, I believe that people were waiting for the last minute punt by a perfectly placed politician, perhaps even pressure from media mogul Berlusconi calling “friends” for the quick fix for his native film. No one could believe until they saw those envelopes being opened right before their eyes that Gomorra was not going to be announced as winner. Score one point for meritocracy, strike one for political hacks.
All I know is that I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of the conspiracies against this one.