After yesterday's successful detour to Europe, I decided to linger on that continent for a while. Texas is not the latest American indie flick shot on a borrowed digital camera by a few college students in Austin. Evoking the wide-open spaces and car culture of Dubya's fair state, the film's narrator describes his small hometown as a sort of Italian Last Picture Show in the semi-rural province of Piemonte.
Italian cinema is not in a good place. Once celebrated, it is still coasting on the international success of 2003's international hit La Meglio Gioventù (The Best of Youth) by Marco Tullio Giordano. In Italy, most cultural organisations are run by political appointees, ranging from film funds and the Cinecittå studio to the Venice film festival. Since Italian politics are in the firm grip of Mr. Berlusconi, he also has quite a considerable influence on the film industry. As a result, filmmakers are not exactly lining up to protest å la Nanni Moretti and his '70s inspired social criticism. In the last couple of years, most of the films shown at foreign festivals have been either introspective documentaries about rural life or introspective features about rural life. To make a film about life in the big city, you end up tackling big issues and that doesn't seem to be possible in today's Italy.
Texas is no exception. Written by the young Italian playwright and actor Fausto Paradivino, it shows a group of young locals in small Piemonte town. They are in their late twenties, early thirties and their rich friend's house allows them to party as much as they want in a desperate effort to stave off adulthood. Of course they are still living with their parents, so they're doing pretty well on that score. When one of them starts cheating on his girlfriend with the local school mistress, the tension in the group rises and rises, until it boils over to the rest of the town. This may be foggy Northern Italy, but the locals do like their drama in this part of the country too.
The teacher is played by a miraculously toned down Valeria Golino, one of Italy's most well-known actresses, who does get to play her trademark sex pot, albeit with very little make-up and frumpy outfits. Her young lover is played by current teen idol Riccardo Scamarcio, who does a believable job in portraying a spoilt male predator, not a very complex role to perform.
The rest of the group is played by young actors and associates of Paradivino. Two main roles within the group are played by his co-screenwriters, Iris Fusetti and Carlo Orlando. Their familiarity with each other is obvious, which helps in creating a believable sense of community. This makes the viewer more involved when the dynamics start to tear the group apart. Their flawed characters make them more interesting than the hot lead characters; it's a pleasure to watch the back-and-forth between them. Paradivino is obviously a actor's director. Most impressive however is the fact that he doesn't go for the shoot-out. The drama whipped up in the usually dormant town does not get played out to fatal consequences, as its characters are ultimately more interested in preserving harmony. This act of tenderness is usually the hallmark of the older, more mature writer, and we can only hope Paradivino and his screenwriting/acting friends go on to do more works like this.