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Paolo Virzi, one of Italy’s most acclaimed contemporary film directors, refuses to believe that Italy is finished. Even the troubled images of ex-premier Berlusconi, on the front page of London’s Financial Times, isn’t enough to shake his confidence in the Italian people.
Virzi, who is in London to present a retrospective of his film career, says that the same British journalists who criticize Italy are also the same ones who find a “saving grace” in the culture and strength of Italy’s “gente per bene” (good-hearted people).
He cites several characters from his films to get this point across, characters including Piero di Ovosodo who read Dickens to his workers, and Caterina in ‘Caterina va in citta’ who bombards us with her classical music. And then there is Marta from ‘Tutta la vita davanti’ who gets by in a precarious world by holding on to her passion for philosophy, and what about Guido, the main character of ‘Tutti I santi giorni’ a just released film in Italy.
This sense of positivism on Virzi’s part is not a new acquisition. This is not merely a good omen, but something that he has always conveyed in his films, telling us “I recount what I see, and I have faith in this Italy”. Virzi believes that the Italy of that girl who is derided because she is the best in her class, believing that a “pezzo di carta” (diploma) cannot compete with a system corrupted by recommendations and meritocracy. Perhaps the heroine of Virzi’s latest release, Thony, was generated by that girl. Even though her merit isn’t recognized, she goes on to become a star.
Italy is a country brimming with talent however right now it is badly in need of a “lightning bolt,” that kind of electricity which many young Italians are now finding elsewhere. Virzi goes on to tell us that his retrospective opening at London’s Riverside Studios, organized together with the Italian Cinema London Association and the Italian Embassy, was flooded with film buffs. After the screening of ‘La prima bella cosa’ a young admirer broke the ice, opening up the question and answer session by saying, “I want to state that I am English and I understood everything about this film. It is truly a beautiful work.”