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July 21, 2006

Two films by Francesco Maselli

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Open Letter to the Evening News/Lettera Aperta a un Giornale della Sera
Francesco Maselli - 1970
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

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Fragments of the Twentieth Century/Frammenti di Novecento
Francesco Maselli - 2005
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

Francesco Maselli is yet another forgotten Italian filmmaker re-introduced by NoShame. A former assistant and writer for Antonioni, Maselli is represented here by the film that undid a promising career and with a subjective, autobiographical look at his life from his youth through the late Sixties. While I am not familiar with Maselli's other films, what has been written about them suggests that the two DVDs available are anomalies, and may serve better as supplements to understanding Maselli's life and career as well as adding to the cultural history of Italy.

Open Letter to the Evening News stands in sharp contrast to Maselli's previous film, the English language comedy A Fine Pair with Rock Hudson and occassional Maselli muse, Claudia Cardinale. The film is shot on deliberately over-exposed 16mm, with amateurish framing to create a cinema verite look. Most of the film consists of conversations between a group of friends, men who came of age during World War II who identify as Communists. It should be noted that their wives and mistresses all are younger. For these men, nothing in their lives matches the excitement they had as members of the resistance. As a joke, and as a way of protesting the war in Viet-Nam, the men send a letter to a newspaper stating that they will go to North Viet-Nam to fight the U.S. The letter is published and taken seriously by other leftist groups and temporarily by the Viet-Nam government. The men debate the choice between living their lives as professionals and intellectuals in Italy, or actually taking up arms in the name of peace.

While a bit more topical, Maselli's film fits in with the zeitgeist of films by Bertolucci and Bellochio from the Sixties. Unlike films like Partner and China is Near, Maselli's men are all a generation or so older. Not only are these men who dream of being boys again, but their closest manisfestation is to create an impromtu game of "kick the can".

Fragments of the Twentieth Century features Maselli (seen above) looking back at a life that constantly intersected with some of the top artists during a forty year span. The genesis of this film was the discovery of a home movie featuring Maselli as a child with his godfather, Luigi Pirandello. Maselli discusses growing up with a family of anti-Fascist intellectuals and artists in his home surrounded by great pieces of modern Italian art. While the names of many of the artists may not be familiar, the paintings and sculpture are all museum worthy. For film scholars, Maselli describes his first encounter with Michelangelo Antonioni, and has interviews with several of the actresses he has worked with. In addition to Cardinale, there is a brief discussion of Maselli's working methods with a still beautiful Virna Lisi. Also of interest is an interview with Betsy Blair highlighting the blacklisted Hollywood community in Paris.

One gets another glimpse of Maselli's artistry with a montage of his photographs. Hopefully we will be able to see a few more of Maselli's films in the near future to gain a better view of this relatively unknown filmmaker.

Posted by peter at July 21, 2006 06:42 PM