Italian Cinema Builds on Bumper Budgets to Up Quality, Be Bolder, Battle in International Markets

Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera is adamant about his decision to place six Italian movies in this year’s 23-title festival lineup. “Nobody accused the French of chauvinism because they had seven French films in competition in Cannes this year,” Barbera quipped to a snarky Italian reporter when the Venice lineup was announced in July, though he did concede, “It’s true that in the past I have not done this.” Indeed, Barbera’s previous limit on Italian movies in competition for the Golden Lion was five titles last year, which some local critics considered a stretch.

More importantly, the Venice chief pointed out that he presently sees Cinema Italiano at a particularly favorable juncture largely thanks to the fact that Italians are making movies with bigger budgets, “which means greater quality and the ability to compete in international markets, and to travel beyond our borders,” he said. “Providing more resources also means giving directors the possibility to better express themselves; to be more daring; to seek new narratives and perhaps try innovative visual languages while also seeking to resonate with the general public,” Barbera noted.

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One case in point is “My Brilliant Friend” director Saverio Costanzo’s highend costume drama “Finally Dawn,” featuring a stellar cast comprising Lily James (“Pam & Tommy”), Joe Keery (“Stranger Things”), Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby”), Willem Dafoe and Italian newcomer Rebecca Antonaci. The film, according to Barbera, was made on a $30 million budget.

Another buzzy Italian film is the fest’s opener, the ambitious anti-war epic “Comandante,” directed by Edoardo De Angeles (Netflix’s Elena Ferrante adaptation “The Lying Lives of Adults”). “Comandante” required construction of a life-size steel submarine and has a budget of between $17 million-$18 million. Then there is Matteo Garrone’s immigration drama “Io Capitano,” shot over 13 weeks in Senegal, Italy and Morocco with a cast of non-professional actors that marks the prominent Italian auteur’s first film shot outside his native country. Its budget is more than €8 million ($8.6) million, which is way above average for Italy.

“Comandante,” directed by Edoardo De Angeles, has a budget of between $17 million-$18 million.

According to the most recent available figures, announced in 2022, Cinema Italiano exports have dramatically risen in recent years. While Italy exported only 52 movies in 2017, the number of Italian titles distributed around the world more than doubled to 118 titles in 2021 and that number is steadily continuing to rise.

Now, the burning question is how Italian films at Venice will play at the local box office before they hopefully prove their mettle in cinemas outside national confines.

The challenge is that while Italian film production is on a roll, the country’s theatrical moviegoing recovery rate has been slower to pick up than in Europe’s other big territories. Italy in 2022 tallied a measly 44.5 million admissions, a 48% drop compared with its average pre-pandemic level, numbers that have been improving in the first half of 2023. Summer attendance got a big boost thanks to “Barbie,” which has scored more than $32 million locally — and counting — single-handedly giving Italian cinemas a record-breaking summer intake. So far, the top Italian grosser this year is Nanni Moretti’s multi-layered love letter to filmmaking in the age of streaming giants, “Il sol dell’avvenire” (“A Brighter Tomorrow”), which was released in April ahead of its Cannes Film Festival international premiere and pulled in $6 million at the home box office.

The clincher will be if, after flocking to a few U.S. blockbusters this summer, Italians will now be drawn back into cinemas by the cream of the local crop.

Below is a rundown of Italian titles competing for a Golden Lion on the Lido.

  • Adagio
    Stefano Sollima, who is known in Hollywood for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” and TV series “Gomorrah,” turns his camera to contemporary Rome with this dark tale of revenge and redemption that harks back to the glory days of vintage Italian crimers. Produced by the Apartment and sold internationally by Vision Distribution.

  • Comandante
    Venice opening night film “Comandante” stars Pierfrancesco Favino (“Nostalgia”) in a WWII epic directed by Edoardo De Angelis (“Indivisible”). Indigo Film and O’Groove co-produced with Rai Cinema, Tramp, V-Groove and Wise Pictures, in association with the Belgian company Beside Production. True Colours is handling international sales.

  • Enea
    This is the second feature of hot-shot multihyphenate Pietro Castellitto, who also stars as the titular character, a young Roman drug dealer whose best friend Valentino just received his license as an airplane pilot. Produced by Lorenzo Mieli’s the Apartment, which is a Fremantle company, and Luca Guadagnino’s Frenesy. Vision Distribution is handling world sales.

  • Finally Dawn
    Costume drama by Saverio Costanzo (“My Brilliant Friend”) is set in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios in the 1950s. The cast comprises Lily James (“Pam & Tommy”), Joe Keery (“Stranger Things”), Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby”) and Willem Dafoe. The picture is produced by Mario Gianani and Lorenzo Gangarossa for Wildside, which is a Fremantle-owned company, with RAI Cinema and FilmNation Entertainment, which is handling world sales. UTA has North America.

  • Io Capitano
    Matteo Garrone, who is a two-time Cannes jury prizewinner with “Gomorrah” in 2008 and “Reality” in 2012, is in competition in Venice for the first time with this immigration drama. Garrone’s shingle Archimede produced with RAI Cinema and Belgium’s Tarantula Film as a co-producer. The drama is backed by Pathé, which is handling world sales through Pathé Intl.

  • Lubo
    Franz Rogowski stars in this drama by Giorgio Diritti (“Hidden Away”). He plays a man who comes from an ethnic group of nomads who is called to serve in the Swiss army from the threat of the Nazi army. He hears that, due to their ethnicity, his children have been taken away by Swiss authorities. He defects from the army and spends the next 30 years searching for his kids. Italy’s Indiana Production and Aranciafilm with Rai Cinema producer. True Colours is selling internationally.

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