ITALY IN A DAY
Documentary, not rated, 75 minutes, in Italian with subtitles, 3 p.m. Thursday, June 2, Violet Crown, 3.5 chiles
No matter what country you live in, early each morning, loaves of bread get baked and newspapers are printed. These are some of the beginning images in Italy in a Day, a documentary made from videos recorded by ordinary Italians about their lives on Oct. 26, 2013. Oscar-winning director Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) fuses these disparate clips into an evocative film.
The film is structured to give us an hour-by-hour account of how ordinary (and extraordinary) people live out their day: What moments matter to us, vex us, or make us laugh? A mother gives birth to a child, and the father is overwhelmed almost to the point of tears; in the next clip, a man speaks with his aged mother, who no longer remembers the names of her four children or even the fact that they exist. The videos are edited with a thematic flow in mind, and music aids the transitions.
One moving section tells the story of an Italian doctor who provides medical services in countries including Iraq, where optimal facilities do not exist for sick children. The doctor tells us that after a seemingly hopeless operation for a boy born with a heart condition, the doctor and his aide did not give up. They massaged the boy’s heart manually for four hours until it began to beat on its own. Maybe it is such high-order heroics — or the everyday stoicism of bakers who work in predawn hours for the rest of us — that inspire one man, at the end of the film, to say that human beings are incredible. It is nice to hear something good about people for a change, in contrast to what the daily news cycle generally implies about them.
The only narrative here is that a day begins and a day ends. We share this fascinating time with more Italians than we might otherwise hope to know. When a film makes us think about life with a capital L, it can slip into sentimentality, but this documentary keeps its feet squarely on the ground. The filmmakers know which daily rhythms and aspirations we all share in common, and they play the right notes, and not too loudly. In other clips, a baby wakes up with a smile, and a couple has a mock fight before going to bed. It may not seem like much, but the whole here is happily greater than the sum of its parts. — Priyanka Kumar
LE MERAVIGLIE (THE WONDERS)
Drama, not rated, 110 minutes, in Italian with subtitles, 5 p.m. Thursday, June 2, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 4 chiles
In the dreamily bucolic Tuscan countryside, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) is on the cusp of adolescence, spending long days working for her family’s beekeeping operation and taking care of her three younger sisters. Her father (Sam Louwyck) rules the family with an iron fist, so when a reality TV show comes to town seeking applicants for a local competition in which seven farmers will vie to have their products featured, he is against their participation. He’s more concerned with the arrival of the silent and sullen Martin, a juvenile delinquent he’s taken on as a worker to help with honey production. But the stubborn Gelsomina schemes to get her family and their honey onto the show, with moving and unexpected results. The film is beautifully shot, and the actors’ performances are stunning to behold, particularly that of the luminous Lungu. With Monica Bellucci as an otherworldly television personality. — Molly Boyle
BAROLO BOYS: THE STORY OF A REVOLUTION
Documentary, not rated, 64 minutes, in English and Italian with subtitles, 2 p.m. Saturday, June 4, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles
What is identity? asks this 2014 film about one of the great wine success stories of the last century. Barolo wine took the international wine stage by storm in the 1980s and ’90s. This affectionately told story from directors Paolo Casalis and Tiziano Gaia focuses on the “Barolo boys,” a handful of Nebbiolo grape-growers who set off a wave of technical innovations in winemaking techniques starting in the 1970s. Filmed in the lush Langhe region, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and featuring intermittent visits by a brass band, which marches up and down the vineyards trumpeting the enormous pride of these winemakers, the film is irreverent and breezy in classic Italian fashion, with a somewhat meandering narrative that sometimes falters. Still, passion and dedication shine through in interviews with vintners like Elio Altare, an iconoclast who had the vision to deviate from established methods and thus kicked off a revolution in winemaking. As one subject in the film puts it, “We had the power to change things, which is the best thing you can have in life.” — M.B.