EXCLUSIVE: Battle of the Italian Contenders Gets Ugly
I Am Love director Luca Guadagnino viciously attacked rival La Prima Cosa Bella, Italy's Oscar entry, which screens at Palm Springs Film Fest on Friday. Director Paolo Virzì fights back in The Hollywood Reporter.
I Am Love beat La Prima Cosa Bella for a Globe nom, but Bella, starring the beauty Micaela Ramazzotti, beat it for a best foreign picture nom. I Am Love star Tilda Swinton is shortlisted as a best actress longshot -- even though she doesn't watch the Oscars -- and The New Yorker said Guadagnino's arthouse hit "showed with fine, Italianate panache how uncontrollable feelings can be held and sustained by an organizing eye."
But Guadagnino has uncontrollable feelings about the crowd-pleaser Bella. "I don’t think [my] movie is the kind that sells in Italy now, which is basically dramedies about men that are not able to grow up," he previously told THR, referring to Bella. "Vitteloni syndrome without Fellini. This Globe nomination is a sort of really strong warning for the Italian culture. Beware! When you don’t support what’s good ... then the image of your country goes down and down and down. They chose another movie, instead of one that was internationally well received, particularly in the U.S."
On the eve of his Palm Springs screening, Virzì strikes back:
THR: But hasn’t your film been well received? I should stress that I really love both films.
Virzì: Yes, La Prima Cosa Bella was one of the hits of Italy's last film season (more than 1.2 million people saw the film in theaters). I’m sorry for the bitterness of my colleague, whose movie unfortunately was rejected by the Italian audience (25,000 viewers theatrically) and not highly considered by our national press, until the film was discovered in U.S. arthouses. Still, the “American resurrection” of [I Am Love] is very good news for us: I don’t think that Italian cinema at the present moment deserves the awful mood and the catastrophic consideration of [Guadagnino's] statement, surely due to a temporary moment of personal resentment. Italian cinema is progressing. I’m proud of being a part of this surprising renaissance that created a spirit of mutual support among outstanding Italian directors.
THR: Does Guadagnino's response strike you as ironic coming from the auteur of a film called I Am Love?
Virzì: Yes, very ironic. I do not personally know Guadagnino, and I must confess that up until recently, I was not aware of his work. But I do not like to participate to the unpleasant game of bashing someone else's film; I think it’s something that an artist should never do.
THR: I saw some of I Vitelloni WITH Fellini in La Prima Cosa Bella -- did you?
Virzì: I take it as great compliment, even if it surprises me a little bit. That early masterpiece of Fellini was an ironic “masculine tale.” At the center of our film, there is a woman, Anna [Ramazzotti]. A wonderfully unconventional mother hellbent in preserving the happiness and innocence of her children, but also able to cause havoc in their lives.
THR: It also reminded me of Wonder Boys.
Virzì: Another great compliment. It’s one of my favorite American films. I feel there is something in common, of course not in plot, but perhaps in the tone ... bittersweet, happy and sad at the same time.
THR: The foreign Oscar winner is generally the film that has the most emotional resonance. So I would nominate that one every time if I were a government. Why do you think they nominated yours?
Virzì: Its emotional strength: It combines tears and laughter. We've heard from several screenings in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles that audience[s] have been sniffling and laughing at the same time. So we are crossing our fingers for this Oscar campaign.
THR: Somebody's probably going to claim this is a repeat of Baaria being submitted for a 2010 Oscar instead of the arthouse hit Vincere, for what some suspect were political reasons (Baaria was financially backed by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). Do you think it’s a fair comparison?
Virzì: I have to admit that last year, perhaps, I would have chosen Vincere instead of Baaria. I adored Bellocchio’s film, and I’m happy he had his success here in the U.S. I wouldn’t jump to presume of any Berlusconi conspiracy ... It’s something simply ridiculous to think. What can I say about this year’s Italian choice? I think our film was selected because it best represents the specific DNA of the films we make. The film that hopefully tells to the world better then others our spirit, where probably Italians can recognize themselves on screen.
THR: I'm going to run a photo of your star Ramazzotti. What effect do you suppose she and her performance will have on the Academy?
Virzì: Don’t ask me. ... You know that I simply adore Micaela. I married her, and we conceived a child during the production.
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Scott, whose THR coverage appears both in print and online, is one of the film industry's most experienced and trusted awards analysts, and possesses one of the strongest track records at forecasting the Oscars. His best showings came in 2006 and 2013, when he called 21 of 24 winners; he was also the only pundit to project long-shot best picture nominations for The Reader (2008), The Blind Side (2009) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). An alumnus of Brandeis University, he previously ran "The Feinberg Files" blog for the Los Angeles Times. He is now a voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, and is writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 350 high-profile Hollywood figures.
Gregg contributes awards news, features online, and "The Race" column in print.
Tim contributes awards news and features, both in print and online.