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Not just another film about cinema, The Golden Age is a thinly fictionalized salute to a cult filmmaker of the 1970s and 1980s: Annabella Miscuglio, a documentary filmmaker, feminist and film club pioneer who was a magnet for the progressed artists and filmmakers of her day, from Mario Schifano to Jean-Luc Godard. Less of a biopic than an expressionistic reading of Miscuglio’s commanding personality, Emanuela Piovano’s boldly unconventional film suffers from overfamiliarity with its subject which, together with a host of experimental elements, makes for difficult entry for the uninitiated. Laura Morante is well-cast in the central role, but aged in an unlikely white wig most of the time, while around her a bevy of fiercely loyal friends (Gigio Alberti, Gisella Volodi, Giulio Scarpati) intellectually debate the meaning of her life and legacy.
The fact that everyone in the film has passed the mid-life mark and talk about Arabella (Morante) in the past tense is a clue that the heroine is dead, a fact that the convoluted screenplay (based on Francesca Romana Massaro and Silvana Silvestri’s book) coyly dances around. But the signs are obvious. Arabella’s friends begin gathering from far and wide in the astonishingly sun-drenched, picturesque town of Monopoli in Apulia, in Italy’s boot heel. They naturally gravitate to Arabella’s open-air movie theater, where for decades she programmed the films she loved best and where her assistant Vera (played by Morante’s fresh-faced, real-life daughter Eugenia Costantini) carries on the tradition.
A late arrival is Arabella’s son Sid (Dil Gabriele Dell’Aiera), whose barely repressed anger towards his mother suggests that the historic theater will soon be up for sale. Scenes between the two of them act out his resentment, while Arabella lovingly rebuts every accusation. Many of his peeves seem to revolve around her free-wheeling lifestyle and the absence of Sid’s father, but there is no real drama in any of this. Morante’s hoary charm absolves Arabella of all blame, and Dell’Aiera seems far too old to be throwing tantrums.
Also mentioned is the famous (and still unsettled) legal battle launched against Miscuglio and her co-director Rony Daopoulo for favoring prostitution in their 1982 feminist documentary on prostitutes and their male clients, A.A.A. Offresi (A.A.A. for Sale), ironically commissioned by pubcaster RAI television.
Roberto Perpignani performs acrobatic feats editing together the fiction film and excerpts from old movies in 8mm, video, 35mm, etc. Though a lot of the narrative and dialogue are fuzzy in feel, the part that works best is cinematographer Marc Van Put’s sunny, clear-as-day camerawork of Monopoli and Arabella’s fabulous open-air theater. It’s a wonderful visual equivalent to Annabella Miscuglio’s Roman film club Filmstudio, which screened the work of young directors like Nanni Moretti, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, and where Lotte Eisner hand-carried reels of film from Henri Langlois’s Paris Cinematheque.
Venue: Quattro Fontane, Rome
Production companies: Kitchen Film, Testukine in association with RAI Cinema
Cast: Laura Morante, Gigio Alberti, Giselda Volodi, Eugenia Costantini, Dil Gabriele Dell’Aiera, Pietro De Silva, Stefano Fresi, Giulio Scarpati, Elena Cotta, Adriano Apra
Director: Emanuela Piovano
Screenwriters: Francesca Romana Massaro, Emanuela Piovano, Gualtiero Rosella, Silvana Silvestri
Director of photography: Marc Van Put
Production designer: Sergio Cosulich
Costume designer: Lia Francesca Morandini
Editor: Roberto Perpignani
Music: Franco Piersanti
Casting director: Rossella Chiovetta
Sales: Bolero FIlm
Not rated, 94 minutes
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