More films from Italy have won the best foreign-language Oscar than from any other country. The European nation took out the first-ever award in the category back in 1947, and last won with 2013's The Great Beauty, racking up 14 gold trophies to date in total. That's quite the feat to brag about — and if you're wondering what sets Italian efforts apart, that's where the Lavazza Italian Film Festival comes in. In fact, this year's lineup even features one of the country's more recent victors, with the World War II-set Life Is Beautiful screening on closing night.
That's the end of the fest, though. Beforehand, the six-week touring event will showcase the greatest of the latest in Italian cinema. Marking its 18th year with 28 flicks, it includes everything from holiday envy-inducing comedies to playful takes on fate to straight-from-Cannes crime dramas and these: our five must-see films from the 2017 program.
And every good Italian film should be accompanied by a good Italian meal, so we've picked out five pizza and pasta-wielding eateries nearby the festival's cinemas for your pre- of post-film dinner.
When we say that 18-year-old sisters Daisy and Viola are joined at the hip, we mean that literally. The conjoined twin protagonists of Indivisible, there's nothing one does that the other doesn't witness, whether they're singing at weddings, being used as a donation incentive at their local church, or accosted by fans who want to touch their flesh. Then a Swiss doctor promises the impossible, and they start to contemplate time apart. Director Edoardo De Angelis turns the scenario into a sensitive and involving drama, helped by excellent performances from real-life, non-attached twins Angela and Marianna Fontana.
What to eat? Go full family drama. If you're catching the film at Palace Verona, we recommend heading down to Napoli nel Cuoro, running on five generations of Italian family expertise. Try the capricciosa, with artichokes, mushrooms and olives. There are more than 20 other varieties, available in one-metre and half-metre bases — enough wood-fired pizza to feed the largest of families.
Most people don't just drink coffee — they can't get by without it. With that in mind, imagine how many caffeinated brews must've been consumed during the making of the movie that takes its name from the liquid substance. Our guess: plenty. Inspired by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's pre-Birdman and The Revenant Oscar-winner Babel, the film jumps into three loosely connected tales about folks connected to the awakening beverage, charting the exploits of a barista, a pawnbroker with an antique coffee urn and the daughter of a coffee farmer. You probably don't need us to tell you that you'll want to take a cuppa into the session with you.
What to eat? The Italians like their coffee — and that's a big reason why Australia does too. If you're at Norton Street Cinemas, head a few blocks north to Aperitivo. After finishing their risotto of the day with aged carnaroli rice, you can fix yourself up with a really good tiramisù. Or, sit back with an espresso martini or a doppio (double espresso). You probably won't be sleeping afterwards.
Life goals time: when you're a grandparent, here's hoping that you're as dynamic and carefree as the subjects of this documentary. Sea Dreaming Girls travels to the mountainous Italian village of Daone, where a group of nannas have been getting together for 20 years. To celebrate their big occasion, they plan a trip to the sea — a first for many of them. Their determination to chase their dreams is the stuff that documentarians' own fantasies must be made of, making for an engaging, heartwarming, amusing and inspiring film with plenty of heart.
What to eat? The Italians are almost completely surrounded by ocean, so of course they've incorporated the sea into their diet. At Fernandos, another Little Italy institution, has half a menu of seafood options, including gamberoni all'aglio (spicy prawns in a sizzling hot pot) to start, and the spaghetti marinara for mains (with gulf prawns, black mussels, squid rings and vongole in a Napoli secret sauce).
When an ex-con returns to his Roman home, he has noble aims in mind. Like many a person given a second chance, I Was a Dreamer's protagonist is eager to improve his family's lives, even if things don't always turn out as planned. What might sound like a routine, been-there-seen-that scenario seethes with realism, not only thanks to Italy's hefty experience in the genre — the country's neo-realist credentials go all the way back to the 1930s — but courtesy of its star. Fresh face Mirko Frezza plays the lead role and informs the feature's narrative, which is loosely based on his own life.
What to eat? If you enjoyed this down-to-earth film, you'll probably enjoy some down-to-earth dinner. Long-running Bill and Toni's will do the job — it's affordable, enduring and filling. Try their lasagne or their veal schnitzel with cheese. It's within walking distance (or a short taxi) from Palace Verona or the Chauvel.
Couldn't make it to the Venice Film Festival, which just finished up on September 10? Us neither. Thanks to Emma, however, you won't have long to wait for one of the fest's titles. Featuring Italian star Valeria Golino, the romance tells of a recently-divorced blind woman's new relationship with a womanising ad exec, turning their exploits into a thoughtful drama. It comes to Australia just after its local release — and for long-time European cinema fans, it's also the latest flick from Bread and Tulips' director Silvio Soldini, which was the Italian film to see back in the '00s.
What to eat? Here's something a little fancier for those who enjoy romantic dramas: Capriccio Osteria & Bar offers something with a bit of complexity, for those coming from Norton Street Cinemas. Try the roast pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with sage brown butter and almonds, or the hand-cut pappardelle with red wine beef cheeks, parsnip and horseradish gremolata.
The 2017 Italian Film Festival will be at Sydney's Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona and Chauvel Cinemas from September 12 to October 8. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the festival website.