The Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF) 2023 Capsule Reviews of Select Films

ICFF 2023



The Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF) 2023 takes place from June 27 to July 21 2023 at the historical Distillery District incToronto.


The best of Italian cinema a\will be on display.  For more details and date of the films and program, please check the ICFF website at


Capsule Reviews of Select Films:


THE FIRST DAY OF MY LIFE (El Primo Giorno della Mia Vita)(Italy 2023) **

Directed by Paolo Genovese


Feel-good fantasies are difficult to pull off.  But film history has proven that made well, like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and AFTER LIFE, the result came near masterpieces.  Unfortunately THE FIRST DAY IF MY LIFE dealing with a mysterious man (Tom Servillo)  offering a second chance at life to 4 recent suicides fails miserably.  The man gives them a week to give themselves a second chance, to fall back in love with life and save themselves. It’s a sort of limbo in which the four protagonists observe what the world would be like without them and decide to return to life. Day after day, these four dead men walking are alternately confronted with their traumas. They are at first deprived of their senses, which they then gradually. Initially mistrustful of each other, the four would-be suicides begin to sympathize and make new connections with each other, even if not all of them will be able to reverse their decisions and re-emerge from their darkness.  The ambiguity of the man makes the exercise not too convincing and the film just gets marred down by predictability and melodrama.



DIARY OF SPICES (Diario di Spezie)(Italy 2021 ) ***½

Directed by Massimo Donati


Luca Treves, famous chef and spice expert is hired by wealthy and connected Andreas Dürren- Fischer, famous restorer of Flemish paintings on a trip of the restorer’s work in and around Germany.  Luca and Andreas belong to two different worlds, art and cooking, and they have two opposing characters: the first is shy and awkward, the second is self-confident and worldly.  Luca is looking to expand his horizons with wealthier  clients while maintaining  his restaurant.  He also discovers a rare white caraway spice, the plant he had believed extinct,   Thisstory is intercut with another, a doggedly obsessed detective over a child trafficking case, in which he is impersonally involved owing to his own missing daughter.  The stores are eventually connected in this taut and well paced thriller worthy of a Claude Chabrol murder suspense thriller.


LA NUIT DU 12 (The Night of the 12th) (Frame 2022) ****
Directed by Dominik Moll


Detectives based in Grenoble, south-east France, investigate the death by burning of a young woman, Cara Royer (Lula Cotton-Frapier) walking home from a party. While there are suspects a-plenty, there’s no smoking gun or conclusive proof of guilt.  The case soon becomes an obsession for the newly appointed police captain, Yohan Vives (Bastien Boullion).  The film has already won 7 Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) and won the most prestigious prizes of Best Film and Best Director for Dominik Moll.  Moll’s only film that have been released in Canada is HARRY, HE’S HERE TO HELP in 2000, his breakthrough film followed after 5 years by the Cannes opener LEMMING s brilliant sophisticated thriller that almost no one in Canada saw.  LA NUIT DU 12, based on a true crime book by Pauline Guéna, is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, sensitive, gripping, moody and taut from start to finish.  Director Moll is more interested in the emotions and reactions surrounding the murder from the victim’s parents, friends and acquaintances to the police investigators.  The whodunit element is still there but is secondary to how the murder investigation is taking place. 




Directed by Michele Placido


The film is an intricate and adventurous existence of Michelangelo Merisi, aka Caravaggio, already a pop star in his time, told in his profound contradictions and in the darkness of his impenetrable torment.   As a character says in the movie, he is an extremely talented painter but just a troublemaker, getting into fights and trouble half the time.  Rebellious and restless, devout, and scandalous, independent, and transgressive, the Caravaggio that Placido stages is a cursed artist of absolute talent, but above all a rock star ante litteram, a rebel without a cause forced to face the disturbing implications of a reckless life - with its women and demons - in which genius and unruliness coexist to give us a timeless character and a fascinating and universal icon.  The film opens with him being attacked with his face disfigured.  The film shows only a potion of his life, is not always pleasant watching but feels realistic and accurate.  His homosexuality which was suspected is examined only in the second half of the movie.  The film also stars French heavyweights Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel.


LE OTTO MONTAGNE (THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS) (Italy/Belgium/France 2022) ***½ 

Directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch


It is a long running time of 147 minutes for this epic journey of two males experiencing life and all that life can deliver.   The film opens with two boys, both at the same age of 12, Bruno and Pietro meet each other for the first time in a remote mountain village at the base of the Alps.   Directors an Groeningen and Vandermeersch realize the power of the setting of the film, which is adapted from the award-winning novel by Paolo Cognetti, portraying  through observant detail and stunning landscape photography the profound, complex relationship between Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), who first meet as children there.   Pietro and Bruno remain as boys during the first 30 minutes of the film.  The transition of the two protagonists from boyhood to 31-year old men is unfortunately abrupt, occurring at the 45 minute mark of the film.  One would automatically try to associate each man with the boy that the audience remembers instead of imagining the women as individual characters.  The main lead of the film Luca Marinelli, still relatively unknown in Canada, is a famous star in Italy.  Quite a few of his films have screened locally at the Contemporary Italian Film Festival.  The film ends up a slow but captivating epic journey of friendship and self-discovery set in the breathtaking Italian Alps. THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS (Le Otto Montagne)  is filmed in Italian with a little local Italian dialect.  The film is the Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.


PERSIAN LESSONS (Russia/Germany/Belarus 2020) ***½

Directed by Vadim Perelman


Directed by Vadim Perelman, PERSIAN LESSONS is a captivating Holocaust drama set in occupied France in 1942. The film tells the story of Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), the son of a rabbi from Antwerp, who is captured by SS soldiers and sent to a German transit camp along with other Jews.  In order to escape sudden execution, Gilles pretends to be Persian, inventing a fake "Farsi" language. However, his survival hinges on a life-or-death mission: teaching Farsi to Nazi camp leader Koch (Lars Eidinger), who dreams of opening a restaurant in Iran after the war.

PERSIAN LESSONS boasts stunning cinematography that vividly captures the WWII era, with scenes of trucks transporting prisoners at night and chilling lineups of Jews awaiting execution. The film's production values are exceptional, contributing to an immersive atmosphere enhancing credibility and adding depth to the story.  Overall, PERSIAN LESSONS is an intriguing Holocaust movie that explores the horrors of war while injecting a fresh perspective into a well-worn genre.



IL RITORNO DI CASANOVA (Casanova’s Return )(Italy 2022) **
Directed by Gabriele Salvatores


An ambitious film within a film which the principal protagonist of the film , Casanova, the famed director known as the maestro is making is his alter ego.  And the word ego is the word.  Both have egos so inflated that they downright spoil the entire movie for the reason that these two characters are totally unlikeable and in many ways disgusting.  All they care for is themselves which makes the audience care less for them, and also for this sad movie, which does contain excellent production period values.  The film in the film is shot in colour while the actual events are in black and white.  Leo Bernardi (Toni Servillo again in no fewer than 3 films screened at the ICFF) is an experienced and acclaimed director at the end of his career, who has no intention of accepting his own decline.  For his latest movie, Leo has chosen to tell the story of Arthur Schnitzler's Casanova, who is incredibly like himself, more so than he can imagine. This Casanova is one who has passed his youth: he no longer has his charm and power over women, he no longer has money, and he no longer has the pleasure of travelling around Europe. After years of exile, he has only one goal: to return to Venice, his home. On his journey home, Casanova meets a girl, Marcolina, who awakens his desire for conquest. While trying to seduce her, Casanova will come to the most tragic conclusion: he has become old.  Leo has become tragic as well.  But who really cares?





LA STANEZZA (The Strangeness) (Italy 2022) **
Directed by Roberto Ando


La Stanza is less a biopic of famous Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello than the development and success of his most famous play entitled ‘Six Characters in Search for An Author.   The film is set in Girgenti, 1920.  Nofrio and Bastiano are gravediggers, but also "professional amateur" actors engaged in staging the tragicomedy "La trincea del rimorso, ovvero Cicciareddu e Pietruzzu".  Giovanni Verga's 80th birthday brings Luigi Pirandello back to his hometown, and the death of the playwright's nanny encourages his meeting with the two gravediggers.  The Maestro is in a creative crisis, and by secretly observing the rehearsals of the amateur company of Nofrio and Bastiano he draws inspiration for one of his most important works, Six Characters in Search of an Author.  Toni Servillo, immediately recognizable from Paolo Sorrentino's films, THE HAND OF GOD and THE GREAT BEAUTY plays Luigi with great aplomb and charisma, making the film worth seeing.  The production values are nothing short of excellent as well.  But director Ando’s film struggles hard to hold interest unless one is well versed with the works of Luigi Pirandello.  Otherwise, no one really cares how this play evolves and how this playwright achieves his success.


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Film Review: Mon Crime (The Crime is Mine)

MON CRIME (The Crime is Mine )(France 2022) ***½

Directed by Francois Ozon


In the 1930s, a young struggling actress becomes famous after being accused of the murder of a producer that the audience is led to believe she did not commit.  Or maybe she did actually commit the murder.  The truth comes out at the film’s half mark.

Everyone loves a good play about murder.  THE CRIME IS MINE or MON CRIME is adapted from the Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil’s 1923 French theatre play.  The play survives the test of time and director Ozone (my personal favourites SITCOM, LES AMANTS CRIMINELS) ensures one is constantly watching a film based on one as the film is stagey, but in a good way.

As in any play with murder as its subject, there is a host of suspicious characters.  MON CRIME is not the typical whodunit, but it contains vert intriguing characters.

  • Pauline (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) an up and coming lawyer who is unable to pay rent but ends up defending her roommate, Madeline
  • Madeline (Rebecca Marder) first seen escaping from the residence of a producer who promises her a role in bis latest production.  There is a 5 minute introduction of the film as Madeleine leaves hurriedly and with distress.
  • Andre (Édouard Sulpice), Pauline’s lover who is the wealthy lazy sleaze ball who has never done a decent for of work in his life.  His rich father’s allowance is spent on gambling and he wishes to marry another in order to enjoy his current living.  But Pauline loves this lovable lout.  Maybe there is some good in him and he can change
  • Odette Chaumett (Isabelle Huppert), a silent film star wishing to have a comeback at all costs.   Huppert plays her with all the charm and nastiness, making an appearance at the film’s halfway mark and lifting the film just as it begins to lag.

Ozon has managed to amass quite the French talent available.  This includes Fabrice Luchini as an somewhat inept judge who constantly mistreats his over enthusiastic clerk, Dany Boon as a Master plumber who helps the girls solve more than their plumbing problems and Andre Dussollier as the head of a tire factory (Bonnard’s tires go faster. longer!) facing financial troubles,

Ozon tackles the #MeTooMovement with sexual abuse with scarlet and famous producer here as in the Harvey Weinstein case.  Ozone also champions the power of women, especially when they stick together.

In the midst of Madeleine being accused of murder, friends Madeleine and Pauline go to the cinema to watch Billy Wilder’s BAD SEED. A delicious reference is made in the cinema of a newsreel telling of another famous previous murder during the same 30’s era, of VIOLETTE NOZIERE, the murder later made into a film that starred Isabelle Huppert when she was much younger.

Ozon gets to deliver his elaborate act of female injustice when the prosecutor and defending attorney summarize the case.  It is over-the-top deliberation, full of current references to the Weinstein case.

A new Ozon film is always a sheer delight and he manages to deliver a new one every year, most of them of consistent quality comedies or drama.  MON CRIME is pure period fluff set in the 20’s featuring all the flair of colour, costumes and melodrama that Ozone is famous for.

  THE CRIME IS MINE is now available on demand June 13 from digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.





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Film Review: Mascarade (Masquerade)


Directed by Nicolas Bedos


MASCARADE is a 2022 French comedy-drama film written and directed by Nicolas Bedos. The film premiered and was screened out of competition at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

There are two references to Somerset Maugham at the start of the deliciously wicked film MASCARADE (French spelling for Masquerade).  The film opens with his quote: “The French Riviera is a sunny place for shady people.”  The French Riviera or Le Cote D’Azur is the setting of the film’s story.  The second reference is one of the film’s gay characters (Maugham is himself a gay writer) buying one of the villas owned by Maugham and is unable to keep up with the property expenses.

The film is about a young gigolo, Adrien (Pierre Niney) falling under the spell of a tantalizing con artist, Margot (Marine Vacth).  They devise a devious scheme in pursuit of a life of luxury as hatched under the French Riviera’s burning sun.

The whole cast of characters in Bedo’s film do come across as ‘shady’.

  • First and foremost is Margot (Marine Vacth), the gorgeous con artist who is incapable of loving.  She secretly hides the existence of a daughter and is unable to return the love Adrien has for her.  But the script calls for her to have a change of heart as she feels tenderness for one of her victims, Jean-Charles.
  • Secondl is Adrien (Pierre Niney) the one who falls for Margot.  He is also the gigolo for famous actress Martha (Isabelle Adjani), hiding his affair and love of Margot from his benefactor
  • Martha (Isabelle Adjani) the pompous and egoistic actress rising to fame at all costs
  • Carole (Emmanuelle Devos) faces desperation when her husband finds new love and allows herself a brief fling with Adrien
  • Thomas (James Wilby) the ex-husband of Martha who has an open secret that the whole town knows of, except for Martha.  He is openly gay and cheats on Martha.

The stories unfold as different witnesses take the stand in a court case. The case involves Margot’s attempted murder by Jean-Charles.  A flashback reveals whether he is guilty or innocent.

The film works in the first third till the romance between Adrien and Margot takes full swing.  The case of unrequited and passionate love at all costs have all been seen and done in countless films before.  But actor Vacth is beautiful to watch as is Niney, even though he wears an ugly untrimmed beard half the time.  He still maintains the good looks he displayed in his other films YVES SAINT LAURENT and FRANTZ, both films of which earned him Cesar nominations for best performance.

If only Bedos' film manages\d to hold the interest of the first third, it would have succeeded as a Chabrol-like wicked thriller.  Instead, the film falls into pastiche melodrama filled with characters no one really cares for.

MASCARADE is available to rent from Digital TIFF Lightbox from July the 4th.


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Film Review: Les Enfants de les Autres


Directed by Rebecca Zlotowski


Virginie Efira stars as a teacher whose new relationship with a single father becomes complicated when she begins to connect with his young daughter, Lelia, in this romantic drama. For Rachel (Virginia Efira), each moment with her new boyfriend, Ali (Roschdy Zem), is pure bliss.  They share everything, including his precious four-year-old daughter Leïla (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves).  The situation is precarious: the more time Rachel spends with Leïla, the more she cannot help but feel like a mother to the child.  But Leïla already has a mother, Alice (Chiara Mastroianni) .  Rachel also has a younger sister who is pregnant.  Rachel wants a child of her own but her biological clock is running out.  

It is all about other people's children.  The film plays like a Truffaut movie with the camerawork and focus in and out shots.  The kindness to Rachel’s student is reminiscent of the kindness shown to students in L’ARGENT DE POCHE.  The trouble with this movie is everything falls into place for a happy ending all too easily ending all the drama created into meaningless fluff.

OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN is director Zlotowski’s most personal film to date and is inspired by past relationships.  She aimed to make a sensitive, nuanced portrait of "that secondary character in the story who is usually the stepmother", with a view to deconstructing the stereotypes of this figure.

  OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN which premiered at theVenice Film Festival i competition followed by a Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year will be released in select theatres in Toronto (Carlton Cinema), Ottawa (ByTowne Cinema), Vancouver (VanCity) and Edmonton (Metro Cinema) this Friday June 16th.


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