Those looking for a little comic relief during this caustic election season would do well to check out opening night at the Sacramento Italian Film Festival.
The 34th installment of the festival, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Society of Sacramento, kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday with a screening of the 2015 Italian comedy “Ma Che Bella Sorpresa” (“What a Beautiful Surprise”).
The film, directed by Alessandro Genovesi, stars Claudio Bisio as Guido, a high school literature teacher whose fiancé leaves him for another man. While trying to put his life back together, he ends up falling for his beautiful new neighbor Silvia (actress/model Chiara Baschetti), who seems almost too good to be real. Guido’s former student Paolo (YouTube star Frank Matano) becomes an unlikely friend, helping Guido in his romantic endeavors.
“It’s a humorous picture,” said Bob Masullo, director of the festival and a founding member of the society. “I just wanted to start off on a kind of happy note. Save the heavy dramas for later.”
“Ma Che Bella Sorpresa” – which was based on the 2009 Brazilian comedy “A Mulher Invisivel” – was “very popular in Italy,” Masullo said. It will be shown in Italian with English subtitles.
The 2016-17 Sacramento Italian Film Festival features six movies and runs through May. Films are shown on Friday nights during various months at the Italian Center (6821 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael). Admission is free, but organizers suggest a $10 donation.
“The purpose of showing these films is to encourage people to find out more about Italian culture,” Masullo said.
Masullo said his highlights for this year’s iteration of the festival include “Unbroken” and “The Toast of New Orleans.”
“Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie and released in 2014, stars Jack O’Connell in the real-life tale of Italian American Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track athlete from California who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Zamperini later became a World War II pilot. After a crash landing, he was stranded in the Pacific for 47 days. He eventually was captured by the Japanese and taken to a POW camp.
“Unbroken” was nominated for three Academy Awards and was based on the book of the same title by Laura Hillenbrand. It will be shown Jan. 20.
“The Toast of New Orleans” is a 1950 MGM musical featuring tenor Mario Lanza as a bayou fisherman who reluctantly becomes an opera star. “He made (several) movies … but this was the movie where his voice was at its absolute best,” Masullo said. “So it’s a terrific movie people for people who that like that type of singing. Quasi-operatic.”
“The Toast of New Orleans” is scheduled for April 21.
The remaining films include 2014’s “Il Capitale Umano” (“Human Capital”) on Oct. 21; 2015’s “Se Dio Vuole” (“God Willing”) on Feb. 17; and 1994’s “Il Mostro” (“The Monster”) on May 19. These films will play in Italian with English subtitles.
Masullo said he believes the festival shows Italy as a progressive country, gives Italians in Sacramento a reason to “feel good” about their culture, and also spreads familiarity to people who aren’t Italian themselves.
“I think a lot of people are surprised – and this includes Italian Americans – at how contemporary and modern Italy is,” he said. “A lot of people have this kind of nostalgic image, you know. They’re thinking of Italy the way it was 100 years ago. And Italy, like every other country, has moved into the 21st century.”
Sacramento Italian Film Festival
What: The festival opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, with a screening of the 2015 romantic comedy “Ma Che Bella Sorpresa.”