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Sacramento Italian Film Festival opens with Tuscan-set drama 'Certified Copy'

The Italian Cultural Society of Sacramento kicks off its 32nd annual film festival Friday with a trip to Tuscany and tale about art, attraction, deception and authenticity.

But the director of this critically acclaimed romantic drama doesn’t hail from the boot-shaped country. He’s Iranian.

The first film from celebrated auteur Abbas Kiarostami made outside his native country, “Certified Copy” stars French actress Juliette Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell in his cinematic debut.

Shimell plays James Miller, a historian and author in Tuscany giving a lecture on his latest work, a book about fraud and facsimiles in the art world. Binoche’s character, unnamed in the film, attends the lecture and invites Miller to her shop, where she sells reproductions of sculptures. Flirtation leads to a decision to take a day trip through the Italian countryside. When they are mistaken for a married couple, they continue the charade, which sparks unexpected feelings and insights about aging, relationships and regret.

“We get to see a lot of the scenery of Tuscany, and it’s an interesting story,” said festival host Bob Masullo. “It’s not anything that plays particularly on Italian ethnicity, but it is a story that’s set in Italy about normal people. It has an interesting twist, too.”

With dialogue in English, French and Italian (with subtitles), “Certified Copy” hit U.S. theaters in 2011 to strong notices. New Yorker critic David Denby called it “a brilliant, endlessly fascinating work.” Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman wrote it “has the appeal of a middle-aged ‘Before Sunrise.’ ” In addition, Binoche’s performance earned her the Cannes Film Festival award for best actress.

Kiarostami’s film is one of six scheduled for the festival, which runs through the spring.

Each year Masullo – one of the society’s founding members – selects movies to show over the six-month run. After reading Italian American publications including Fra Noi and Primo, Masullo works with ICS founder Bill Cerruti to choose a group of movies that will serve a number of purposes.

“We want to show what’s being produced in current Italy,” Masullo said. “We also want to show what Italian Americans are doing. There are not that many Italian American films, but the few that are, we try to show one film like that every year.”

The festival focuses on movies that have been released in the past decade, Masullo said. The demand for classic Italian films from the post-World War II era has diminished since channels such as Turner Classic Movies have made them more accessible.

The festival’s Italian American feature, “Love in the Age of Dion,” is set to be shown Oct. 17 as the second film of the season.

Director Philip Cioffari was a schoolmate of Masullo’s, and the film takes place in the Bronx, N.Y., where the two grew up.

It profiles a man named Frankie Razzini, who returns home to find the answers for what went wrong in his life. The leading role is played by Jerry Ferris, best known for winning the reality TV show “The Bachelorette” in 2003.

The final four movies – “The Red and the Blue,” “Ten Winters,” “We Can Do That” and “White as Milk, Red as Blood” – are a collection of award winners in Italian with English subtitles. They will be shown on dates that have yet to be determined.

This selection features a range of Italian cities, which is why Masullo said he chose them.

“They’re basically interesting stories about life in present-day Italy,” he said. “Almost every city in Italy has a unique identity and unique architecture and even a unique dialect. We try to pick them from the different parts of Italy.”

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