You may not have noticed that your favourite movie or television show has been created by a Québécois filmmaker. Did you love the high drama and intensity of the thrillers Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015)? Then you’re a fan of Québec-born director Denis Villeneuve. What about the series Big Little Lies (2017-19) and Sharp Objects (2018)? They were both directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, born and raised in Montréal. The incredibly talented Montréal filmmaker and actor Xavier Dolan’s first English-language film The Death & Life of John F. Donovan premiered at TIFF in 2018.
In recognition of Vaughan Public Libraries marking five years of expanded French services, as well as the recent release of the highly anticipated Dune (2021), Villeneuve’s latest sci-fi blockbuster, I wanted to highlight these three Canadian filmmakers from Québec who have made their mark in Hollywood with their distinct visions, styles, and a dash of je ne sais quoi. Their earlier French-language work demonstrates their skill and talent and hints at the larger projects that were to come. Check them out at your local VPL bibliothèque!
Fellini, Bertolucci, Antonioni, Rossellini, Leone. Everyone listed here is a) an iconic and generally well-regarded Italian film director and b) absolutely not the subject of this blog entry.
Instead I’m going to look at a very different sort of Italian filmmaker and the films they made, none of which are likely being considered for their own Criterion Collection release any time soon. (One of my alternate title choices was Italian Movies: The Not Exactly Criterion Edition) I’m referring to the trend in Italian crime films from the late 1960 into the mid-70s called Poliziotteschi.
Before I jump in with a quick summary of Poliziotteschi for the few readers who aren’t already fans of these decades-old Euro-crime thrillers I should add that most of the films mentioned here are available for streaming on Kanopy through the library.
My love of Italian crime films did not fully bloom until fairly recently. A few years ago, I started bringing home some Italian made Westerns (aka Spaghetti Westerns) from the library’s movie collection. Once those were exhausted, it was followed by a steady flow of Italian crime films (Poliziotteschi) and Italian horror-mystery (Giallo) from the 1970s. Italian crime film directors of the day wore their influences on their sleeves. They watched American films such as Bullitt, The French Connection, The Godfather, Dirty Harry, Serpico and Death Wish and I assume thought to themselves “Why not us?”
The Italian film industry of the time seems to have never met a single mini-trend in popular cinema it didn’t try to exploit and make their own. With mixed results. American films provided the inspiration, Italian directors provided the formula: Watch, imitate, repeat (It’s a small feat of linguistic contortionism that I have avoided using “rip off” here) until some level of financial success followed. Once they had a hit, like a stunt driver in their films’ obligatory car chase scenes, they kept the pedal to the medal churning out film after film in a movie-making-mill. Each trend was ridden remorselessly hard until it was bled dry financially and creatively. However, the fact is, the creative teams behind these movies put their own wonderfully unique stamp on the films that weren’t found in their American counterparts.
First a story:
About two months ago I was working at Bathurst Clark Resource Library and a woman came over to the desk and asked for help using the computer. We got to talking and realized that I speak three of the five languages she speaks (guys, she speaks FIVE languages fluently – I am so jealous!). What followed was a conversation in which English, Spanish and Hebrew (with a few words in Russian and French) were pretty much interchangeable. We talked about her life, mine, how we each came to speak these languages (her story was so much more interesting then mine).
Then we started talking about movies. She asked for Israeli film recommendations, which I am now sharing with you, and offered a recommendation for the following two.
Honestly, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my entire career as a library employee. I love to recommend things to our patrons, but there is something so very special about a patron recommending something to you.
And now the recommendations: Continue reading