The only thing close to a scandal at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival happened before the festival got under way, when Italian culture minister Sandro Bondi said he would not attend the festival because of Sabina Guzzanti's film, Draquila: Italy Trembles, which he said "insults the truth and the Italian people."
The French culture minister shot back that Bondi was behaving like a child, and the Cannes festival embraced Guzzanti, a satirist famed for her impersonations of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi; her popular television show was cancelled several years ago under government pressure. Guzzanti's film about the government's exploitation of the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, which left 300 dead and thousands homeless, is hard-headed investigative reporting of political corruption run amok.
Before the second packed screening of Draquila (the title puns on Dracula and the afflicted town), the feisty Guzzanti was warmly introduced to a packed screening by Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux, where she shot right back:
"Our cultural minister has said this film shames Italy. The opposite is true. I look back to the films in the years after the war, that allowed Italy to be loved again after the horrors of fascism, that allowed the world to forgive Italy."
The strange thing was, it wasn't as if Cannes were showing only one Italian film. Friday night was also the occasion for one of the most star-studded events at the festival, the restored print of Luchino Visconti's 1963 film The Leopard. Original stars Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon were on hand, along with everyone from Kate Beckinsale and Benicio Del Toro to Salma Hayek. Italian-American director Martin Scorsese, who introduced the film, described The Leopard as a film that "affects me every day of my life."
The Italian culture minister missed a couple of other significant Italian events, including a master class, essentially an onstage interview with Marco Bellocchio, an Italian director who has had 10 films in the Cannes selection, from Leap into the Void in 1980 to last year's Vincere.
Finally, there was a competition film, Daniele Luchetti's Our Life, which screened on Thursday. A comic drama about a construction worker struggling to take care of his family, the film deals with everyday problems -- illegal workers, bribery and crime money in the construction industry.
In 2008, two films were in competition here. They went on to win major prizes in Europe, which critics said signalled a revival of Italian cinema. They were Il Divo, a biopic of Italian politician Paolo Sorrentino (played by Toni Servillo), dealing with his ties to the Mafia, and Gomorrah, another film dealing with Italian organized crime, and its pervasive influence in the Naples region.
Sabina Guzzanti seems to have it right. Italian cinema is doing splendidly, but what's happening to the rest of the country is a huge cause for shame.