(Taormina, Italy) What happens when an entire city is either watching a movie projected on a massive screen inside an ancient theatre, or flooding bars and homes to watch the country's first game in the world soccer championship?
Saturday night witnessed such a perfect storm in Taormina, the high-end Sicilian beach town that sits under the volcanic Mt. Etna. Inside the Grand Hotel Timeo, a private party on the huge terrace was celebrating opening night of the 60th annual Taormina Film Festival. Among the stars garnering the pops of pulsating paparazzi were Claudia Cardinale, a bit wobbly but still radiant at 76, and Raoul Bova, a 42 year-old heartthrob who is hugely popular in Italy and was seen in the American film The Tourist.
The wattage grew even more intense as thousands hiked up the hill--some in stylishly daunting stilettos-- to the Teatro Greco, where at 8 p.m. the opening film--the dubbed version of How to Slay a Dragon 2--was shown. The Teatro is a preserved archeological site now used as a cultural hub for films to live drama to fashion to concerts.
When the film ended, the crowd poured back down in search of one of the countless television sets. Soccer, (or futball) of course, is second only to pasta in terms of Italian passions. There was boundless excitement, not to mention grappa, as the game against England began at midnight. But about twenty minutes in, all went black and you could literally hear the electricity giving in.
They say if you take their hands away, Sicilians cannot talk. Suffice to say, there was a lot of hand emoting as everything faded to black. Only a full moon and Etna's creeping, bubbling lava broke through what was truly an eerie and colorless scene.
"Too much power! Too much power!" claimed the hotel's desperate proprietors, trying everything within their own power to fix the situation. It was at least another hour before the lights--and screens--returned. Around 2 a.m., the honking and cheers began, so those who had retired early didn't need to wait till morning to learn who had won. Italy's next game is Friday against Costa Rica.
And the city is on watch, since the film festival continues. Speaking of the latter, I was fortunate enough to get a few moments--"we love the Huffington Post!" squealed a publicist--with Claudia Cardinale. I asked what she recalled of her most successful American film, The Pink Panther. "Oh my god," she gushed," it was fantastic. David Niven said to me something I never forget. He said, 'aside from spaghetti, you are Italy's greatest gift to the world."
Cardinale also won many hearts as the sultry female lead in The Leopard, adapted from the country's most popular novel ever. (The festival is presenting a documentary on the subject). Sunday night, Clint Eastwood's The Jersey Boys (Yes, dubbed.--who knows what Frank Valli would sound like in Italian?) debuted and U.S. stars Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, Melanie Griffith and Eva Longoria will be honored or featured in some way throughout the week. There is also a tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Film festivals now basically occur in every town with more than five people and a movie screen, but Taormina's--rather like America's Telluride--remains one of the small and treasured ones. The Italians do love movies and life has gone grandly on post-Fellini. (The Great Beauty won last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar)
So, for Italians, particularly in a jewel of a town surrounded by three seas, and near the hills where Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes for those movies---this is sort of the ideal week. At least if the Azzurri (nicknamed The Blues) wins its next game and the electricity stays strong.