IN CONJUNCTION with the Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945 exhibit currently underway at Portland Art Museum, the NW Film Center explores the cinema of Italy since the decline of neorealism in the early 1950s. The predictable selections are here: Federico Fellini's debauched La Dolce Vita (screening Fri March 6) and Michelangelo Antonioni's bleak L'Avventura (Fri March 13) are film-school staples that reflected the decadence of Italian culture following the miracolo economico that rose in tandem with the global post-war boom. But the series' alternate entries from these iconic directors are more illuminating: Antonioni's Le Amiche (Sat March 21 & Sun March 22) is an unsettling mixture of melodrama and emotional detachment, and Fellini's Giulietta Degli Spiriti (Sat March 14 & Sun March 15) is a garish, acid-trip plunge into fantasy and indulgence, perfectly marking the halfway point between his films 8 1/2 and Satyricon.
The fabulous clothes, from tasteful to preposterous, might be the link to the museum's exhibit, but the most worthwhile film of this series has the most tenuous connection. Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso (Sat March 21) is a fantastic, hilarious, and touching buddy comedy with Jean-Louis Trintignant and an incredible Vittorio Gassman. The two careen around Italy in a Lancia Aurelia Spider (complete with in-dash turntable!), wreaking havoc and making merry at every stop. The movie's packed with lust, humor, boredom, booze, and terrible Italian driving.
Some American perspectives on the Italian culture of the period round out the series: William Wyler's Roman Holiday (Sat March 7 & Sun March 8) is a near-perfect romantic comedy with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck; David Lean's spinster-on-holiday travelogue Summertime (Sun March 15) might as well have been called Venetian Holiday; and Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (Fri March 20 & Sun March 22) is a decidedly unrosy look at a Spanish dancer turned international film star.