Pupi Avati has made over 30 features, but he’s relatively unknown outside Italy except for The House With the Laughing Windows (1976), an uneven cult horror favorite. Also included in BAM’s eight-film retro, Bix (1991) is a biopic of legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who died in 1931 at 28. Avati played clarinet in a band for eight years; Beiderbecke was his idol, and this film, shot in English, largely in Beiderbecke’s hometown, Davenport, Iowa, is clearly a labor of love. The Story of Boys and Girls (1989), set in the Emilian countryside, turns on the family dramas that develop during a monumental engagement party meal. Set in the fascist ’30s, it’s the one film here with a clear political subtext. Avati hails from Emilia-Romagna, the region that also gave us Antonioni, Bertolucci, Bellocchio, and Fellini. Alone among them, Avati remained loyal to his roots; most of his films are set in his home territory, with subjects taken from the rural mythology of his childhood. In Stars in the Ditch (1979), an 18th-century-set tall tale, an old man and his sons all fall in love with a young woman who arrives at their door one day. She eventually marries father and sons in a single ceremony, and then—well, see for yourself. This elegiac fable is irresistible, and Avati’s remarkable feeling for landscape has never been put to better use.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2005