Friday, September 2, 2011

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: 20 Sigarette [20 Cigarettes] (Aureliano Amadei, 2010)

What is most extraordinary is that the events depicted in 20 Cigarettes are all true - based on debut writer/director Aureliano Amadei’s actual experiences in Iraq in 2003.

20 Cigarettes is the shocking tale of the 28 year-old anti-war activist, played by Vinicio Marchioni, who receives a privileged offer from a family friend, director Stefano Rolla (Girorgio Colangeli), to fly to Iraq and work as an assistant director and cameraman on his new film about the Italian Military “peace mission.” 

Arriving at camp, Aureliano, though he has been told there has been an extended cease-fire and believing the war to be over, remains unconvinced about his safety, but no less naïve about his irresponsible and foolhardy ‘internship’. He views it as an opportunity to be a part of something important and as a way out of his ‘slacker’ lifestyle back in Italy. Thrust into this foreign world, Aureliano quickly makes acquaintances and is surprised to discover a brotherhood of shared values, most notably with one of the soldiers, Massimo Ficuciello (an effortlessly compelling Alberto Basaluzzo). 

On just the second day at the HQ, Aureliano accompanies Rolla and Ficuciello out into the desert with a squad of soldiers. At one instance they find themselves lost on the way to the Nasiriyah Military Police HQ. As the men consult a map, the film shifts to adopt a first person perspective, as Aureliano's hand-held footage nervously scours the seemingly endless desert, depicting it as a silent menace as the effective guitar-heavy score begins to build. Having started out with an ironic humour, and an oddball performance from the charismatic Marchioni, we see the film seamlessly shift to one of heightened tension and atmosphere. 

Within minutes after arriving at the HQ, Aureliano is caught in the middle of an act of terrorism as suicide bombers drive a tanker into the building, killing all of the soldiers present on screen just moments before, and civilians in the area also. Aureliano, still holding the camera, is thrown into the dirt by the blast. He manages to clamber to shelter, capture the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and ultimately find rescue. 

As he rides in the back of a jeep, nesting the head of a dead Iraqi youth in his lap, his screams of anguish are bloodcurdling. Amazingly, he survives, is shipped back to Rome for further operations and recovery, and lives to direct this film about his experiences. While in hospital, his future wife to be, Claudia (an excellent Caroline Crescentini), assists his recovery every step of the way as he is hounded by a string of reporters. He is even visited by Ficuciello's parents, which results in one of the most affecting moments.

It took some time before I tied in the film’s title and the opening monologue about cigarettes to the anti-war messages of the film and Aureliano's personal story, but ultimately, it took less than 20 cigarettes (which for a chain smoker is not a lot) for his life to change after arriving in Iraq. There are several amusing reactions to the discipline about smoking at camp, as he counts each cigarette he smokes. Aureliano manages to maintain quite a sense of humour, despite the tragedy, but it is evident that he will forever be scarred by the memory of that fateful day. Vinicio Machioni’s performance here is exceptional, whether he is relaying a charismatic rambunctiousness and naivety, or being emotionally distraught, he delivers with great conviction.

The highlight of the film is without a doubt the attack, which is one of the most harrowing, and technically ingenious sequences I have seen in a long time. Captured brilliantly in such a way (from the point-of-view of Aureliano) to accentuate the horrors and confusion of the aftermath and present his quite astounding ordeal, the film certainly shifts in an unexpected direction. Aureliano wasn’t a hero. He's just a regular guy who was caught where he shouldn't have been and is lucky to be alive, and one who reacted no different to how you and I would have. We see his scramble to safety (one bloodied hand at a time), which is what makes the claims of a soldier, who boasts about saving Aureliano's life, so maddening. 

While it is powerful autobiographical account, 20 Cigarettes also works as an anti-war film, with Aureliano making a point of recognising those that died during the conflict, and not just those that survived. He denies placing fault on anyone - but through the events in the film, fault can be found everywhere. He is even reprimanded by a former anti-war buddy, who visibly expresses his disgust about how hie views have changed as a result of his experiences. An absolute must-see at the upcoming Lavazza Italian Film Festival, 20 Cigarettes has already been credited with a number of awards, including Best Italian Film at Venice in 2010.

20 Cigarettes is playing at Palace Norton Street on Friday 16th September (7.00pm), Wednesday 21st September (7.00pm), Tuesday 27th September (7.00pm), Sunday 2nd October (3.45pm) and Monday 3rd October (9.15pm)

The film is also playing at Palace Verona on Saturday 17th September (4.30pm), Tuesday 27th September (4.00pm), Saturday 1st October (8.45pm) and Sunday 2nd October (2.00pm)

Finally, you can also catch it at Chauvel Cinema on Sunday 18th September (1.00pm), Monday 19th September (6.00pm) and Monday 3rd October (8.15pm)


  1. Good review, I quite enjoyed this one as well.

  2. I'm getting a massive James Dean wibe off of that Italian dude.

  3. @ Bonjour - Thanks. Yeah, from the Festival guide I was sent it seemed to be the one that stood out. I was glad to receive a screener. The film shifted dramatically from what can almost be described as a comedy, to a horror film for a while there, before calming down and becoming an extraordinary debut; a personal experience that doubles as an effective anti-war drama.

    @ Anna - Yeah, there is a resemblance actually. He gives a good performance in this! Worth a look if you find it playing in your city!

  4. Yes, I gave this 8/10 when I saw it too. Very nice write-up!

  5. Thanks Colin. Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I had a read of your review. I'd give it an 8/10 too! Nice work!