You could definitely say that Marilyn Kreiger has a great job. As public relations director for Winebow, a major importer and distributor of wine and spirits from around the world with headquarters in Montvale, she gets to travel twice a year to Italy. On top of that, the Momo brothers (of Mediterra, Therasa’s Cafe, and Witherspoon Bread Company) met Krieger at a wine event, learned of her expertise and her background in Italian cinema, and hatched the idea of Cinema E Cibo, a series of four Italian film screenings at Princeton Public Library followed by dinner and post-film discussion at Mediterra. Krieger selected the films and will be on hand for the post-film discussions at Mediterra — and of course she helped choose the wines.
Cinema E Cibo kicks off with a screening of “The Bicycle Thief” on Tuesday, April 24, at the Princeton Public Library. “This job is a wonderful fit,” Krieger says. “It feeds my passion for wine and food, my desire to work with people and uses much of what I’ve learned in my years of living abroad.”
The programs are an expansion of the successful showings outdoors on the Plaza in front of Mediterra which have brought filmgoers out on summer evenings for the past three years. The restaurant will follow each award-winning film with a five-course dinner with wines and an open roundtable discussion of the film.
Krieger grew up in Pasadena, California, the daughter of a civil engineer and an artist/teacher. After earning a bachelors in comparative literature at the University of California-Irvine, she went on to earn a masters in comparative literature at the University of Washington-Seattle and a Ph.D. in Italian Studies at Columbia University. She not only wrote her dissertation on Italian film but spent a year in Rome as a Fulbright Scholar and another year in Naples as part of her graduate studies, where she was involved in interviewing filmmakers and researching archival film depictions of rural Italy. Her international background also includes a year as an undergrad exchange student in Gottingen, Germany.
After completing her dissertation, Krieger moved beyond academia to work as a writer and editor and in 2006 she joined Winebow.
The first film in the Cinema E Cibo series, “The Bicycle Thief,” directed by Vittorio De Sica, is a particular favorite of Krieger’s. “I first saw the film during my first year as a grad student in an Italian Film course. Since then I’ve seen it maybe seven or eight times. I remember seeing it some years ago at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) film theater. It was so great to see it as it was meant to be seen — on the big screen in a ‘real’ theater setting. As much as I love watching movies at home and enjoy my Netflix account, it’s fun and refreshing to experience the film as part of an aduience.”
A 1948 film, “The Bicycle Thief” is the earliest of the four scheduled films. It will be shown in a digitally remastered version. A touchstone of Italian Neorealism, many consider it to be a cinematic masterpiece. Filmed on the streets of Rome, with amazing performances by a non-professional cast, “The Bicycle Thief” reveals the hardship and despair of post-war Italy in a profoundly moving story of a man’s struggle to provide for his family.
In postwar America, accustomed to the glitz of Hollywood productions, “The Bicycle Thief” was an introduction to a new genre of film that startled movie audiences. Neorealism often refers to films of working class life, set in the culture of poverty, filmed with non-actors, and with the implicit message that in a better society wealth would be more evenly distributed. Wealth, in this film, is illustrated as the ability to buy a plate of spaghetti.
“As a denunciation of postwar misery in 1948,” Krieger says, “‘The Bicycle Thief’ socially engaged its audience and invited viewers to embrace the drama and passions of its characters in a direct way that eschewed the formulas of Hollywood and commercial cinema.” Krieger says there is no doubt that the film is relevant for today’s audiences. “It’s a human story about the struggling lower-class, about the complex psychological dynamic between a father and son, and about the moral quandaries of a man who is simply trying to survive in an unfair world.”
The film tells the story of Ricci, who joins a hopeless queue every morning looking for work. One day, there is a job — for a man with a bicycle. But Ricci’s bicycle has been pawned. He is able to redeem the bicycle, however, by exchanging it for the family’s linens. The much desired job is a poster-hanger. But after Ricci puts up a Rita Hayworth portrait, the bicycle is stolen. Father and son bond in the search; the police are no help in the jungle of Rome.
In one scene, Ricci spots the bicycle thief and pursues him into a brothel. The film’s writer, Cesare Zavattini, wrote in his journal about how he and De Sica visited a brothel to do research for the film, and later visited the Wise Woman, a psychic, who inspires one of the characters.
The movie was voted the greatest film of all time by the British film magazine Sight & Sound in 1952. In the year of its release it won a special Academy Award before there was a category for foreign films.
“Le Notte di Cabiria” (Nights of Cabiria), which screens on Tuesday, June 26, was released in 1957 and showcases a vital female protagonist — rare in Italian films of its time, according to Krieger. “In this Fellini masterpiece,” she says, “Giuletta Masina gives an unforgettable performance as Cabiria, the tough-talking streetwalker who seeks true love and happiness. With brilliant mastery, Masina’s facial expressions and gestures evoke a wide range of emotions and powerful imagery in this visually stunning and lyrical film.” Fellini won an Oscar for best foreign film for “Nights of Cabiria” and Masina won the award for best actress at Cannes. The Broadway musical “Sweet Charity” was based on this film.
“I Soliti Ignoti” (Big Deal on Madonna Street), which screens on Tuesday, September 11, is Mario Monicelli’s hilarious caper that follows a group of bumbling criminals in a series of satirical twists and turns. The film leaves viewers rooting for these likeable down-and-outs, a formidable all-star cast that includes Marcello Mastoianni, Vittoria Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, and Toto.
‘Divorzio all’ Italiana” (Divorce Italian Style), which screens on Tuesday, December 4, is a satiric farce with tongue in cheek humor. Released in 1962, this comedy stars Marcello Mastroianni as Baron Cefalu, who becomes romantically interested in his young, nubile cousin. Relying heavily on a colorful backdrop of Sicilian stereotypes, the movie is a witty indictment of Italian machismo — especially when one remembers that when the movie was made, divorce was illegal in Italy. Krieger says the Oscar the film received for best screenplay was well deserved.
For the dinners that will follow the screenings, Krieger has thematically paired Italian wines with each of the four films. For example, after “The Bicycle Thief,” she says, Mediterra will celebrate father/son teams in the wine industry, with tastings from Zardetto, Tiefenbrunner, Librandi, Poggio Scalette, and Nardini. After the showing of “Cabiria,” to celebrate women in Italian wines, there will be wines from Argiolas, Zenato, Allegrini, Montevetrano, Maculan. The dinner after “Big Deal” will feature Italian wines that, because they are from lesser known regions and grapes, do not always get the recognition they deserve — vintners include Aminea, Librandi, Di Majo Norante, Castellare, and Botromagno. “Yet, as our tasting will show,” Krieger says, “these are true gems that reflect the very special locations where they are grown.” “Divorce Italian Style” will correlate with wines from Sicily — Tasca d’Almerita, Morgante, Terre.
Salvatore Galati of Winebow, who works closely with the Terra Momo group, has worked with Krieger in organizing the Cinema e Cibo series. A native of Puglia, Italy, Galati will be on hand at Mediterra after the film screenings to discuss the wines.
“Princeton is connected to Italy through a large Italian population and through our sister city, Pettoranello,” says Barbara Silberstein, media librarian at the Princeton Public Library. Many of the first immigrants from Pettoranello, a city of about 500 in southern central Italy, worked at Princeton University as stone cutters in the 1800s. Today nearly 3,000 descendents of Pettoranello live in the Princeton area. The Princeton Pettoranello Sister City Foundation was officially launched in 1992. One of its projects was restoring the award-winning Pettoranello Gardens off Mountain Avenue.
“We have a large collection of Italian films which are very popular here,” says Silberstein. For those who love Italian film, the Cinema E Cibo series will give audiences a chance to see classic movies like “The Bicycle Thief” where they belong — on the big screen. Whether you plan to see it for the first — or the 50th time — you’re likely to agree with film critic Roger Ebert, who revisited “The Bicycle Thief” upon its re-release 50 years after its debut and described the film as as “standing outside time. A man loves his family and wants to protect and support them. Society makes it difficult. Who cannot identify with that?”
Cinema E Cibo, Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 p.m. Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. Screening of “Ladri di Biciclette” (The Bicycle Thief), 1948, directed by Vittorio De Sica. A touchstone of Italian Neorealism, “The Bicycle Thief” has achieved international acclaim as a cinematic masterpiece. Dinner paired with Italian wines and post-film discussion following at Mediterra. Films are free. Dinner, $65. 609-924-8822. For dinner reservations call 609-252-9680.
“Le Notte di Cabiria” (Nights of Cabiria), Tuesday, June 26, 6 p.m.
“I Soliti Ignoti” (Big Deal on Madonna Street), Tuesday, September 11, 6 p.m.
“Divorzio all’Italiana” (Divorce Italian Style), Tuesday, December 4, 6 p.m.