Palace Cinemas has hosted an Italian Film Festival for 19 years. Festival director Elysia Zeccola has worked on the event for its entire existence, taking on the task of hitting the international circuit and returning with the best Italian movies.

This year Zeccola has rounded up 39 films, ranging from the much-anticipated premiere of Loro from director Paolo Sorrentino, to a run of classic films from decades past. Ahead of the festival screening from mid-September to early October, we sat down with Zeccola to pick out her favourites.

Opening night: Loro
Long before America elected a vulgar, power-mad tycoon as president, Italy road-tested the idea with Silvio Berlusconi. The new flick from director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, This Must be the Place and The Young Pope) about Berlusconi is an epic tale of debauchery, riches and politics, with Toni Servillo playing the garish president.

After being released in Italy in two parts, Sorrentino has recut it into one epic version, premiering here just a few days after its world premiere in Toronto. “What’s fascinating is it’s collision between the profanity of this world of sex and drugs, and the masterful skill of Sorrentino’s direction,” says Zeccola. “Berlusconi was initially happy the film was being made,” she says, “but then he saw it and changed his mind.” Find out why.

Watch the trailer.

Also check out: The Girl in the Fog is an acclaimed crime drama – again starring Toni Servillo, but this time as a small-town detective investigating a disappearance. There’s more than a touch of Coen brothers here.

Happy as Lazzaro
In an idyllic village, a simple peasant boy (Adriano Tardiolo) becomes embroiled in the corrupt plans of the local elite. Then things get weird.

As in her Cannes Grand Prix winning film The Wonders, director Alice Rohrwacher captures rural simplicity with grace, this time adding a layer of magic realism and a dash of whimsy. “I went in not knowing anything about it, and loved this wonderful film,” says Zeccola. “I can’t believe the amount of spoilers in everything I’ve read about it, so I want to stay tight-lipped.”

Watch the trailer.

Also check out: Lucia’s Grace, an unconventional comedy about a woman who finds herself with a guardian angel.

Mild-mannered dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte, who was awarded Best Actor at Cannes) just wants to care for the neighbourhood dogs, dote on his daughter and deal a bit of coke on the side. Then he’s dragged into the world of violence at the behest of local crook Simone (Edoardo Pesce).

Director Matteo Garrone raked in plaudits for his 2008 crime drama Gomorra, and this Cannes hit is generating a similar buzz. “It’s a gripping, superbly acted, intense film experience,” says Zeccola. “Garrone makes Naples almost look like another planet, it’s so far from the postcard-perfect Italy seen in other films.”

Watch the trailer.

Also check out: Put Nonna in the Freezer, a macabre black comedy about a woman getting by with the help of her Nonna’s social security payments. But then Nonna dies. What choice does her granddaughter have?

Two estranged brothers are drawn back together when one of them discovers he is terminally ill. Riccardo Scamarcio (also in Loro) is Matteo, a wealthy playboy; Valerio Mastandrea plays Ettore, the older brother who never left their small town. Selected for the Un Certain Regard award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, this is a beautifully shot and moving film.

“This is the second directorial effort from Valeria Golino and really confirms her strength as a director to watch,” says Zeccola. “Both Scamacio and Mastandrea are terrific.”

Watch a clip.

Also check out: Boys Cry, a stunning drama about a couple of young men who accidentally kill a man tied up with the local mafia and try to turn it to their advantage.

Closing night: Suspiria
Italian master Dario Argento’s best horror film is Suspiria (1977), a vibrant, eerie and ultimately baffling masterpiece about an American teenager (Jessica Harper) uncovering murder and witchy business in a prestigious German ballet school. It’s a head trip, and the rich colour palette and banging soundtrack are astounding in this new 4K restoration.

“It’s the kind of film that elicits a reaction – gasps, laughs, screams,” says Zeccola. “Perfect for the big screen.” A good chance to reacquaint yourself before the remake by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) comes out later this year.

Watch the trailer.

Also check out: A Fistful of Dollars, an undisputed Italian classic about an American abroad, and Clint Eastwood’s first Spaghetti Western.

Book tickets for Palace Cinema’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival now.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Palace Cinema’s 2018 Lavazza Italian Film Festival.