The five Italian films we have selected for this year’s Country Focus illuminate the country’s proud record of innovation and passionate engagement.

Lucania, which made its first appearance yesterday (8 June) but will continue to be available until Saturday at 8.30pm, is the story of a young mute girl who lives with her embattled father on his run-down farm. When he is menaced by local thugs, she uses her gift of second sight to come to his aid. Lucania, incidentally, was the historical name for the Italian province in which the film is set.

Darkness (Buio) could not be more different. A dark story of survival in a post-apocalyptic world, it tells of three girls held captive in a remote mansion by their paranoid – or simply abusive – father. A combination of horror, fairy-tale and feminist drama, this is a startling first feature by Emanuela Rossi. First shown last night (8 June) and available until Saturday at 9.00pm. That’s when our special five-film bundle comes to an end.

In Nevia, debut director Nunzia De Stefano focuses on a settlement in a container park on the outskirts of Naples; she spent 10 years living in something similar. With a brilliant central performance from Virginia Apicella as Nevia, the film tells a story of survival and tenacity in dispiriting surroundings. A cinematography winner at the 2019 Venice Festival, it is shown first today (9 June) at 8.00pm and will be available for seven days.

Tomorrow (10 June) at 7.30pm we have the launch of One More Jump, an inspiring feature-length documentary about the Gaza parkour team, who practise their sport while dreaming of an escape to Europe. Parkour involves running, jumping, vaulting and somersaulting across rooftops; with its ruins and bomb sites, Gaza makes the perfect environment. Whereas Western parkour is grounded in hip-hop, commercialism and the aesthetics of advertising in Gaza it is a gesture of revolt, and one feels acutely the frustration in these lives. Available for seven days.

Finally, on Friday (12 June), starting at 8.30pm, we have another first feature. Paradise (Una nouva vita) recounts the story of Calogero, aka ‘Alfio’, who witnesses a Mafia murder and goes into witness protection in a tiny village in the remote Friuli mountains of north-eastern Italy. He leaves behind his pregnant wife and is somewhat baffled by the ways of the locals, but then another Sicilian turns up and Alfio’s sense of security is shattered. Ironic comedy shades into something more touching and profound. Available for seven days.

These five new films represent the current flowering of the one of the greatest cinema cultures in the world. Film in Italy began in the final years of the 19th century, shortly after the Lumière Brothers had given their first private demonstrations of moving pictures in Paris. The first Italian films, documenting daily life, were made by Lumière trainees.

Since then, various fashions in cinema have come and gone: biblical and literary epics; futurist provocations; films about the wealthy, set in luxurious apartments and created under the eyes of Mussolini’s censors.

The golden period for Italian film came at the end of the Second World War, with the rise of “neorealism”. The films were marked by an interest in working-class life, an absence of gloss, shooting in available light and sometimes using non-professional actors. The great neorealist films include Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and Vittorio De Sica’s beautiful, sad and poetic Bicycle Thieves and Miracle in Milan. These films offered a serious critique of post-war Italy’s materialistic values, albeit with a touch of sentimentality.

The next great period is sometimes called the Italian New Wave, and it includes works by Federico Fellini, who pioneered a visually stunning and intelligent style in such films as La Strada and La Dolce Vita, the latter a daring satire of the Catholicism that followed the director’s loss of faith. Meanwhile, Michaelangelo Antonioni made altogether cooler, more intellectual films about alienation and loss.

The most political of the New Wave artists was the Marxist poet and writer Piers Paulo Pasolini. Beginning with a sort of neorealism in such stunning epics as The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, he moved on to a mixture of myth and surrealism. Later came Bernardo Bertolucci, notably both for intimate dramas such as Last Tango in Paris and lavish co-productions such as 1900 and The Last Emperor.

Thereafter it is true to say that Italian cinema lost its way, picking up again with such nostalgia-drenched crowd-pleasers as Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino. Now it is in fine shape again, as is shown by our five films, available as a bundle at a special price of £22.45. After Saturday (13 June) at 8.30pm, the bundle will no longer be available, but the individual films will still be available for rental.

For details of the bundle go to: https://ciff.shift72.com/bundle/italian-films/ https://ciff.shift72.com/bundle/italian-films/