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There's a lot more to Italian cinema than Clint Eastwood westerns and Fellini flicks -- especially lately. The country's film industry is finally emerging from its post-'70s slump with a crop of promising young directors. And some of the best are screening here in Houston as part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's "New Italian Cinema" series.

"Though there were occasional stunning successes like Cinema paradiso, the Italian film industry was in deep crisis in the 1980s and 1990s because no directors were coming forward to replace the great generation of past artists," says University of Houston professor Alessandro Carrera, who will introduce each of the films. "There may not be a new Fellini here, but these are very promising."

Friday's fare includes Velocità massima, a film about illegal street racers that might be tossed off as Italy's answer to The Fast and the Furious, except for the fact that it has context and character development to go along with the hot babes and cool car crashes. It's followed by Rosa Funzeca, a drama about a hooker who wants to start a new life with her teenage son but ends up back on the streets.

Saturday night, you've got Pater familias, a film about a convict who gets to spend a day away from prison to visit his dying father. Using hidden cameras and a blend of professional and amateur actors, the film revels in the modern-era violence in small towns near Naples. Carrera says American audiences often believe that what they see in a foreign film reflects the reality of that country -- in the case of Italy, Venice canal scenes and cheery gondola operators. But the films in the MFAH's Italian cinema series aren't shallow or cartoonish. "Often," says Carrera, "the result is very grim."

Velocità massima screens at 7 p.m., followed by Rosa Funzeca at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 7. Pater familias screens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 8. Brown Auditorium, 1001 Bissonnet. For a full schedule, call 713-639-7515 or visit $6 per film.

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr