A scene from <i>Magnifica Presenza</i>.

A scene from Magnifica Presenza.

It's not like Canberra is starved for culture, with our strong theatre and arts scene, but with the arrival shortly of Palace Electric Cinema in the already rather arty NewActon precinct, we can expect a few of the films that have traditionally bypassed Canberra to get a guernsey. We can also expect to see a little competition for the many film festivals that make up the cinema calendar.

Palace's national chain of cinemas, with a total of 500 screens across most capital cities, is home to several of the film festivals that currently grace our Arc, Limelight, Dendy, Hoyts and Greater Union screens, and it will be interesting to see who ends up where throughout the year.

The one film festival that was doubtless always going to be part of the new Palace Electric's schedule was the Lavazza Italian Film Festival. Palace Cinemas and Palace Films are a family-owned business run by the Zeccola family. Antonio Zeccola (Tony as everyone in the biz calls him) pinpoints childhood memories of his father hiring the local church for community film screenings in his native Muro Lucano, Italy, as the beginning of a lifelong passion for cinema.

Palace Electric Cinema general manager Lavanna Neal.

Palace Electric Cinema general manager Lavanna Neal. Photo: Elesa Lee

In addition to building the family business from a few suburban cinemas in Melbourne in the 1970s to today's empire, Zeccola has personally nurtured the Italian Film Festival for 12 incarnations, championing Italy's strong cinema culture from a two-cinema event in 2000 to 14 screens and hundreds of sessions in 2012.

The 2012 Italian Film Festival bypassed Canberra in October, Palace no doubt saving the season for its soon-to-be-opened six screens in Canberra's Nishi Building. To open their screens on February 5, Palace have curated what looks to be the best of the 2012 films into a program they're titling the Lavazza Italian Film Festival Canberra.

The season opens with Welcome to the North (Benvenuti al Nord), the second in a series of films beginning with the 2010 film Welcome to the South (Benvenuti al Sud), which also screens.

A scene from <i>Benvenuti al Nord</i>, which will screen at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.

A scene from Benvenuti al Nord, which will screen at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.

Welcome to the South (Benvenuti al Sud) is an Italian-language remake of the wildly successful French comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks), which saw a French postal worker transferred to the career purgatory of the French north, much to the disgust of his big-city wife. In the Italian version, Alberto (Claudio Bisio) gets transferred not to his hoped-for Milan, but to Castellabate in the south of Italy, where, despite the many cultural differences, he begins to fall for the beauty of the local countryside and the simple charm of its people.

In Welcome to the North, it is two years later and Alberto gets his transfer to Milan, accompanied by his small-town postal-clerk friend, Mattia (Alessandro Siani), with a nice reversal of Italy's version of the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry.

South is a better film, but festival audiences will lap both up for their warm parochial comedy.

Welcome to the North has multiple sessions throughout the festival, including the $50 opening-night party on February 5, while Welcome to the North screens on February 8 and 11.

Audiences of the most recent Canberra International Film Festival will remember Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's glorious Caesar Must Die, which won the Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. Intense and original, the Taviani brothers set a staging of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar inside a maximum-security prison, exploring how the real-life Mafiosi and murderers both perform the work and how the play's themes force them to think about their past lives and current predicament. Caesar Must Die screens on February 6, 8 and 10.

Magnificent Presence (Magnifica Presenza) is a winsome comedy that audiences will really enjoy. A ghost story that mixes comedy and melancholy, Ferzan Ozpeteka's film is flawed and a little confused about what genre it wants to be, but I laughed the whole way through.

Elio Germano is great as Pietro, a gay wanna-be actor uncomfortable in his own skin, who moves to the city for his acting career into a palatial house with suspiciously cheap rent. The rent subsidises the fact that his house is haunted with the ghosts of a renowned acting company who died in the house during the war.

As his career is going nowhere, Pietro puts his energies into helping to find the conspirator who led to the murder of his new friends. Inane subplots like the underground transsexual sweatshop Pietro visits during his investigations aside, the film is worth seeing for Germano's performance, which reminded me of Naomi Watts' turn in Mulholland Drive. Magnificent Presence screens on February 8 and 10.

Italian leading man Fabio Volo bears a remarkable resemblance to Hugh Jackman, and his turn in the romantic comedy One Day More (Il Giorno in Piu) is sweet and charming, which it needs to be because his character is such a cad.

Giacomo (Volo) is a 40-year-old with attachment issues; he waves goodbye to the latest in a long line of failed brief relationships at the beginning of the film. Terminally single, he finds himself depended upon to work late and weekends, to babysit for friends, and to attend unwanted social functions. He then invents a girlfriend whose description he models on the beautiful woman he sees every morning on his tram ride to work. The invented girlfriend carries on for a bit too long until one day the girl from the tram (Isabella Ragonese) introduces herself to Giacomo and he begins to see her as a real-life romantic possibility.

One Day More is the kind of film Nora Ephron wishes she wrote, and fans of romantic comedies will appreciate the battle-of-the-sexes dialogue penned by Volo himself, along with his director, Massimo Venier. One More Day screens on February 6, 7 and 11.

Other films to look out for include the 1970s political thriller Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy (Romanzo di una Strage) and Shun Li and the Poet (Io sono Li), both fine films. Italian-American actor John Turturro's latest work as director, Passione - the festival's closing-night film - is also worth a look.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival Canberra screens at Palace Electric Cinema from February 5 to 13. See palacecinemas.com.au.