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:: Lygon Street - Si Parla Italiano

Lygon Street - Si Parla Italiano is a documentary long overdue for many immigrant Italians who came to Australia after World War 2. Although my family wasn't “very” close to Lygon Street, we got to know many of the subsequent characters that adorned the vibrant Little Italy part of Melbourne. Narrated by Anthony LaPaglia, this documentary is at its most fascinating in its first half hour, which shows a handful of surviving old timers reminiscing about their early days in Carlton - mostly of the restaurant and cafe trade. This was a rare get-together of some of Carlton's famous Italians over a hearty lunch. LaPaglia's worthy narration keeps the film from feeling too much like a history lesson.

The influence of several of the great innovators became widespread across the Victorian and Australian landscape. Directors Angelo Pricolo and Shannon Swan have provided a fascinating insight into some of the people who shaped Italian culture and brought what is second nature to many Australians now - coffee, pasta, pizza, olive oil and style. It was in Lygon Street, Carlton that Australia's first espresso machine was installed and where Australia's first large pizzeria (Toto's) opened. Personalities shown in the film were instrumental in iconic establishments such as University Cafe, Donninni's. Brunetti's and L'Alba.

It’s also rich, often joyful, and filled with wonderful interviews. These men - the women didn't start arriving until the late 1950s - originally came here on two-year contracts to work, but when a recession hit, they were jobless and put into detention. The documentary explains that there was much to complain about in the detention centre, but it was the tasteless food that caused the uprising. The complaints led to Italians being put into the kitchen. Then, what a difference! These men soon went on to establish Little Italy in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton. These café owners and humble restaurateurs were pioneers, but they didn't know it.

For all its charms, the film does have the unexplained. One aspect is the dismissal of the street's pre-Italian history. The narration points to the street being nothing special - just an old-school Jewish shopping strip. Well, that may be a story for another time. Mick Gatto has a crack about the local Mafia influence, saying that “The Mafia's all in the movies. It's nonsense.”

Lygon Street: Si Parla Italiano is an important film - a story about an ethnic group, once held in disdain, that brought a richness to Australia – something now inseparable from this country’s cultural fabric. It's a must for local history buffs, and for anyone interested in the broader story of how Italian influences have reshaped Australia.

Lygon Street: Si Parla Italiano is screening exclusively to Cinema Nova in Carlton from November 14.