Although the pope has left the United States for Italy, a little bit of Italy will be found on Yale’s campus this weekend. The third annual Italian Film Festival — sponsored by Yale’s Italian Department, the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, the Whitney Humanities Center and the Office of Public Affairs — launches Thursday night with a screening of Ettore Scola’s 2001 film “Concorrenza Sleale (Unfair Competition)” in the Whitney Theater of the Whitney Humanities Center, and will continue through Sunday evening.

This year’s festival will include five screenings between Thursday and Sunday, and Saturday’s schedule will feature, in addition to two films, the symposium’s keynote addresses and a series of panel discussions. This year’s festival, titled “Italian Comedy: Ieri, oggi, domani (Yesterday, today, tomorrow),” offers a selection of films typical of what Italians would see on their own screens, said Millicent Marcus, professor and chair of the Department of Italian Language and Literature and an organizer of the festival.

“Our Italian film festivals for the last two years have been dominated by serious subjects — the Mafia, the Holocaust, terrorism, emigration — presented in appropriately serious styles,” she said. “But the majority of Italian film production is actually devoted to comedy.”

Michael Cramer GRD ’11, who will present his paper, titled “From the Life of the Marionettes: Pasolini, Toto and the Semiotics of Comedy,” at the symposium, added, “The choice of comedy makes sense in light of the strong comedic tradition that runs throughout Italian culture in literature, theater and film.”

Several of the symposium’s panels, including “Auteurist Comedy” and “Film and the Comic Stage,” will focus on the entertaining and aesthetic elements of Italian comedy. But Saturday will also feature discussions that focus on the critical elements that typically parallel the fun and artistry of these comedies. For Mattia Acetoso GRD ’11, who will moderate a panel discussion on Saturday, the comedies serve as a “vital tool and a privileged perspective from which to observe changes in today’s Italian society.”

“Despite their glossy surfaces and lightness of touch, these films often deliver hard-hitting social commentary,” Marcus said. “Because of the comic packaging, Italian audiences are more willing to accept such a critical look at their collective condition. To international audiences, the ‘ordinariness’ of the comic mode offers a privileged insider’s view of Italian identity today.”

Alessandro D’Alatari, one of the directors featured in the festival, will introduce his film this weekend. D’Alatari’s 2002 film “Casomai (If By Chance),” which investigates the lasting power of relationships and will be screened Saturday night at both 7 and 10, will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the director following both screenings.

Marcus said she hopes the weekend’s festival will help to raise awareness on campus about the lasting strength of Italian cinema.

“Due to poor distribution, American audiences have been denied access to recent Italian works, creating the damaging belief that the cinema in Italy died with the passing of the great generation of ‘auteurs,’ ” she said. “Festivals such as ours can help to reverse that impression and create a public receptivity to the new Italian films that will in turn encourage greater production, distribution — a somewhat grandiose goal, I know, but this seems to be a great place to start.”

All screenings and panels will take place in the theater at the Whitney Humanities Center at 53 Wall Street. All events are free and open to the public.