Category Archives: 2011 Focus

Italian comedy: say cheers! (3/3)

Defined as a “mix of social satire, critical observation, cynicism and gentle buffoonery”, Italian comedy developed in the 1950’s in reaction to neorealist films’ pessimism. This “pink neorealism” is mostly known for its critical approach and reality’s humoristic lecture emphasizing social mutations of Italy’s Glorious Thirties. A genre to be taken with humour…

Every cloud has a silver lining!

Arlequin ©ac-reims

Directly inspired by the commedia dell’ arte, Sicilian puppets and Naples’ theatre, Italian comedy genre appears in cinema in early 1950’s in reaction to neorealism’s darkness by an ironic treatment of everyday life issues.

True renewal of Italian cinema, this satirical analysis of 1960’s economic miracle, fights with humour against all of the 20th century’s illnesses in Italian society. May they be political, religious, social or sexual.

This genre, which principal ambition is to make laugh and entertain the audience, is characterized by its low society characters’ staging in their natural setting with its fraternal moral and critic of both contemporary society and little bourgeoisie.

“… I think Italian comedy’s strength resides in its un-indulgent observation of reality”
Dino Risi

Movement’s initiators

The Pigeon by Mario Monicelli ©AlloCiné

Renato Castellani was one of the first directors to brighten Italian screens with Two Cents Worth of Hope (Due soldi di speranza), awarded by 1952 Cannes’ Palme d’Or. Luigi Comencini’s box office movies will also profoundly engrave the genre with Bread, Love and Dreams (Pane, amore e fantasia, 1953) and Bread, Love and Jealousy (Pane, amore e gelosia, 1954), worldly known today as Italian pink neorealism debuts’ greatest symbols.

However, Italian comedy really appeared as a movement in itself with Mario Monicelli’s The Pigeon in 1958, affirming of a more codified genre, which would no longer hesitate in mixing funniest humour and darkest despair. Other filmmakers thus proved themselves as masters of the genre, including Pietro Germi and Vittorio De Sica. So did Dino Risi with its Fanfaron (1962), profound view of glorious Italy’s bitterness in the 30’s.

The end of the movement was magnified by Ettore Scola’s success in the 1970’s. Among the masterpieces, the legendries We all loved each other so much (C’eravamo tanto amati, 1974) and Ugly, Dirty and Bad (Brutti Sporchi e Cattivi, 1976) will be remembered.

All Italian comedy masters attached a great importance to actors. But among all of them, Toto was the genre’s most prestigious one.

Toto, Italian comedy’s emblematic figure

Totò ©AlloCiné

Toto (whose real name was – attention please – Antonio Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno De Curtis di Bisanzio Gagliardi – yes, that’s right) is the emblematic figure of Italian comedy. He easily slipped into the role of the average Italian, confronted to unemployment and misery. The numerous comic characters he played assured him fame and thus became one of the world’s most known actors in Italian cinema. In 1966, a year before his death, Cannes international film festival paid him a tribute for his cinematographic achievements.

Other actors cannot be dissociated from this movement, such as Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman and Ugo Tognazzi. They are all considered as Italian comedy’s pillars through their jester and fast-talking roles.

In the 1980’s, Fellini’s Ginger and Fred and Marco Ferreri’s I love you will mark the end of this self-mockery breath and the beginning of the country’s cinematographic decline.

Coming soon, The Giallo, or Italian thriller…

Roberto Rossellini and Italian neorealism (2/3)

At the end of World War II, Roberto Rossellini’s trilogy (Rome, Open City, 1945; Paisan, 1946 and Germany Year Zero, 1947) marks the beginning of neorealism, an emblematic form of Italian cinema, defined by a return to reality in the choice of the subjects, as well as the settings and the actors. Let’s go back in a time that put Italian cinema on the map and guaranteed its renown around the world.

Italian neorealism, the “real life” cinema

Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossellini, 1945 ©France 5

The emergence of Italian neorealism is directly linked to the social and historical context. First initiated by the National Fascist Party in power at the time, their aim was to show the changes in the country thanks to Fascism. But filmmakers quickly took the opposite direction by denouncing the damages of Mussolini’s regime.

The difficult economic and moral conditions of post-World War II inspired the directors at the time who wanted “to film what’s real”. According to the neo-realists, the only interest of a film is to be a document reflecting real people in their real environment, with the idea of presenting their everyday life, focusing more on the group than the individual, giving priority to improvisation rather than mise-en-scene, frequently using nonprofessional actors, along with an implicit criticism of the Party in power.

Ossessione by Luchino Visconti, released in 1943, is generally accepted to be the first neorealist film. But the movement became famous globally in 1946 with Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City.

Rossellini, “founding father of neorealism”

In three years, Rossellini succeeded to make three feature films, Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), and Germany, Year Zero (1947); a film trilogy, with each film being closely related to the others by their common reflexion about the Resistance in Italy, the war and its consequences, but most of all by the same stylistic process, characterised by shootings almost exclusively on location, using natural lighting and nonprofessional actors. Each film gives an impression of truth and made Rossellini the founding father of neorealism.

Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica, 1948 ©Allociné

Rossellini’s films will show the way to others emblematic filmmakers of this movement. The Tragic Hunt (1947) and Bitter Rice (1949) de Giuseppe De Santis, Bicycle Thieves, masterpiece of the Italian neorealism, directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1948, or La Terra trema (1948) by Luchino Visconti have all played in integral part in establishing neorealism in history. Not all of those films have reached a big audience though. Of course we can count among them great popular hits (Bicycle Thieves reached the 4.5 millions tickets sold), but most of them were not really popular (La Terra trema for instance, was a huge failure when it was first released); the general public being fonder of comedy.

The end of the movement: towards a pessimist faith for Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini ©BIFI

In the 1950s, the mark of neorealism seems to fade to give way to a new form of post-war optimism, with the advent of the Christian Democracy.

Filmmakers set their sights on other experiences. De Sica turned to an international career, as for Rossellini, he seemed to move towards a pessimist faith, far removed from the post-war confidence, with its “trilogy of loneliness” made up of the films Stromboli (1951), Europe 51 (1952) and Journey to Italy (1954).

The end of neorealism and the post-war exhilaration will give way to a new genre that will again mark Italian cinema history : “Commedia all’italiana” (Comedy in the Italian way).

Coming soon, Commedia all’italiana…

Welcome to Cinecittà, la città del cinema (1/3)

Between 10th and 17th December 2011, Les Arcs European Film Festival will dedicate a focus to Italy. The festival team offers you to discover the great actors, directors and films that make the history of the Italian cinema of yesterday and today through a 6-episode series. This week, let’s go to Cinecittà

Cinecittà (meanings “Cinema City” for those who might have missed a few Italian classes) occupies an important place within the History of Cinema. Indeed! With its 40 hectares of land and its 22 studios (Mamma mia!), Cinecittà is the second biggest production complex after Hollywood. The studio played an undeniable role for the blossoming of Italian and international cinema, with more than 3,000 films made at Cinecittà, 48 of which received Oscar Awards. Guided tour…

A propaganda tool during the Italian fascism

Opening of Cinecittà by Mussolini, 1937 ©Cinecittà Luce

Cinecittà, pronounced “chee-nay chee-TAH” (with an Italian accent please!) is an Italian film production facility. Construction began in January 1936, in south Roma. Cinecittà Studios were founded under the direction of Luigi Freddi, head of cinema for the National Fascist Party at the time. It was officially opened in April 1937 by Benito Mussolini in person.

In the beginning, Cinecittà studios were mostly used to produce propaganda films, in order to promote the fascist ideology. Situation changed after the fall of Mussolini in 1943 (remember your history class…). Cinecittà has been the birthplace of Italian feature films by renowned directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Ettore Scola, and Vittoria De Sica. And above all Federico Fellini, who made nearly all his productions on the lot for four decades!

Federico Fellini’s Kingdom

La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini ©AlloCiné

Mystical ones will tell you his ghost is still haunting the Cinecittà studios (boo hoo ooh!)… Far from being a scary story, the story between Cinecittà and Fellini is more what we call “love at first sight”. You know them by heart: I Vitelloni, 8 ½, Satyricon, The Clowns, Amarcord, City of Women, have all been made in the roman studios. La Dolce Vita, one of the greatest movies ever made, directed by Fellini in 1960, signed the golden age of Cinecittà!

Fellini explains: “I shoot in studio to express a subjective reality, free from useless realistic components…The memory of things and places accomplishes automatically this selective operation of brush by the look, by deleting what is too much and reveal the essential of the emotion. That is why the cinematographic representation needs a space that would be close to the imaginary sphere.”

As a symbol of their union, Fellini will pay a last tribute to Cinecittà in his film Intervista in 1987, an excuse for a nostalgic evocation of this emblematic location.

From Hollywood spirit to conversion time…

Entrance to Cinecittà studios ©Cinecittà Luce

Built with the idea of competing with the United States, it is actually Hollywood which will revitalize the Cinecittà Studios by expending the peplums. Many American filmmakers began arriving at Cinecittà in the early 1950s, drawn by the studio’s reputation for creative talent and Italy’s low production costs relative to the US. Many classic American feature films will be made such as Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, Cleopatra, or more recently Gangs of New York and Mission: Impossible III.

Today, Italy is facing a crisis. Few months ago, they were talking about closing  the “Hollywood on the Tibre”, due to the lack of activity within the Italian film Industry. The peplums time is over and the studios are now mainly used for TV series and advertising shoots.

This doesn’t prevent great Italian directors to come back today to this mythical cinema location, such as Nanni Moretti, who shot his last film Habemus Papam at Cinecittà; a positive note for the studio and for Italian cinema overall, which shows that far from being asleep, it might only have been dozing!

>> The dream factory of Italian cinema opens its doors to the public as part of the exhibition “Cinecittà si mostra” until 30th November 2011. More info on the exhibition official website

Coming soon, Roberto Rossellini and Italian Neorealism…