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!
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”
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
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…