Monday, April 18, 2016

Italian cinema


Italians can boast of some of the best directors in the world and have world class actors, movie composers and other film artists.  You don't have to understand Italian to have seen much of their work.

Politics and box office don't always mix  Fascism and Catholicism permeate many of their movies.  I was surprised to learn that Mussolini invested in Italian cinema in the 1920's and 1930's and is at least partially responsible for the development of technical skills.  He would be surprised to see the political turn about after his execution.  One reason that neo-realism got started in Italy was that after the war poverty hit even the film industry and they took to filming outside as opposed to inside elaborate studios.  Many sought non professional actors and recast established actor roles.  In Mussolini's time it was common to highlight tourist attractions, but they were avoided in neo-realism.

Roberto Rosselini is said to have been a key founder of neo-realism which had a strong influence on the French new wave film movement.  Also Elia Kazan credited him with his own realism in films such as "On the Waterfront."  Prior to World War II he was close friends with Benito Mussolini's son, but after Italy was out of war directed and wrote "Rome Open City" a very anti-Fascist film starring Aldo Fabrizzi and Anna Magnani, released in 1945.  Won a top prize at Cannes.  Famous for marrying Ingrid Bergman and fathering Isabel Rosselini.  A quote:  "I do not want to make beautiful films.  I want to make useful films.  I try to capture reality, nothing else."

My first Italian movie seen several decades ago was "La Strada" (1954), written and directed by Federico Fellini with Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart being dubbed.  I was fascinated by the female lead, Giulietta Masina who I later learned was Fellini's wife and starred in many of his movies.  Her facial expressions reminds one of Lucille Ball.  An earlier film, "I Vitelloni" (1953) was grimly realistic.  Fellini won the best foreign film Oscar for "8 1/2" (1963) which is considered by some to be the finest film ever made.  Not much of a plot, it reflects the creative process as known by Fellini.  Another well known film was "La Dolce Vita" (1960).

Pier Paolo Pasonli, radical Catholic, also a Communist for a time, was murdered "Mama Roma" (1962) where he expressed a concern that Anna Magnani would be too dominant which she was.

Bernardo Bertolucci who worked under Pasaollini has directed and written for many English films such as "The Last Emperor" (1987) and "Last Tango in Paris" (1972).

Lina Wertmuller  wrote and directed "The Seduction of Mimi" released in 1972 and "Swept Away, released in 1974"  and "Seven Beauties" (1975) all starring Giancarlo Giannini who also appeared in "Love and Anarchy" (1973) which I did not see. All her movies had political themes.

'Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" (1970) won  best foreign Oscar and Cannes and was directed by Elio Petri.

Giuseppe Tornatore, another director/writer gave us "Cinema Paradiso" in 1988 about his own love of movies starting as a young boy.  In 2009 he expanded on that with"Baaria."  Two really well constructed movies were "The Unknown Woman" in 2006 and more recently in English, "The Best Offer" in 2013.  He is working on a documentary about Ennio Morricone who provided most of his background music.  You can read a post devoted to his work at:   http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/08/giuseppe-tornatore.html

Sergio Leone  who went to school with Ennio Morricone  is famous for what has been called spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood.  The most famous one, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"  was ridiculed when it first came out in 1966, but is acknowledged today as a masterpiece.  He did a modernized western in English called  "Once Upon a Time in America" in 1984.

Italian film composers have left a mark across Europe and America.  Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Ludovico Einudi, Nicola Piovani  Il Postino (1994) won music Oscar for composer Luis Bacalov.  My iTunes library is loaded with their music.

Andre Guera wrote music for a Bollywood movie, "Fan" that is getting good reviews and also for an earlier blogged film, "Dum Laga Ke Haisa."  Also for many American and European movies including "Hotel Rwanda"(not seen),  "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Nine" (not seen).

2013 Oscar foreign film winner, "The Great Beauty" written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino who more recently wrote and directed an English film, "Youth" with Michael Caine. (not yet seen)

Sophia Loren married Carlo Ponti, the producer  and together they made Two Women, (1960) which she became the first actress to win best actress Oscar in a foreign film.  I watched dubbed version. She was only 25 and the script required her to be the mother of an adolescent.  She appeared in many Hollywood movies with leading men like Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston.  In Italy you could better appreciate her acting skills.  "A Special Day" (1977),  "Marriage Italian Style" (1964) and "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (1963),  "Sunflower" (1970) all with Marcello Mastroanni and all directed by Vittoria De Sica.

Vittorio De Sica was the director for many of Sophia's movies.  He started as an actor and continued to act, but became well known as a director.  "The Bicycle Thieves" (1948) is one of his most famous early movies.

Divorce Italian Style (1960) was directed by Pietro Germi and starring Marcello Mastroianni.

Michelangelo Antonioni directed  "L'avventura"  (1960)wiht Gabriele Ferzetti and Monica Vitti  Martin Scorsses was quoted as, "L'avventura"gave me one of the most profound shocks I've had at the movies."

"The Dinner" (2014) was an adaptation of Dutch book by Herman Koch unfortunately was not as layered as the book, but still enjoyable.  Directed by Ivano De Matteo.
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Human Capital (2013) directed by Paolo Virzi took a skeptical look at modern culture.

"Life is Beautiful" (1997) directed, written and starred in by Roberto Begnini.  I had only thought of him as a goofy comic comparing him to director, writer, like Jerry Lewis.  This movie is a comedy about the Holocaust which could have been disastrous, but was accepted by many Holocaust survivors.  It is hard not to laugh in many parts, but the viewer is well aware of the gross undertones.  The leading lady in this and others is his wife, Nicoletta Braschi.

As with my other movie posts I have named only movies I have actually seen, unless otherwise noted.

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