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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Giuliano Montaldo: Transatlantic Legend

“Vera & Giuliano”
“I knew Fellini, Antonioni, Pontecorvo. It was a period of good people, good writers and very good directors.” A pioneering director himself, Giuliano Montaldo is one of the last living greats from Italy’s cinematic Golden Age. At 92, he’s as active as ever, and the pandemic hasn’t slowed him down. Donning his mask, he was one of the first in line when Italy reopened its movie theaters.

Born in Genoa in 1930, Montaldo moved to Rome as a teenager to follow his dream of working in cinema. While attending film school, he was discovered by director Carlo Lizzani. Taking Montaldo under his wing, Lizzani cast him alongside Gina Lollobrigida in his 1951 war drama “Achtung! Banditi!” and then nurtured him as an assistant. Montaldo worked on a string of films with Lizzani, including his acclaimed 1952 murder mystery “Ai margini della metropoli” (At the Edge of the City), starring Giulietta Masina. Montaldo then assisted director Gillo Pontecorvo while continuing to take acting parts during the ’50s, though he had his sights set on directing.

“Tiro al piccione”
In 1960, he made his directorial debut with “Tiro al piccione” (Pigeon Shoot), which recounts the plight of Italian partisans during World War II. It premiered at the 1961 Venice Film Festival to positive reviews and remains a favorite in Italy. Restored in 2019 by the Cineteca Nazionale, it was featured in the Venice Classics program of the 76th edition of the festival.

“I made my debut at the Venice Film Festival and was received very well by the public, so I had enough courage to make another film, which had a very small budget but won two important prizes in Berlin,” Montaldo explained in a recent interview with me via Zoom. “Then, I made two American films: ‘Grand Slam,’ which we shot in Rio de Janeiro, and ‘The Untouchables’ (known stateside as ‘Machine Gun McCain’), with John Cassavetes. So when I returned to Italy, I was more robust, stronger and felt more determined.”

Montaldo’s two American films were made in the Poliziotteschi tradition, a genre influenced by political cinema and crime novels as well as by French noir and American cop movies like “In the Heat of the Night” and “The French Connection.” Scored by Ennio Morricone, both of Montaldo’s entries in the genre are cult classics that remain popular today. 

Watch this clip from our interview in which Montaldo talks about his 1969 film, "Machine Gun McCain"..

Described as gangster noir, “Grand Slam” features a diverse international cast that includes Robert Hoffmann, Klaus Kinski, Riccardo Cucciolla and Janet Leigh. It tells the story of a group of international thieves who have banded together to pull off a complex gem heist during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. 

The film opens on the New York City skyline as members of the group assemble to plan a robbery that has to be completed in 20 minutes, without a second to spare. When they arrive in Rio, they are greeted by Mary Ann (Leigh), whose job is to guard the gems at all costs. “Grand Slam” has all the elements of a classic heist film, from the planning and execution to the aftermath. Watching it, especially the New York scenes, is like stepping back in time. 

Montaldo’s masterful storytelling is spotlighted in “Machine Gun McCain.” Loosely based on the novel “Candyleg” by Ovid Demaris, the film stars Peter Falk and Britt Ekland, in addition to Cassavetes, with a spectacular cameo by Gena Rowlands. 

Charlie Adamo (Falk) and Hank McCain (Cassavetes) are the protagonists in parallel storylines of two low-level West Coast gangsters who think they can outsmart their New York mafia bosses. The recently appointed leader of West Coast operations, Adamo secretly gives McCain’s estranged son $25,000 to bail his father out of prison following 12 years of incarceration for armed robbery. Upon his release, McCain is informed that he has been chosen to plan a heist that requires breaking into a mob-run casino in Las Vegas. The prize is a safe containing $2 million. Realizing he’s been lied to when things go awry, McCain eliminates the middlemen and carries out the heist on his own, then tries to leave the country with the money. When the newly instated mob boss catches up with him, a chase ensues with dramatic, unexpected consequences.

Montaldo and cinematographer Erico Menczer certainly made the most of shooting on location in San Francisco and Las Vegas, capturing stunning footage of both cities in all of their late-’60s glory. Montaldo said he and Cassavetes both approached the project as directors, butting heads at first in what Montaldo described as “guerilla warfare” before making their peace and enjoying their collaboration.

Even though Montaldo’s crime films have earned a dedicated following, his 1971 masterpiece “Sacco and Vanzetti” will most likely be his lasting legacy. “I can't stand intolerance, so I made ‘Sacco and Vanzetti,’” Montaldo explains. “I heard about these two Italian characters, and I was struck. So I started studying. A good writer friend of mine knew a lot about them, and then together, we built the story, and I must say that it was really a tragic story.”

Montaldo’s film offers a detailed account of how the controversial 1920s trial of Nicola Sacco (Riccardo Cucciolla) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Gian Maria Volontè) played out as well as the emotional toll it took on the men. In addition to the film serving as an educational tool here in the United States, it is regularly shown to students in Italy.

Montaldo directed the 2013 drama “L’industriale” (The Entrepreneur), starring Pierfrancesco Favino. And in 2017, he appeared in Francesco Bruni’s film “Tutto quello che vuoi” (Friends by Chance), playing a poet with memory loss who befriends a 22-year-old and guides him through some family troubles. “I have to be honest, I was a little depressed acting at my age, but it ended up going very well, and we had a lot of success with the film,” Montaldo recalls. The role earned him a David di Donatello Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. 

Montaldo’s personal life has been as rewarding as his career. His six-decades-long love story with Vera Pescarolo has captivated Italians and has been the subject of articles and talk show interviews. “When I met her, it was love at first sight, and now we’ve been together 61 years,” he proclaims. “Luckily, she is a film aficionado like me, but instead of being the wife of a director who goes away for months at a time, she has traveled with me. We’ve been all over the world together, and for this I am grateful. It is a great collaboration and therefore a great love.” 

“Vera & Giuliano”
Last year, documentary filmmaker Fabrizio Corallo made a film about them titled “Vera & Giuliano” that aired on Italian television on Valentine’s Day.

“Machine Gun McCain” and “Sacco and Vanzetti” are available to stream on Amazon. Click on their respective titles for direct links to stream them. “Grand Slam” is available on DVD.

- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the June, 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Cecilia Mangini: Italy’s First Female Documentarian

Italy’s first female documentary filmmaker, her films were gritty and unpolished, but they brought attention to the plights of marginalized people.

Born in Mola di Bari on July 31, 1927, Cecilia Mangini relocated with her family to Florence at the age of six, and then moved to Rome in 1952. There, she worked for a film club where she made personal and professional connections that would lay the foundation for the course of her life. 


In the late 1950s, she partnered with Pier Paolo Pasolini for a trio of short documentaries that spoke of the poor living in desolation in the shadow of the industrial revolution.


The 1958 film, “Ignoti alla città” (Kids in the slums of Rome), documents the children of poor families living on the outskirts of Rome as they spend their days getting into mischief and searching for items of value in garbage dumps. An outspoken advocate for the poor, Pasolini wanted to show the other side of Italy's stereotypical image of its 1960s post-war boom with a portrait of the harsh reality of young people in the forsaken countryside.


Two years later, Mangini returned to her birth region of Puglia for the docu-drama, “Stendalì suonano ancora” (They Still Play Stendalì). The 11-minute film perfectly depicts the quintessential “Old Country” with its elderly draped in black, stone houses and traditional hymns. A reenactment of the ancient rite of funeral lament that is no longer practiced, the film opens with the ringing of the town’s bells to announce a local has died. Women then gather around the open casket as they weep, wail and act out their grief with particular movements of the head and fluttering their hands while holding white handkerchiefs. The lament is sung by actress Lilla Brignone. The words express the emptiness the mourners feel, and their prayer for the deceased to look after and protect them.

Watch “Stendalì suonano ancora” on YouTube..

Concluding the trio is “La canta delle marane,” a 1961 portrayal of youngsters frolicking in a river on a hot summer’s day. The film was inspired by Pasolini’s 1955 novel, “Ragazzi di vita” (Poor Boys).  The “marane” of Rome are ditches and various small rivers that cross the city. The film takes place under the Mammolo Bridge on the banks of the Aniene river and captures the innocence of childhood as young boys run in and out of the water, splashing around.


“I owe Pasolini a lot, both for the scripts and also because he was considered so dangerous — so frequenting him I was exposed to risks that were very useful to me,” she told the New York Times in a 2020 interview. Having gained notoriety during her collaborations with him, Mangini received funding to direct her first solo effort, the 1964 documentary, “Essere donne” (Being Women). The film is among the first cinematic documentations of women in Italy based on income, social standing, psychology and traditional ways of life.

Watch “Essere donne” on YouTube... 

Mangini was married to fellow filmmaker Lino Del Fra, who she met during her first job at the film club. The two collaborated on many projects. One of the most important was a film they were working on in 1965 about the war going on in North Vietnam. However, United States-led bombing campaign became so intense, the couple was ordered to leave. The documentary was considered a project that would remain unfinished. Then one day, half a century later, she discovered two boxes of negatives in her cupboard that consisted of photos and notes from that trip.


“I remember things through photographs, because I am losing my memory,” Mangini told the New York Times. “Sometimes I forget works, sometimes I forget dates, people’s names — you can’t remember everything.”

The photographs helped her remember “time, space, emotions. Everything.” She took those negatives and codirected a documentary about them titled, “Due Scatole Dimenticate” (Two Forgotten Boxes). She presented the film at the 2020 International Film Festival Rotterdam. 


Mangini passed away in 2021 at the age of 93. The Academy Museum in Los Angeles paid tribute to her in March with a screening of her films, including her last work, “Two Forgotten Boxes.”


Mangini’s documentaries are often featured in retrospectives of her work. Pasolini’s novel, “Ragazzi di vita,” was recently translated into English by Ann Goldstein, the translator of Elena Ferrante's novels, and is titled, The Street Kids. Follow the link below to purchase it on Amazon..

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Fernanda Negri Pouget: Silence is Golden

A silent film luminary, she shunned celebrity and stepped away from the spotlight entirely with the advent of audio.

Born in the Eternal City in 1889, Fernanda Negri Pouget was one of the first stars of Italian cinema. Her rise to fame was swift, and she went on to dominate Italy’s silent film era.


Negri Pouget studied the performing arts at Rome’s National Academy of Santa Cecilia, one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. She made her big-screen debut at the age of 17 in the 1906 short film “Il romanzo di un Pierrot,” which was produced by Rome’s leading production house, Alberini & Santoni. Three years later, she was chosen by prolific director Mario Caserini to star in his 1909 release “Beatrice Cenci.” The movie made her a star and was the first of many successful collaborations between the two.


In 1912, she relocated to Torino, where she joined the Ambrosio Film production company. There, she starred in a string of hits. Among them was Caserini’s 1913 “Dante e Beatrice” (The Life of Dante). Set in Florence during the 13th century, the story line follows the young Dante Alighieri (Oreste Grandi) as he meets and falls in love with Beatrice (Negri Pouget), the wistful daughter of a prominent banker. The two marry, and she eventually meets a tragic end. Overcome with grief, Dante seeks consolation in the arms of a courtesan and embarks on the path that will lead to the writing of the “Divine Comedy.”


The film was released in Italy in February 1913 and in the United States the following April. In 2007, Cineteca di Bologna restored it as part of a project to recover and enhance the silent movies created by Torino production companies. It was later presented at the Cineteca di Bologna’s annual summer festival, Cinema Ritrovato, which features restored films.


Also in 1913, Negri Pouget starred as Nidia in Caserini and Eleuterio Rodolfi’s “The Last Days of Pompeii.” The film’s action takes place right before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 novel, it is one of early Italian cinema’s epic achievements.

The film follows a large cast of characters behaving badly as they obsess over wealth, beauty and passion. Negri Pouget steals the show with her brilliant portrayal of a blind slave who falls in love with Glaucus (Ubaldo Stefani), a wealthy man who rescued her from an abusive master. Her sensitive performance is what sets this film apart from other early Italian blockbusters like “Dante’s Inferno” and “Cabiria.” It’s one for the record books and should be part of film school coursework for aspiring actresses.


As a love story slowly emerges, Nidia’s tragic life tugs at the audience’s heartstrings. Her naivete gets her into trouble after she inadvertently ruins Glaucus by trusting one of his adversaries. In the end, she redeems herself with the ultimate act of sacrifice. The storyline and performances are so riveting, it’s easy to forget the impending cataclysm.


If you’ve ever visited the vast ruins of Pompeii or have seen images of it, this film will bring that long lost world to life. From the populous streets and opulent baths to the luxurious costumes and detailed props, the elaborate, sumptuous sets paint a vivid portrait of a rich, cultured society.


Negri Pouget was as private as she was famous. She was married to French actor Armand Pouget, but no wedding date was ever made public. According to Italian director and critic Lucio D’Ambra, she stood out in that she “detached herself from the world of divas.” 

She had no desire to live the life of a star and stepped away from the public eye entirely after the silent film era came to an end. Her last appearance was in Torello Rolli’s 1923 movie “La gola del lupo” (The Wolf’s Throat). She passed away in February 1955 at the age of 65.


Fortunately, two of her movies are available to stream. “The Life of Dante” can be found on YouTube’s Silent Film Channel and “The Last Days of Pompeii” on Amazon. 

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the May, 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.


Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Look at the Timeless Works of Gian Maria Volonté

An icon of 1970s Italian cinema, he poured himself heart and soul into every part he played.

One of the most masterful actors of his generation, Gian Maria Volonté was born in Milan in 1933. He studied his craft at Rome’s National Dramatic Arts Academy. Upon graduating in 1957, he found work right away in theater and television, quickly earning acclaim for his skilled and passionate performances

In one of his early roles, he played Ramón Rojo under the stage name Johnny Wells opposite Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s 1964 Spaghetti Western, “A Fistful of Dollars.” A year later, he played the role of a Native American in Leone’s follow up, “A Few Dollars More.”


His breakout role came in Elio Petri’s 1970 “Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto” (Investigation Of a Citizen Above Suspicion), a satirical film highlighting the corruption among officials in power. After a newly promoted unnamed police chief (Volonté) murders his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) and leaves his fingerprints everywhere, he returns with his colleagues to the scene of the crime to investigate. After leaving, he meets an equally crooked news reporter outside to whom he gives orders on how to report the crime, implicating her estranged husband. As the investigation continues and the evidence continues to point to the police chief, his colleagues make excuses for him proving his belief that because of his position of power, he is above suspicion. 

Volonté embraced the drama, irony and comedy of the story, giving an emotionally packed performance with a touch of humor brought out by the upbeat soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1971 and is considered today a masterpiece of Italo-Crime.


The following year, Volonté starred in Giuliano Montaldo’s 1971 “Sacco and Vanzetti,” an intense drama depicting the infamous trial of the 1920s. Montaldo’s interpretation of the tragic events is a realistic portrait of the prejudices and ridicule early Italian immigrants were forced to endure. 


The film follows Nicola Sacco (Riccardo Cucciolla) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Volonté) from the days and events that led up to their accusation of murder to the trial, sentencing and execution. Volonté was perfectly cast in the role of Vanzetti, a forceful man who spoke broken English but demonstrated a great deal of courage and grace. He was the more vocal of the two, the stronger one. He fought with everything he had against the injustice bestowed upon him and his comrade by the impartial prosecutor and judge. He and Sacco admitted to their anarchist associations and support of socialism but by no means did that make them guilty of murder, and throughout the seven-year ordeal, both men maintained their innocence. 

There have been excellent documentaries made on this topic, including Peter Miller's 2015 "Sacco and Vanzetti," but Montaldo’s film offers a detailed account of how the controversial trial played out in the courtroom and the emotional toll it took on the men, Sacco in particular, while they were awaiting the appeals and ultimately, their execution.


Rounding out a prolific decade, Volonté took the lead role in Francesco Rosi’s 1979 “Christ Stopped at Eboli.” The film was adapted from the book by Carlo Levi, a Torino scholar who was exiled to the region of Basilicata in 1935 because of his anti-fascist beliefs. 

The film begins with Levi, years after returning home, as a reminiscent moment turns into a flashback of his first day arriving in southern Italy. The odyssey begins at the rail station in Eboli, a town located in Campania. As the bus he takes into Basilicata approaches the fictional town of Gagliano, Levi is shocked and saddened to see the extreme poverty and desolation of the region. After spending an afternoon walking through his new home, the contrasts with the North are immediately apparent. They are not just differences in living conditions, but also in behavior and culture. 


Levi eases the shock by exploring his new surroundings and talking with the inhabitants of the town. His affection for them grows, as does his appreciation for the plight of the peasants. Meanwhile he reads up on the centuries of battles that hardened their hearts and broke their spirits. “Truth is, I’ve always felt like I lived here,” he declares.

As he departs in the rain a year later, his new friends and their children follow on foot, reaching in through the open window to shake his hand and wish him well. This is the scene in which Volontè truly becomes Levi. It’s as if the actor himself became attached to the locals while shooting the film, fully experiencing Levi’s heartbreak in leaving them.

Volontè continued in television and film until his untimely death in 1994 from a heart attack. Click on the titles of the aforementioned films to stream them online through Amazon, YouTube and the Criterion Channel.

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the April 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Carlo Levi's Portrait of Anna Magnani

Carlo Levi and Anna Magnani 
Fondazione Carlo Levi, Rome
In my ongoing quest to learn more about 20th century artist and writer, Carlo Levi, I recently discovered one of his most celebrated masterpieces, Ritratto di Anna Magnani (Portrait of Anna Magnani), an oil on canvas, which was created in 1954. 

His close friendship with Anna Magnani was news to me but what I found most fascinating about this portrait is the presence of Levi’s post-1935 style, his new pictorial approach referred to by art critics as the "wavy" brushstroke. He developed this style during his political exile in Basilicata in 1935 when he spent much of his time there creating stunning portraits of the contadini (peasants) he befriended, who served as the inspiration behind his infamous novel, Christ Stopped at Eboli, which was later made into a movie by Francesco Rosi. It fascinates me because it's further proof how much of an impact that one year of exile in Basilicata had on him. Click here to watch a clip from my documentary "Return to Lucania" in which a mayor from the region talks about Levi's influence on the region. 

Carlo Levi. Portrait of Anna Magnani. 1954.
Fondazione Ragghianti

There is so much that I love about this painting. In my opinion, I don't think that it fits perfectly into any particular style of art. Perhaps there's a bit of idealization and naturalism with some abstract qualities, which perfectly suits Magnani because she wasn't able to be boxed into a category either. I also love the Roman landscape behind her. She was and still is the epitome of Roman, so it’s fitting that her background is the Eternal City. Quoted as saying, “Please don’t retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them,” she was a strong, unapologetic woman and this portrait captures that embodiment by making her image stand out so robustly from the background. 

One of Magnani’s most famous American films is Sidney Lumet’s 1960 “The Fugitive Kind,” which was adapted from Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play “Orpheus Descending.” She stars opposite Marlon Brando and gives an epic performance. Although the film was made six years after the portrait was done, it reminds me of her character, Lady Torrance, and her fiery personality. Click here to watch a clip on YouTube.

Levi thoroughly captured her intensity and spirit in this work. If you don’t know anything about her, you can look into her eyes and determine that she’s deep, not much into small talk, passionate and loves very hard. Despite a successful career, she had a tough personal life and died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 65. If you see her last film, “1870," which was released on Italian television on the day of her death in 1973, you will see how radiant and full of life she was right up until the very end. 

Magnani beside her portrait, Archivio Luce
The portrait was recently on display at the Fondazione Ragghianti in Lucca, Italy as part of the exhibition, “Un’amicizia tra pittura, politica e letteratura,” dedicated to Levi and his friendships. The exhibition touched on Levi’s interest in cinema and his work as a screenwriter. He created a poster for the 1961 film “Accattone” by Pier Paolo Pasolini, who also spent time in Lucania. Pasolini shot his 1964 “The Gospel According to St. Matthew" there, so I can’t help but wonder if the two shared stories from their time spent in the region. Click here to listen to a rare interview of Pasolini from the set of the film in Basilicata.

The younger generations of Italians have a great appreciation for the legacies of the intellectuals and cultural giants who came before them, and these two icons, Carlo Levi and Anna Magnani are among the greats. 

Four of the aforementioned films are available on Amazon and Criterion Channel. Click on the titles to stream them.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Life and Times of Actress-turned-Activist Tina Modotti

An advocate for women’s freedoms in the early 20th century, her creative achievements are still celebrated today.

Tina Modotti was an artistic and literal revolutionary. Born Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti Mondini on Aug. 16, 1896, in Udine, Italy, Modotti quit elementary school at the age of 12 to earn money to help her family make ends meet. Her father immigrated to the United States, and in 1913, she joined him in San Francisco. There, she became involved in the performing arts and landed parts in plays, operas and films.

Modotti starred in three silent films during the early 1920s. Only one is still in circulation. Adapted from Elizabeth Dejeans’s 1917 novel “The Tiger’s Coat,” Roy Clements’ 1920 drama has stood the test of time due to its forward-thinking takes on racism and society’s views on interracial relationships. A feast for the eyes with elaborate sets and costumes, the film follows Maria de la Guarda, aka Jean Ogilvie (Modotti), as she assumes the identity of a dead woman to hide her ethnicity and marry the man of her dreams. With her simple yet stunning good looks, Modotti radiates the mystique she was known for her entire life from the moment she steps in front of the camera.

Watch “The Tiger’s Coat” on YouTube, with a special intro... 

Modotti could have cashed in on her exquisite beauty but was frustrated with the stereotypical roles being offered to her because of her Mediterranean look, so she left the movie industry. She became interested in photography and studied with legendary lensman Edward Weston. Their rapport turned into love, and the two moved to Mexico together in 1923. The change in scenery profoundly altered the course of Modotti’s life.


The couple became friends with the artists of the Mexican Renaissance, including iconic painter Frida Kahlo and her partner Diego Rivera. For the next several years, Modotti immersed herself in her craft, finding her own voice and style as a photographer. Meanwhile, the political influence of her friends was shaping her societal values, so much so that she joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1927. The line between art and politics blurred as she adapted to her new life in Mexico. She photographed people of all social classes, highlighting the plight of the poor amid the political unrest of the time.

Expelled from Mexico because of her activism, Modotti spent time in various countries throughout Europe during the mid-’30s, including Spain, where she aided orphaned children during the Spanish Civil War. During those years, she connected with prominent artists and intellectuals like Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Hungarian-American war photographer Robert Capa, both of whom had also journeyed to Spain to offer their support.


Modotti returned to Mexico in 1939 but passed away on Jan. 5, 1942, under suspicious circumstances. The cause of death was listed as heart failure. She was only 45 years old. 


Today, Modotti is highly regarded as a photographer and is frequently the subject of exhibitions around the world. Last year, the Museo delle Culture in Milan played host to the exhibit “Tina Modotti: Women, Mexico, and Freedom.” Curator Biba Giacchetti considers Modotti not only a titan of photography but also a warrior for civil justice. “During her short lifetime, Tina Modotti fought on the front line for freer and fairer humanity, and to bring aid to the civilian victims of conflicts like the Spanish Civil War,” she stated in material published in connection with the exhibit.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has also showcased Modotti’s work, with 35 photographs taken between 1924 and 1927. Click here to view them on the museum’s website.


A six-part miniseries is being made about her life, with Monica Bellucci in the starring role and Edoardo De Angelis in the director’s chair. Produced by Argentinian filmmaker Paula Alvarez Vaccaro, the series will be titled “Radical Eye: The Life and Times of Tina Modotti.”


Several books about her life and art are available on Amazon. A restored version of “The Tiger’s Coat” is available on YouTube (see above) along with a 1983 documentary titled “Frida Kahlo & Tina Modotti.” Watch it below...

- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the March 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Review: Paolo Sorrentino's 2022 Oscar Nominated "The Hand of God"

Based on his own life growing up in Naples, Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, “The Hand of God” (È stata la mano di Dio) recounts the heartbreak and growing pains that shaped the man and filmmaker he is today.

The film opens with a stunning coastal aerial shot of Naples at dawn, which leads up to the moment Fabietto Schisa (Filippo Scotti), the main character, develops a teenage infatuation with his voluptuous, unstable Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri). From that point, we are introduced to the eccentric members of his family that undoubtedly gave a young Sorrentino material for his future filmmaking career. The close-ups of a few zany and grotesque characters reflect the visual homages to Federico Fellini that are often present in Sorrentino’s work. He goes a step further in “The Hand of God” to offer an account of Fellini’s first influence on his life and eventual career path.


Fabietto’s brother Marchino (Marlon Joubert), an aspiring actor, attends an audition for a Fellini film held in Naples. Discouraged after being told he has a conventional face, the face of a waiter, he tells Fabietto about a conversation he overheard between Fellini and a journalist in which the director states that cinema isn’t good for anything except for serving as a distraction from reality. Fabietto is perplexed, not knowing what to make of such a declaration, but the statement stays with him and he later draws on it when rationalizing his desire to become a film director himself.


At the center of Fabietto’s life are his parents. He has loving relationships with both of them and although his parents are in love with each other, his father (Toni Servillo) is involved in a complex affair with another woman. When Fabietto learns of the affair and sees the agony it causes his mother (Teresa Saponangelo), he has an uncontrollable physical reaction.


Renato Carpentieri as Uncle Alfredo
The whole story plays out during the mid-1980s when Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona is rumored to be in talks with the Napoli soccer team. It seems too good to be true for members of the Schisa clan but when the deal goes through, the family and all of Naples are ecstatic. Then tragedy strikes, and Fabietto's Uncle Alfredo (Renato Carpentieri) helps him realize the profound impact of Maradona on his life. Sorrentino addressed this fate in commentary about the film. “Hovering above everything, so close and yet so far, is Maradona, that ghostly idol, five foot five, who seemed to sustain the lives of everyone in Naples, or at least mine,” he stated. 


In fact, the film’s title reflects a phrase that was associated with Maradona throughout his career. “The Hand of God” came about during the 1986 FIFA World Cup when Maradona used his hand to make a game-changing goal. He later described it as "a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God."


The family tragedy sets the stage for a period of confusion and self-reflection. There is a part of Fabietto that does not want to move on and forget the past but a realistic side that tells him he must. Little by little, through intimacy and friendship, he discovers a newfound liberation and enthusiasm for the future. 

The film concludes with an encounter between Fabietto and the Neapolitan filmmaker Antonio Capuano (Ciro Capano) who rose to fame during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Capuano gives the indecisive Fabietto some tough love suggesting he muster up some courage, starting with replacing the “etto” of his name, which in Italian means “little,” with an “o.” Fabio takes Capuano’s advice and the rest is history. 


“The Hand of God” has been shown at numerous festivals including the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded a Silver Lion and the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Filippo Scotti’s performance. The film is Italy’s entry for the 2022 Oscar race and has thus far made the short list.  


Click here to watch the film on Netflix. It is accompanied by an 8-minute documentary titled, “The Hand of God Through the Eyes of Paolo Sorrentino,” which features commentary by the director at the actual locations of the film and his feelings on returning to tell this moving story about his life. 

Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the March, 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Experience Basilicata's Captivating Pollino

By Sergio Ragone

The Pollino Experience portal at is now online. The territorial communication and promotion project aggregates the accommodation and catering facilities belonging to the "Il Borgo Ospitale" compound in Rotonda. 

The portal is divided into four main sections: Food, with direct links to the catering facilities and excellent food and wine offer which enhance the area's products: red aubergine and white bean; Hospitality, the section with direct connections to the Albergo Diffuso Borgo Hotel and its facilities; Wellness, the area to discover the wellness services offered by the Eufrasia SPA; Nature, a section entirely dedicated to direct contact with nature and the environment, for those looking for a fully sustainable and ecological tourist experience. Another section, Stories, is dedicated to the history of the territory and consists of testimonies presented by the protagonists and guests of the structures.

Pollino National Park Shelter
"Pollino Experience - declares Franco Bruno, creator of the project - wants to put territorial excellence on the network in order to offer tourists a wide range of experiences that they can experience firsthand. The Pollino, starting from the town of Rotonda, is now one of the main destinations of national and international tourists that want to experience direct contact with nature and the beauty of a place full of charm. In order to make our tourist offer even more attractive, we have chosen to improve and simplify the "user experience" by implementing this digital and innovative project. Travelers today are looking for more intense experiences that can involve all the senses and generate emotions that will become sublime memories to share. The destination is no longer at the center of interests, whether known or not does not make much difference, but what matters is to have an intimate experience and be the protagonists of your time."

Bruno goes on to explain, “The tourism business must today take into account the new development models focusing in particular on words such as sustainability, innovation and tourism, spread over time and in the territory. A tourism that, putting people and their passions at the center, will have to present itself as experiential, widespread and point-like, aiming more and more to formulate personal, unique, unrepeatable proposals to tell. Elements that our territory is able to offer and which today, also thanks to Pollino Experience, are accessible to everyone. "

Pollino Experience is aimed at both tour operators and individual tourists and is a storytelling and promotion project of sustainable, experiential and slow tourism. 

Visit our sidebar, "Basilicata: Land of Cinema" to read more about Italy's enchanting southern region of Basilicata. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Cinematic Charmer Walter Chiari

The lightheartedness with which Walter Chiari graced the screen was a defining trait in his life. It led to dramatic professional successes as well as personal travails that seemed better suited for one of his movies.

Born Walter Annicchiarico in Verona to Pugliese parents on March 8, 1924, Chiari spent his teenage years excelling in sports, earning championships in boxing, bocce and swimming. During the early 1940s, he worked as a radio technician and bank clerk. While at the bank, he became known for his imitations of Adolf Hitler, which ultimately got him fired. That proved to be a blessing in disguise, motivating him to give acting a try. He started out in theater while maintaining side jobs as a cartoonist and writer.

At the start of World War II, Chiari enlisted in the Italian navy and contributed to the newspaper L’Orizzonte as a satirical cartoonist. In January 1944, he participated in an amateur stage competition in which he revived his imitation of Hitler. The performance was a hit and unofficially launched his acting career. Three years later, he landed the lead role in Enrico Scotti’s 1947 “Vanità,” and the following year, shared the screen with Alberto Sordi in Eugenio Devoto’s ensemble film, “Che Tempi.”


Chiari’s breakout role was as Alberto Annovazzi in Luchino Visconti’s 1951 “Bellissima” (Beautiful). Chiari’s breakout role was Alberto Annovazzi in Luchino Visconti’s 1951 “Bellissima” (Beautiful). The film follows Maddalena Cecconi (Anna Magnani) who answers a Cinecittà casting call for her 7-year-old daughter, Maria. After Maria wanders off, she is spotted by Alberto, a handsome, smooth-talking talent recruiter. He becomes infatuated with Maddalena and convinces her to press on with her daughter’s auditions. Through this process, their lives are turned upside down. In a mad rush to train her daughter for the stage, Maddalena schedules a photo shoot for a professional headshot, enrolls Maria in dance and acting lessons, buys her a costume and pays off Alberto, who promises favors and preferential treatment. In the end, after witnessing first-hand the lack of morals within the film industry, Maddalena learns a valuable life lesson. Chiari calls on his natural finesse and happy-go-lucky quality to charm Maddalena and to give his character an air of indifference.

Chiari appeared in numerous films and stage productions throughout the ’50s, including Mark Robson’s 1957 American romcom “The Little Hut,” which starred Ava Gardner and David Niven. Chiari and Gardner fell in love during the making of the film and began a passionate affair.


The ‘60s also proved to be a prolific decade for Chiari. Among his many successes is Dino Risi’s 1964 feel-good film, “Il Giovedi” (The Thursday). The film takes place over the course of one Thursday when Dino Versini (Chiari) spends the day with his 8-year-old son, Robertino. Having separated from the boy’s mother, Dino has not been around for much of Robertino’s life and does not really know him. The boy whose mother is of upper class, proves to be wise and worldly beyond his years, teaching his father about honesty, integrity and responsibility. That one eventful Thursday spent together transformed the lives of both father and son.

In 1969, he married actress Alida Chelli but life was about to take a dark turn. Chiari’s recreational drug use was widely known within his film circles and was overlooked because of his profession. However, that all changed on May 20, 1970 when he was arrested in Rome on charges of cocaine possession and drug trafficking. He spent 70 days in jail, missing the birth of his only child, Simone. 


Chiari’s career did not rebound after his incarceration. However, he had success in an American production with Dino De Laurentiis as the executive producer. Based on the true story of mafia informant Joe Valachi, Terence Young’s 1972 “The Vallachi Papers” is a comprehensive account of the Cosa Nostra in America during the 1930s. The film boasts a spectacular international cast that includes Charles Bronson as Joe Valachi, Lino Ventura as Vito Genovese, Amedeo Nazzari as Gaetano Reina and Chiari as a hitman named Gap. The story is told from Valachi’s point-of-view as he recounts how he got involved with organized crime and the power transfers and bloodshed he witnessed along the way. Chiari is outstanding as a charming, confident jokester who becomes Valachi’s friend and confidant. His weakness for beautiful women ultimately does him in after he’s caught having an affair with the don’s wife.


Chiari continued to work in theater and film over the next two decades. He passed away on December 20, 1991 of a sudden heart attack. His son, Simone Annicchiarico, is a popular presenter and was cohost of Italy’s Got Talent. 

The aforementioned films are available to stream on Amazon. Click on the titles for direct links.

Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the February 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Luisa Ranieri: A Contemporary Classic

Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” has advanced to the short list in the 2022 Oscar race. The film is available stateside on Netflix. One of the stars of the film is actress Luisa Ranieri as the eccentric, troubled Aunt Patrizia.

Luisa Ranieri

Born in Naples in 1973, Ranieri hit the ground running, finding her break out film just two years after starting her acting career. That project, a made for television movie on the life of Maria Callas in which she played the starring role, immediately made her one of the country’s most popular actresses.

After numerous supporting roles in both television and film, Ranieri scored the title role in Lodovico Gasparini’s 2016 miniseries “Luisa Spagnoli,” giving her another opportunity to portray a deeply complex character. The film follows the trailblazing entrepreneur who created the Perugina chocolate brand as well as a popular clothing line that still bears her name. 

“I was born poor like you and know how hard life can be.” That inspiring line was part of her speech to rally the female employees who were left to run her candy factory after the men were called upon to fight World War I. Spagnoli revolutionized the role of women in the workplace, providing them comprehensive benefits, allowing them to bring their children to work and offering them paid time to nurse their babies. After the men returned from the war, the women remained in their positions. The series also focuses on Spagnoli’s romantic life and sheds light on her love affair with pasta magnate Giovanni Buitoni. 

Luisa Ranieri as Luisa Spagnoli
Ranieri wholeheartedly embraces Spagnoli’s outgoing personality, courage and infinite creativity as she juggles running a business with being a wife and mother of three during the early 1900s. She radiates pride in portraying Spagnoli and takes command of every scene. Enchanting sets and a whimsical soundtrack, along with outstanding supporting performances by Antonello Fassari and Gianmarco Tognazzi, also play their parts in making the series both entertaining and informative.

At the other end of the spectrum is Fausto Brizzi’s 2016 comedy “Forever Young,” which tracks a group of friends and acquaintances ranging in age from 49-70 who can’t accept getting older. Ranieri plays Sonia, a 40-something single mother who advises her hairstylist, Angela (Sabrina Ferilli), to date a younger man. When Angela takes her advice, the two are not so pleasantly surprised to discover the young man is Sonia’s 19-year-old son. Ranieri shows off her talent for comedy while lending her character an introspective side. The film was a huge hit in Italy and features an exceptional cast delivering superb performances.  

"The Music of Silence"
Ranieri is also moving in a rare English-language role as the mother of the main character in “La musica del silenzio” (The Music of Silence). Directed by Michael Radford (“Il postino”) and based on Andrea Bocelli’s autobiography of the same name, the 2017 biopic delves into the Italian tenor’s life, from the loss of his eyesight to his love of music and rise to stardom. The main character of the film is Amos, the name Bocelli would have chosen for himself, as he explains at the outset.

Ranieri’s natural empathy comes through as she conveys the heartbreak of having to teach her son, with tough love at times, to be strong and make his way through a world filled with darkness. Ennio Fantastichini is wonderful in the role of a loving and outgoing uncle who urges Amos to embrace music, opera in particular. A beautiful soundtrack that includes Bocelli’s captivating voice accompanies much of the film.

Ranieri is married to fellow actor Luca Zingaretti, who is best known for his lead role in the popular television series “Inspector Montalbano.” The couple met on the set of Riccardo Milani’s 2005 miniseries “Cefalonia.” They have two children.

All the aforementioned works are available to stream on Amazon. “The Hand of God”  is available on Netflix. Click on the titles for direct links to stream them. The forceful performances, detailed set designs and excellent production values speak to the high quality of films coming out of Italy today and to why so many contemporary Italian films are available in the United States.

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the January 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

In Conversation with Enrico Vanzina

"When my father died, (Dino Riso) told me, 'If you need another father, I'm here for you.'"

Enrico Vanzina and his brother Carlo grew up during the Golden Age of Italian cinema with an iconic father who directed some of the most memorable films ever made. Stefano Vanzina aka Steno worked often with Mario Monicelli, Totò and Alberto Sordi, and brought us eternal classics like "Un Americano a Roma," "Piccola Posta" and Totò nella luna (Totò in the Moon).

Following in their father's footsteps, Enrico and Carlo made their feature film debut in 1976 with the comedy, "Luna di miele in tre." It would be the first film in a lifelong collaboration between the siblings until Carlo's untimely death in 2018. At the heart of those collaborations was Enrico as writer and Carlo as director. The two were known for their Christmastime comedies otherwise known as Cinepanettone. Enrico has recently taken on the role of director with the 2020 "Lockdown all'italiana" and the upcoming "Tre sorelle."

Italian Cinema Today contributor Sveva De Marinis talked with Enrico Vanzina in length about the inspiration behind his films, a few memories of the icons who shaped him, and the advice he gives young people embarking on a career in filmmaking. The original interview in Italian follows the English translation. Vanzina was so generous and eloquent with his answers, very little editing was done. 

Since our readers love Rome so much, and especially the most famous locations where Italian movies were set, what does Rome represent in your movies? And how is the evolution of the city expressed in them?

My bond with the city of Rome is very similar to the one (Ennio) Flaiano had, a love/hate relationship, meaning that I always want to escape from it but as soon as I leave I want to go back. It’s a weird bond. Rome is a very particular city, probably the most beautiful; there’s a sort of “permissiveness,” which is not “absolution,” that makes living there easier than in other capital cities, everything’s easier here; you can decide to go to a restaurant or to the movies, even just a few hours before and you wouldn’t have any problems. It works like a big town but it’s the capital. It’s a topic I know very well and that I’m passionate about. For 30 years I’ve written a column about Rome for “Corriere della sera” and being the son of the director of “Un americano a Roma” (Steno), I also have kind of a responsibility towards the city. I also think that one of the most amazing shots in Italian cinema is the ending of “Guardie e ladri" after Aldo Fabrizi arrests Totò. In the end, Totò drags Fabrizi away with him. They then walk towards Saint Peter’s cathedral…it was shot in a place that, in the '50s, when the movie was made, was almost completely empty, near Via Gregorio VII, and the camera shows you Saint Peter’s cathedral, it’s beautiful. It’s one of the best shots in Italian cinema. It gives you an idea of how much Rome has changed throughout 40 years. Also in “Guardie e Ladri," there’s another important shot at the Acqua Cetosa when Aldo Fabrizi chases Totò; I’ve been doing rowing for years there, so that’s something that resonates with me. 

Watch the final moments of “Guardie e ladri".. 

The monumental Rome, luckily, hasn’t changed and that’s its strength. In other cities, maybe dictators and emperors called architects completely changed the face of it. In Rome, it’s not like that. Rome kept everything and that’s also why it’s so beautiful. When you walk across Rome, you can spot some ruins from the ancient times and, 100 meters ahead, you’ll see a baroque building or a medieval one or something from the Renaissance. There’s everything here. It’s like a lake in the African Savannah where all the animals go together to restore themselves at a certain time of the day. That’s what makes Rome so fascinating. It’s actually weird because, a few years ago, from a convention held by Paolo Meneghetti on the “Corriere della sera,” it came out  that me and Carlo are the ones who made the most movies about Milan. We wrote a lot about Rome, though. I’ve also written with my dad, probably one of the most well known Italian movies, “Febbre da cavallo,” and the Rome we describe there consists of a lot of the historical center. We’ve told a lot, we’ve shown the most famous places of Rome, but also the relatively new areas of Rome, such as Parioli. We've also shot in the suburbs, and we’ve always payed close attention to the dialogues. Someone from Balduina (one of the quarters of Rome) will speak in a way that is different from someone who comes from San Giovanni (another quarter of Rome). We’ve always considered the sociological aspect to be very important. We were convinced that using some images of a certain part of Rome could say a lot about our characters. 

Rome has changed a lot, but actually it hasn’t changed much. That’s probably because of the indolence of the administration. In the other capital cities, major public work projects were realized. Rome lacks of them; if a director wants to recreate Rome in the 1950s, he can easily do that, and that’s both good and bad because Rome will always keep that ancient atmosphere. That, for example, Milan doesn’t have. In Milan, you can easily show and represent the modern evolution. In Rome, it’s more difficult, but that’s also its charm. A big change arrived with Mussolini and the fascist architecture, like Eur, whose buildings and metaphysical structures have something De Chirico-like which was the last major public work project. Alberto Sordi, who used to live in Borgo Pio, would say that before the Fascism, to get to St. Peter’s Cathedral, you’d have to walk through a lot of little alleys and then, you’d end up in front of the Cathedral, and the feeling of amazement was similar to the one you get when you suddenly end up in Petra, in Jordan. Now we have Viale della conciliazione, which is very pretty too, but it gives away this surprise that you could get before. Same with the forum. Before, everything was a little hidden, and then you’d see the Colosseum. Nonetheless Goethe, Shelley and Stendhal, when they visited Rome had the same feeling of surprise and amazement.

Carlo and Enrico Vanzina on location in the US
You are among Italy's cinema legends, and you’ve collaborated with many other iconic figures from Italian cinema. Which collaboration impacted you the most?

Of course, the one with my brother. Among the 100 movies I’ve realized, 80 of them are (in collaboration) with him. That was a collaboration of intentions, we had the same point of view on life. With him it was easy, because he used to think the same things I used to think and vice versa. I've also collaborated with many many other wonderful people. Alberto Lattuada called me when I was 25 to write a movie based on the novel by Giuseppe Berto (“Oh Serafina!”). Two monumental figures of Italian culture trusted me with their work, and for me, being so young, it was a real honor. 

Another important collaboration, both on a work and a human level, was the one with Dino Risi. We made smaller movies together. When my father died, he told me, “If you need another dad, I’m here for you." That was wonderful. [I recall] his simplicity, his practical way of telling stories, his humor and also his vast knowledge.

I also worked with Lina Wertmüller and Gigi Magni. These are the people who make you understand that behind Italian comedy, there were highly intelligent and cultured individuals. People who did comedy didn’t think that it was a minor/less important genre. All the important writers I’ve worked with, the ones that did comedy, would have been able to teach college literature. The “Commedia all’italiana” was different from other genres. It could tell stories that were apparently simple but with a deeper meaning behind them. That’s why it’s different from the other comedies, both from the American one, the sophisticated comedy, and from the French one, which comes from Vaudeville. Our comedy deals with something dramatic, but it tells it in a light way, and this way, it gets deeper.


What do you think American and Italian comedy have in common? 

Flaiano used to say that every drama becomes a comedy as time goes by. Because of the tone of a screenplay, even the most dramatic one, after 20 years, if it’s not a masterpiece, it becomes redundant and fake. But comedy is created with a different premise; if something is funny, it’ll always be funny, and that’s how it is also for American movies. On the other hand, the actors in American comedies are far more manufactured . But the most perfect comedy ever is “Someone Like it Hot."

Italian actors and writers work in a totally different way. American actors usually use Stanislavskij and they tend to totally become the characters they’re playing, almost forgetting about themselves. Italian actors don’t work like that. If you think about Alberto Sordi or Totò, you can see that there’s always a little bit of himself in every character he plays. Also if you think about Mastroianni, they were always themselves. In their characters, there was always some of their humanity, and that goes for French actors too, like Jean Gabin. Most of the American actors play roles, but that is not true for all of them. Some actors, that work in other genres, for example, some dramatic ones, like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart managed to keep themselves in every character.


What's your advice to writers just starting out?

I’d tell them not to start from a script but from a topic, a subject. When you start from a subject, it has to be something that maybe you can tell in a few minutes, and most of all, it has to be something that the writer knows. He should write many things about the reality that surrounds him. When you send a bad script to a producer, if he doesn’t like it after reading 10 pages, he’ll throw it out, something that maybe you’ve spent four months on. It’ll take just a few minutes to understand if he likes a subject. You always have to start from a subject.


Among the many movies you’ve made, is there one that has a special place in your heart?

People often ask me if there was a movie I would have loved to do but never have. I’ve done so many, that I think I’ve done everything I wanted to, but there’s only one small regret. With my brother Carlo, right before he died, we wanted to make an Italian western, spaghetti western, but we couldn’t do it because right now western movies are looked at in a suspicious way. We would have loved to make it with some Italian dramatic actors. It would have been interesting, but I don’t think I’ll do it in the future. 

For what concerns the movies I made, I’m like a dad with many children, and it’s often easier to get attached to the less successful ones. Among the most successful ones, I’d say “Sapore di mare” because thanks to it, we understood what we would have done next: ensemble movies where we mix humor and emotions. Among the least successful ones, “Il cielo in una stanza,” the first movie Elio Germano starred in. The plot was amazing, it would have been loved in the US. The other actor was Gabriele Mainetti, who is now a director. That movie is precious, a movie that is set in the past but in the present too. It wasn’t a huge success but I think it’s the most emblematic to understand what I would have done later in my career.


Who or what do you admire the most in the American cinema?

I consider American cinema, “THE” cinema. The US has created the best of the new craft of cinema that had just been created. I’m a huge American cinema lover. John Ford used to say that American cinema was Western above all because it was the genre that suited the American way of thinking, which is always moving, and always discovering new lands. 

I think that “Stagecoach” is the best movie of all time. I’ve shot many many films in the US. I love it there. When I was shooting a movie in Monument Valley, one day, we had to shoot a scene at dawn with many Navajo extras. On that occasion, I gifted myself by paying 100 dollars to a native to let me ride a horse, which is something I’m passionate about. I rode into the desert, to the dawn. It was one of the best moments of my life.

Carlo and I also did another movie (in the US), a generational comedy called, “Mai Stati Uniti." We shot a scene at Mount Rushmore because one of our favorite movies is “Death by Northwest." We are famous for our comedies but we’ve also realized some genre movies. For example, one of the most famous Italian thrillers, “Sotto il vestito niente,” is totally inspired by Brian De Palma’s work.


If you’d have to describe with one adjective your screenwriting style, which one would you use?

I’ve always tried to keep in mind the greatest masters of the cinematic craft, Billy Wilder, but also Hitchcock, and in Italy, the greatest of the Italian comedy like Age & Scarpelli. These are all directors and authors that have the ability to observe reality and talk about it with great simplicity. Another important thing that I got from them is the use of music. Cinema puts together music and images, and it’s crucial, as Dino Risi taught me. If you use the music in the right way, you immediately give your film context. Everything that you can tell with images, is better than to tell it with words. I don’t like “nervous” movies, I like movies where you can use less dialogue, and that’s basically the same thing that happened with silent movies. Movies are movement. Everything that you can tell with images is better than telling it with words. The number one rule is simplicity, and the other one is not to be judgmental. Italian comedy has always respected everyone’s reasons without completely absolving them. We shouldn’t do moralistic and manichean movies. Movies have to tell what life is really about, and in the end, life is its own judge.

Intervista, Versione Italiana..

Visto che i nostri lettori sono molto affezionati a Roma e soprattutto alla Roma dove sono stati girati alcuni film storici del cinema italiano, cosa rappresenta Roma nei suoi film e, inoltre, l’evoluzione della città ha avuto una corrispondenza nel suo modo di fare film?

Allora, io sono legato a Roma da un rapporto come quello di Flaiano, un po’ amore e odio, passo la mia vita con l’idea di scappare da questa città, ma appena me ne vado non vedo l’ora di tornare. C’è questo rapporto strano perché Roma è una città particolare, la più bella del mondo. C’è questo permissivismo, che non è assoluzione, un modo di vivere che rende la vita migliore che in altre città. Una modalità in cui è tutto facile, a New York se vuoi andare in un ristorante, a teatro devi prenotare molto prima. Qui all’ultimo momento decidi di andare a un teatro, a un ristorante, puoi farlo. È una grande città di provincia me in realtà è una capitale. Stabilito questo rapporto, io ho dei fondamentali all’inizio al riguardo. Da 30 anni ho una rubrica su Roma sul “Corriere della sera”. Quindi è un argomento che conosco molto bene e che mi appassiona. Ovviamente essendo il figlio del regista di “Un Americano a Roma” ho anche una certa responsabilità. Io penso che una delle più belle inquadrature del cinema italiano sia il finale di un film di mio padre e Mario Monicelli, “Guardie e ladri” quando Totò viene arrestato da Fabrizi che lo porta in carcere, alla fine Fabrizi vorrebbe non portarlo più ed è Totò che lo tira, meravigliosa. Questa scena è girata in un posto che all’epoca, negli anni 50, era straordinariamente vuoto, la zona dove ora è stato costruito tutto il complesso di Gregorio VII, e sullo sfondo si vede San Pietro. Quello dà l’idea di come in 40 anni questa città è veramente cambiata. Sempre in “Guardie e ladri”, l’inseguimento all’Acqua Cetosa tra Totò e Fabrizi, si fermano, si parlano, ricominciano a inseguirsi. Tutta quella scena è girata dove adesso io faccio canottaggio da tanti anni, tutta la zona sportiva dell’acqua certosa. Sono cose che mi colpiscono molto. La Roma monumentale, per fortuna non è cambiata, questa è la forza di Roma. Roma è la città più bella del mondo, perché nelle altre città di solito arriva un dittatore/un imperatore con un architetto che rifa tutto e butta giù la città. Roma invece, per indolenza, per intelligenza, ha mantenuto tutto. Nel giro di 500 m trovi una cosa dell’antica Roma, una cosa del medioevo, una cosa rinascimentale, una cosa barocca, una cosa del 700, fino all’architettura fascista. È come un lago della savana, in Africa dove tutti gli animali vanno a bere, stanno tutti uno vicino all’altro, a una certa ora del giorno. Questo rende Roma così affascinante. Da un convegno fatto da Carlo Meneghetti sul Corriere della Sera, è emerso che io e Carlo siamo state le persone che hanno fatto il maggior numero di film su Milano. Perché abbiamo fatto metà dei nostri film su Milano, poi in giro per il mondo e poi molti a Roma. Di Roma abbiamo raccontato tantissime cose. Inoltre io sono anche l’autore insieme a mio padre di uno dei film più conosciuti su Roma “Febbre da cavallo” , dove però c’è una Roma molto “centro referenziale”, si riferisce molto al centro. Noi abbiamo raccontato un po’ tutto, alcuni film, nella Roma di sempre, quella di Gigi Magni, Piazza Farnese, Piazza di Spagna, Via Giulia, la Roma più famosa. Ma abbiamo anche frequentato i quartieri della nuova Roma, della borghesia arrembante, Parioli, Fleming, Vigna Clara poi abbiamo fatto diverse scene in periferia, abbiamo sempre avuto una grande attenzione su Roma, avendo questa grande tradizione alle spalle. Noi addirittura sul dialogo facciamo una differenza. Se una persona è di Balduina parlerà diversamente da una di San Giovanni. Tutte le volte che c’è una scena su Roma, è significativa dal punto di vista sociologico, abbiamo sempre pensato che attraverso le immagini di una certa Roma si poteva caratterizzare molto dei personaggi. La città è molto cambiata ma è cambiata poco, in realtà, per indolenza. Non ci sono state delle opere tali da stravolgere la città, se si pensa a Londra, Parigi, invece Roma è rimasta orfana di grandi opere pubbliche. Se si vuole rifare una Roma degli anni 50, la si può ricreare perfettamente anche oggi, non ci sono tante cose che hanno stravolto la città, lo skyline, è stato fatto molto poco. Pregio e difetto, perché d’altra parte a Roma rimarrà sempre quella patina un po’ antica, che poi è il suo fascino, che per esempio non c’è a Milano dove invece puoi raccontare l’evoluzione moderna; a Roma è difficile. 

A proposito di questo, a un certo punto c’è una frattura con Mussolini, che introduce nel cuore della città alcune opere, architettura anche bella, al di là dell’ideologia. L’Eur è molto bello, ed è l’ultima opera di grande infrastruttura. Però il tutto ha creato anche dei problemi. Alberto Sordi raccontava che, era nato a Borgo Pio, vicino San Pietro, per arrivarci, prima del fascismo, si facevano delle stradine, e, poi di colpo, ti trovavi davanti San Pietro, un effetto straordinario, effetto come Petra in Giordania. Ora anche è molto bello con Viale della Conciliazione, ma rompe questo effetto di incantesimo che c’era prima. Stesso discorso per i Fori. Prima era tutto nascosto e poi arrivavi al Colosseo. È un po’ cambiato tutto. Il lato metafisico, De Chirichiano dell’architettura fascista, ha un suo fascino. Goethe, Shelley, Stendhal, i grandi viaggiatori, ebbero la stessa impressione di meraviglia. Oggi tutte queste cose le vedi da lontano. 

Lei è un monumento del cinema italiano, e ha lavorato con i più grandi del cinema italiano. Qual è la collaborazione che l’ha toccata di più?

Naturalmente quella con mio fratello, abbiamo fatto 80 film insieme, dei più di 100 che ho fatto io. È chiaro che quella era una collaborazione di intenti, una visione del mondo identica, anche come scelta stilistica. Indubbiamente con Carlo è stato qualcosa di semplice, perché quello che pensavo io, lo pensava lui e viceversa. Con altre persone ho avuto delle collaborazioni meravigliose, però. Ricordo il primo film che ho scritto, fu proprio Alberto Lattuada che mi chiamò per un film, sua opera prima, per un film tratto da un romanzo di Giuseppe Berto. Io a 25 anni fui chiamato per scrivere insieme a loro. Questa è una cosa che non dimentico, la generosità di due monumenti assoluti della cultura italiana, che si affidarono alla collaborazione di un ragazzo di 25 anni, fu una cosa molto importante. Poi ho dei ricordi meravigliosi, di Dino Risi, anche se ho fatto dei film minori con lui. È stata un’altra persona centrale nella mia vita, anche umanamente; quando morì mio padre, in chiesa mi disse “ se hai bisogno di un secondo papà io ci sono”, una cosa meravigliosa. La sua semplicità, il suo modo concreto di raccontare le cose, il suo umorismo ma anche la sua grande cultura. Poi ho lavorato con la Wertmuller, con Gigi Magni, tutti registi che ti fanno capire che dietro la commedia all’italiana c’erano persone di un’intelligenza e di una cultura superiore, oggi questo si è dimenticato. Chi faceva la commedia non pensava che fosse un genere minore, tutti i grandi scrittori, con cui ho anche collaborato, quelli che facevano la commedia, tutti i grandi eroi della scrittura del grande cinema italiano, erano persone che avrebbero potuto insegnare letteratura all’università. C’era questo rapporto con la cultura, che veniva presa con molta leggerezza; raccontare delle storie apparentemente leggere ma con un significato profondo. Anche perché la commedia all’italiana è diversa dalle altre, da quella Americana, la sophisticated comedy, da quella francese che viene dal vaudeville. La nostra tratta un argomento drammatico raccontandolo in maniera leggera, in cui quindi la profondità è maggiore.

A proposito di questo, cosa pensa che abbiano in comune la commedia italiana e quella americana?

Flaiano diceva che col tempo quasi tutti i film drammatici si avviano a diventare comici. Effettivamente, un film drammatico che non è un capolavoro, per una questione di tono, a distanza di 20 anni diventa ridondante oppure falso, invece la commedia parte da un presupposto incredibile : se una cosa fa ridere, fa ridere, e fa ridere sempre. I piccoli film di Stanlio e Olio fanno ridere ma come faceva ridere Totò. Totò faceva ridere negli anni 50 e fa ridere ancora oggi i ragazzi. Stesso discorso per il cinema americano. La commedia americana ha un tasso di costruzione sugli attori molto forte, nonostante il frutto della commedia più perfetta di tutti è “A qualcuno piace caldo”. 

Nei film italiani gli attori e gli autori usano un sistema completamente diverso. Gli attori americani usano metodi, tipo stanislavskij, che li porta a entrare totalmente nel personaggio, quasi dimenticandosi di loro stessi. Gli attori italiani no. Se si pensa per esempio a Sordi o a Totò, c’è sempre un po’ di loro, della loro umanità in tutto quello che fanno. Facevano tantissimi personaggi ma erano sempre loro, anche Mastroianni, o in Francia, Jean Gabin. Quindi, rimanendo loro stessi, portano un tasso di umanità personale molto forte. Ci sono anche degli attori americani comici che sono dei geni assoluti, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, però fanno dei ruoli, è diverso. Non tutti però. In America questo è successo con attori di altri generi, magari drammatici, hanno mantenuto loro stessi nei personaggi, per esempio John Wayne, Humpfrey Bogart, ma comunque non sono molti.

Se lei dovesse dare un consiglio a un giovane sceneggiatore, qual è la prima cosa che gli direbbe?

Gli direi di non partire dalla sceneggiatura ma dal soggetto.

Quando si parte dal soggetto, deve essere una cosa che magari si racconta in pochissimi secondi, deve raccontare qualcosa che lui conosce. Scrivere tanti soggetti di cose che lui conosce guardando la realtà che lo circonda. Quando tu mandi una brutta sceneggiatura a un produttore, una cosa su cui hai perso 4 mesi, dopo 10 pagine la butta; se invece il soggetto gli piace in tre secondi lo capisce e lo chiama e glielo dice che lo compra. A quel punto lui rimane attaccato a quel soggetto, inizierà a lavorare con altri sceneggiatori più esperti, da cui lui imparerà molto scrivendo insieme a loro. Ma bisogna partire dal soggetto.

Tra i moltissimi film che ha realizzato, ce n’è uno a cui è particolarmente affezionato?

Spesso mi chiedono se c’è un film che avrei voluto fare e che non ho fatto. Io ne ho fatti così tanti che grosso modo quello che avrei voluto fare l’ho fatto, e spero di continuare a farne ancora un po’. C’è solo un piccolo rimpianto; con mio fratello avremmo voluto rifare, prima che lui morisse, un western all’italiana, uno spaghetti western. Però non ci siamo riusciti perchè il western in questo momento viene visto con sospetto da tutti, però secondo me era una grande idea. Usare degli attori, anche drammatici, del cinema italiano per uno spaghetti western. Quello forse è l’unico rimpianto che ho, e non credo che potrò farlo in futuro. 

Tra i tanti film che ho fatto, sono come un padre che ha tanti figli. Spesso quindi si vuol bene a dei film che sono stati meno fortunati. Tra quelli più fortunati, quello che mi ha cambiato la vita è stato “Sapore di mare”. Con quel film io e Carlo abbiamo preso consapevolezza di quello che avremmo fatto dopo, film corali in cui mischiare sentimento e umorismo. È stato un film molto importante. 

Tra i film meno fortunati, quello che per me rappresenta ciò che io considero il cinema di commedia in Italia è “Il cielo in una stanza”, film di debutto di Elio Germano. Aveva un soggetto straordinario che si potrebbe benissimo esportare in America. L’altro coprotagonista era Gabriele Mainetti, che adesso fa il regista (“Jeeg Robot”, “Freaks Out”). Quel film è delizioso, è il sentimento, l’umorismo, il tempo, un film ambientato nel passato e anche nel presente. Andò così così, ma secondo me è il più identificativo di quello che poi ho voluto fare nella mia carriera.

(Quando mi parla di sapore di mare, a me viene in mente questa patina di nostalgia, ma una nostalgia bella e romantica. È un film che amo particolarmente, soprattutto la scena finale.

È un film costruito sulla scena finale, è un piccolo romanzo di formazione, semplice ma con tantissima roba dentro, anche involontariamente, e magari te ne accorgi dopo.)

Chi o cosa ammira particolarmente del cinema americano?

Io considero il cinema americano “Il Cinema”. È proprio l’istruzione di un paese nuovo che ha usato e capito meglio quell’arte nuova del cinema che stava nascendo. Io sono un fan sperticato del cinema americano. Come diceva John Ford “ il cinema americano è soprattutto il western” perché è il più consono al pensiero di  questo paese in movimento, che scopre territori, e penso che “Ombre rosse” sia il film più bello della storia del cinema. Io ho fatto molti film in America, mi piace moltissimo. Quando ho girato a monument valley, una mattina all’alba dovevamo girare una scena con un sacco di comparse navaho, non ho resistito ho dato 100 dollari a un indiano e galoppato su un cavallo, cosa che faccio e mi piace molto fare. Ho preso questo cavallo, all’alba, col sole che nasceva, mi sono messa a cavalcare verso ombre rosse, straordinario, uno dei momenti più belli della mia vita. E poi noi abbiamo fatto un altro film, una commedia generazionale “Mai stati uniti”, film che era un viaggio attraverso l’America. Abbiamo girato una scena al monte Rushmore perché “Intrigo internazionale” è uno dei film che io e Carlo amavamo di più. L’America ci ha portato delle suggestioni e ci ha aiutato per moltissimi film che abbiamo fatto. Noi siamo famosi per la commedia però abbiamo fatto molti film di genere, ma uno dei film thriller più famosi in Italia, uno degli ultimi più venduti al mondo, “Sotto il vestito niente”, ed è un film totalmente ispirato a Brian De Palma. Per cui noi siamo sempre stati molto influenzati dal cinema americano. 

Per finire, le chiedo: se lei dovesse descrivere con un aggettivo il suo stile di scrittura cinematografica, quale userebbe?

Ho cercato di tenere sempre a mente i grandi maestri, per esempio Billy Wilder, Hitchcok, e in Italia i grandi della grande commedia all’italiana, Age & Scarpelli e sono tutti registi e autori che hanno la capacità di osservare la realtà e raccontarla con grande semplicità e con un altro grande punto, che purtroppo spesso viene dimenticato: il cinema è qualcosa che non prescinde dalla musica, che invece è fondamentale. Questo me l’ha insegnato Dino Risi. Quando tu usi la musica in modo giusto contestualizzi il film subito. Tutto quello che si può raccontare con le immagini è meglio raccontarlo così piuttosto che a parole, a me non piacciono i film nervosi, mi piacciono i film dove puoi evitare il dialogo, pensa al cinema muto, il cinema è movimento, tutto ciò che si può raccontare con le immagini è meglio. La regola numero uno è la semplicità, e la seconda cosa è non avere moralismi, in un film non bisogna mai dire questo è buono questo è cattivo. La commedia all’italiana ha sempre rispettato, senza mai assolverla, la ragione degli altri, non bisogna fare dei film manichei moralisti. Bisogna fare dei film che raccontano com’è la vita film e, alla fine, la vita si giudica da sola. 

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