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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Eternal City Honors One of its Own: Film Legend Alberto Sordi

The Eternal City teamed up with Alberto Sordi’s foundation to mark one decade since his death with a number of commemorative initiatives.

On February 16, a street in Rome's sprawling park, Villa Borghese, was dedicated to Sordi. His sister, Aurelia, attended the moving ceremony along with the mayor of Rome, Giovanni Alemanno. 

A few days later at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a concert of the "Grand Orchestra" by Gerardo Di Lella in collaboration with the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia conjured up memories of the maestro of Italian Comedy, who is known for his roles in classic films like “Un Americano a Roma,” “The White Sheik,” and “Mafioso.”

One of the most talked about events of this commemoration is a major exhibition at the grand Vittoriano Monument Complex that will run through the end of March. The multimedia exhibition consists of over 200 photographs, documents and film projections, which show the neighborhoods where the actor lived and where he shot many of his movies. The exhibition also features scripts, handwritten letters, movie posters, drawings, installations, video, audio, songs, famous phrases and many articles written by the actor and published between 1988 and 2002.

Carlo Verdone, who worked closely with Sordi has been identified time and time again by the critics as his most likely successor. Together with his brother Luca, Verdone has made ​a documentary film about Sordi on the occasion of this solemn anniversary. Verdone, who refers to Sordi as "an absolutely revolutionary actor," described the film as above all, a story of friendship, a beautiful story of the private aspects of a man who lived for the public. 

Sordi and Verdone
The film is a journey through the life and career of Sordi, showing the sights and landmarks of Rome to which the actor was closest. "Our documentary is a tribute to a great actor who represents the tradition of the Roman performance at the highest level, and that over the years, played a crucial part to the birth and development of Commedia all'italiana," explained Verdone.

For more information about the events and exhibitions taking place in Rome, you can visit the Alberto Sordi Foundation online at

Alberto Sordi

Arguably Italy’s most beloved personality, Alberto Sordi was a main player during a very important period – the end of World War II and the post-war economic boom of the 1950s. During those tumultuous times, he often gave his countrymen a laugh when they would have otherwise cried. Perhaps the former prime minister and president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, said it best - “Alberto Sordi interpreted the feelings of Italians, especially in their most difficult and tough moments." 

Born in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome in 1920, Sordi grew up in a creative household. His mother was an elementary school teacher and his father, a professional musician for the Rome Opera House. The young Sordi joined the children’s choir of the Sistine Chapel but was unable to continue after his distinctive low voice began forming. In elementary school, he participated in theatrical performances with marionettes. As a teenager, he studied theater and discovered his natural talent as a comedian. He found work on radio shows and performed onstage doing comedy skits. In the late ‘30s, he began his film career working as an extra. After more than a decade of paying his dues, he landed the lead role in Roberto Savarese’s 1951 “Mamma mia, che impressione!,” which he also cowrote with Cesare Zavattini. Sordi’s performance caught the attention of Federico Fellini who cast him in the title role of his 1952 “Lo sceicco bianco” (The White Sheik) and as Alberto, an unmotivated mammoni in his 1953 follow-up, “I vitelloni,” which is considered Sordi’s breakout role. 

Sordi rose to fame during an unprecedented time when he and so many of his colleagues were icons in the making. The films made during those years would define a unique and unparalleled time for Italian cinema. The majority of Sordi’s characters found themselves in unfortunate situations as they rode the wave of Italy’s booming economy. Sordi made a whopping 40 films during the mid-‘50s. Different versions of this deceitful but likeable character appear in dozens of films, including Luigi Zampa’s 1954 “L’arte di arrangiarsi” (The Art of Getting Along) in which Sordi plays the role of amateur swindler Sasà Scimoni who changes his political beliefs to suit the situation; Antonio Pietrangeli’s 1956 “Lo scapolo” (The Bachelor), the story of Paolo Anselmi, a self-proclaimed, life-long bachelor until he suffers an upset stomach one night and realizes just how alone he is; Antonio Pietrangeli’s 1957 “Souvenir D'Italie” (It Happened in Rome) in which he plays Sergio Battistini, the boy toy of a wealthy older woman who falls for a young traveler hitchhiking through Europe; and Vittorio Sala’s 1959 “Costa Azzurra” (Wildcats on the Beach), which follows Alberto as he accompanies his wife to the French Riviera for a movie audition and he ends up being called back for a role.

In the late ‘60s, Sordi stepped behind the camera and made his mark as a director. He made 19 films and enjoyed a string of hits, which he directed and starred in, including “Io so che tu sai che io so” (I Know You Know that I Know), which costars Monica Vitti and follows the drama of a husband who discovers his wife’s affair and “In viaggio con papa” (Traveling with Dad), the hilarious story of a father/son road trip, which costars Carlo Verdone. 

Sordi took a young Verdone under his wing, making him the most likely successor of the comedy genius. When I talked with Verdone at the 2006 edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, I asked about the comparisons to Sordi. “Sordi was a great actor. I was a spectator and a fan of his movies but he had a mask and the mask was unique, so you cannot imitate a mask. Sordi always interpreted one character; very Italian, cynical and funny but it was only Sordi,” he explained. 

In a 1997 interview, reflecting on his mortality, Sordi confessed: "I think about death like everyone else but without anguish. I know that I will leave one day. However, I continue to live with the same enthusiasm as when I was young. Life is a gift too big not to enjoy. And as a Catholic, I believe in the immortality of the soul." 

In 2001, Sordi was diagnosed with lung cancer. He continued making appearances until December of 2002 when he was scheduled to appear at the Rome Film Festival to launch a retrospective of this work. He was too weak to attend and instead, recorded a heartfelt video greeting. Two months later, he passed away in his sleep after suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis. The permanent tributes to him all over the Eternal City give testament to the lasting impact he’s had on his culture. In addition to his foundation, which fosters young filmmakers, there is a street named after him in Villa Borghese near the Casa del Cinema, and the Galleria Alberto Sordi near the Fountain of Trevi, which houses restaurants and retail shops, was named in his honor in 2003. Many of his films are available to stream on Amazon, especially those he made during the 1950s.

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