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Monday, December 30, 2019

The Extraordinary Career and Legacy of Dino De Laurentiis

Producer Dino De Laurentiis was one of the most prolific filmmakers ever, having produced or co-produced more than 600 films during a career that spanned seven decades. His legacy continues not only through the work of his children and grandchildren but also by a new generation of filmmakers in his Italian hometown.

De Laurentiis was born in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius on Aug. 8, 1919, in the city of Torre Annunziata, located just minutes from the ruins of Pompeii. As a child, he worked at a local pasta factory owned and operated by his father. That experience had a profound effect on him, shaping a lifelong passion for food and an appreciation for business.

At the age of 17, he decided to leave home for the big city. He arrived in Rome and enrolled in the prestigious film school, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. After attending the school for about a year, he managed to produce one film in 1940, The Last Combat, before having to leave Rome temporarily for military duty during the years leading up to World War II. 

Vittorio Gassman and Silvana Mangano in Bitter Rice
He found his way back to Rome in 1944, starting his own production company in 1947 and releasing the first of many blockbusters two years later with the neorealist classic, Riso amaro (Bitter Rice). The film follows seasonal workers in the rice fields of northern Italy during the post-war economic depression. It stars Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman, two stunning young actors at the beginning of their legendary careers. De Laurentiis not only had a hit movie on his hands, he found a life partner in Mangano. The couple wed that year and went on to have four children: Veronica, Raffaella, Francesca and Federico.

De Laurentiis teamed up the following year with another prolific producer, Carlo Ponti. Their collaboration lasted seven years. Among the many successful films they produced were The Unfaithfuls by Mario Monicelli (1953); Where Is Freedom? by Roberto Rossellini (1954); La Strada by Federico Fellini (1954); The Gold of Naples by Vittorio De Sica (1954); Ulysses by Mario Camerini, starring Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn along with Mangano (1954); and the 1956 Italy/America production of War and Peace, directed by King Wallis Vidor and starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

After parting ways with Ponti, De Laurentiis established his own film studios on the outskirts of Rome in an area known as the Castelli Romani. He named it Dinocittà, to mimic Rome’s Cinecittà. The idea came after the worldwide success of the 1957 Ben Hur which was filmed at the iconic Rome studio. The production ignited an international desire to shoot in Rome, so De Laurentiis, being the business man that he was, capitalized on this new demand and built the enormous production facility. The studio was quite popular during the 1960s and early 70s and attracted big names in Italy and the United States. On any given day, there would be the likes of Vittorio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni, John Huston, Charlton Heston, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda. 

It was a time of experimentation with a bit of fun thrown in. Italian directors worked with American actors and vice versa. B-grade westerns and war pictures were made, like Sergio Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966), starring Burt Reynolds, and the Civil War drama The Hills Run Red, starring American writer/actor Thomas Hunter. A couple of the more high profile films to come out of Dinocittà were The Taming of the Shrew by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (1967); Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda (1968); Anzio, starring Robert Mitchum (1968); and Waterloo with Orson Welles and Christopher Plummer (1970).

Although production continued at Dinocittà through the 70s, it was arguably one costly 1966 production that marked the beginning of financial problems that would eventually lead to the demise of the facility. The 1966 film, The Bible: In the Beginning, was a big budget, elaborate production directed by John Huston with an ensemble cast that included Ava Gardner and Peter O’Toole. The plot covered the major events of the Bible in an abstract, artistic way but lacking in depth of storytelling. It was the highest grossing film of the year in 1966 but was not able to turn a profit. The property was seized by the government for nonpayment of taxes, in the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, De Laurentiis picked up and moved his film career and his family to the United States. He told the Italian press, "I left Rome because of intolerance towards politicians, trade unions, wrong laws, the impossibility of turning an artisanal cinema like the Italian one into an industrial and international cinema." 

Dinocittà was no longer in business but his production company was. Shortly after moving to Hollywood, he made his mark there with a string of hits that included Serpico (1973), Death Wish (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975). The success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws inspired him to remake the 1933 King Kong but with a sentimentality that he felt Jaws lacked. One of his infamous quotes was "When Jaws dies, nobody cries. When Kong dies, we all cry." With that thought in mind, De Laurentiis got to work on his big budget remake. The 1976 film starring Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin turned out to be an international hit, even though critics did not completely embrace it.

Silvana Mangano in Dune
A trio of box office successes followed with Flash Gordon (1980) Ragtime (1981) and Conan the Barbarian (1982). Then in 1984, De Laurentiis released Dune which at the time was called “his most ambitious project yet.” Adapted from Frank Herbert's popular sci-fi novel by the same name, Dune, although not a great commercial success at the time, was responsible for the launch of numerous careers in the 1980s, including director David Lynch and cast members Kyle MacLachlan and Virginia Madsen. The period of the early 80s also marked the beginning of De Laurentiis’ collaboration with his daughter Raffaele, who followed in his footsteps becoming a producer in her own right.  

Apart from those over the top, action adventure and sci-fi films, De Laurentiis produced two exceptional dramas in the mid-80s. He teamed up again in 1986 with director David Lynch and actor Kyle MacLachlan for Blue Velvet. Isabella Rossellini accepted the lead role of tortured nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens after Helen Mirren reportedly turned it down due to the provocative nature of the character. Laura Dern and Dennis Hopper costar. Lynch created a surreal world inside this film, making it a cult classic.

One year later, De Laurentiis produced the lesser known Black Eyes (also called Dark Eyes), a 19th-century period film recounting the story of an Italian who falls in love with a Russian woman. A 1987 Italy/Russia coproduction starring Marcello Mastroianni and Silvana Mangano, the film was made two years before Mangano passed away. She was 57-years-old and still so beautiful. It is no longer in print or available on VOD. However, there are clips on YouTube worth checking out to see two legendary actors together in the twilight of their careers. It was Mangano’s last principle role. She and De Laurentiis separated in 1983 and divorced in 1988 but continued to work together until her untimely death at the age of 59. 

Watch the trailer for Black Eyes...

De Laurentiis married fellow producer Martha Schumacher in 1990 and the couple continued to produce films. Among them were Hannibal (2001) and Hannibal Rising (2007). He passed away on Nov. 10, 2010, at the age of 91 at his home in Beverly Hills, but his legacy lives on in so many ways.

His widow, Martha, is at the helm of the De Laurentiis Company, which has studios in Vermont, Australia and Morocco, and has provided production facilities for recent blockbusters like Aquaman, Iron Man 3 and Fox Television’s Sleepy Hollow. Dino’s nephew Aurelio De Laurentiis has his production company, Filmauro, and is a long-time collaborator of Carlo Verdone in particular. On this side of the Atlantic, Dino’s daughter Raffaella continues to work as a film producer.

De Laurentiis’ daughter Veronica has found her niche in activism, in particular, empowering women and helping them overcome abuse and get their lives back on track. In 2011, she started the non-profit Silvana Mangano Center “to create a network to help, educate and give a second chance to all victims of violence, abuse and stalking.” She also started her own web series that invites abused women to tell their stories. “Dillo a Veronica” (Tell Veronica) is broadcast on YouTube and Facebook. Visit for more information.

Giada De Laurentiis on location in Florence for Giada in Italy
In the spirit of his humble beginnings and the DDL Food Show, an Italian specialty foods store that Dino De Laurentiis started in New York and California in the early1980s, his granddaughter, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis has carried on his legacy and passion for food. Since she made her debut on the Food Network in 2003, Giada has always been open about the influence her grandfather has had on her becoming a chef. 

During the first season of her Food Network series, Giada in Italy, she went right back to where it all started. In the episode titled, Dino’s Pasta Factory, Giada and her Aunt Raffaella (Aunt Raffy) visited Torre Annunziata, birthplace of Dino and where her great-grandparents once owned a pasta factory. Afterwards, they created some regional dishes inspired by the day. Click here to watch clips from the episode. 

During Season 3, Giada brought her mother, aunt and daughter to Capri, Italy, the family’s longtime vacation spot and a stone’s throw from Torre Annunziata, to celebrate her grandfather’s 100th birthday. The episode, titled, “Dino's 100th Birthday Party” is a moving, sentimental tribute to her grandfather’s legacy and her own Italian origins. Season 3 is still available on VOD. Recipes from all three seasons of Giada in Italy are available on the Food Network’s website.

Presenting my short film at the 2018 Cortodino Film Festival
Founded in 2010, the Cortodino Film Festival showcases short films from all over the world and carries on De Laurentiis' legacy. Held at a high school, the audience is made up of students during the day and then in the evening, the adults come together to discuss cinema with guest filmmakers. I presented my short documentary, Luigi Di Gianni: Soul of the South, at the 2019 edition and spoke with the festival’s director, Filippo Germano, about its significance. “The festival is dedicated to Dino De Laurentiis because he was born here in Torre Annunziata and it’s the hometown of his family. We also remember his brothers, producers Luigi and Aurelio De Laurentiis.” Germano went on to explain how the screenings are continuing Dino’s legacy for the next generation of filmmakers. “Dino De Laurentiis was known in his career as a producer for discovering new talents. So our festival is aimed at young filmmakers under the age of 35 for Italian cinema in order to pull up new, young talent for Italian cinema. Many of the films are presented by the filmmakers, creating a path of film literacy for the young people of our community to ensure that they can also be inspired by the world of cinema and find their own creative voice.”

Watch a clip from my interview with Filippo Germano...

Many films that De Laurentiis produced or coproduced are easily available online. Today, the grounds of Dinocittà are being enjoyed by a whole new generation. Cinecittà World, a theme park with spectacular recreations of famous movie sets, was built on the site of the old studios. Visit for more information. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Catching up with Daniela Del Secco D’Aragona in Rome

La Marchesa Daniela Del Secco D’Aragona is an Italian lifestyle and fashion journalist. She is a regular in the high society circles of Rome and Venice, and is often a guest on talk shows where she gives advice on style and etiquette. She refers to her fans as “Adorati” and her hashtag, #lavitaèsoltantounaquestionedistile (Life is just a question of style) has become her signature phrase.

I ran into her at the Rome premiere of Max Nardari’s film, Di tutti i colori in which she is featured as herself, of course. I asked her what fashion advice she’d like to give to American women. She responded with her belief in an outfit for every occasion.

“Every hour of every day requires a dress code, in clothing and also in makeup and accessories. Life is just a matter of style and you cannot deny this. Style has to adjust depending on the occasion. Having style never goes out of fashion. It is always relevant and is appreciated around the world during every season." 

Click here to watch a clip from our interview on Instagram.

La Marchesa went on to tell us about her weekly column dedicated to style. It is published in the Saturday printed edition of Il Giornale and is appropriately titled with her famous hashtag, #lavitaèsoltantounaquestionedistile.”

Checco Zalone in the Director's Chair

Luca Medici aka Checco Zalone presented his new film Tolo Tolo in Rome on Thursday. It will open nationwide on New Year's Day. I haven't seen the film yet, but the early reviews are intriguing.

Zalone made his directorial debut with this film after a falling out with his longtime collaborator, director Gennaro Nunziante. Co-written by Paolo Virzì, the film explores many of Italy's recent hot topics such as African immigration, a sensitive subject that was thrust into the spotlight by Matteo Salvini's populist government during much of 2018 and 2019. There is an African character obsessed with Italian cinema and the film has generated comparisons to Alberto Sordi. That's enough to make me want to see it!

The story centers on the main character, Pierfrancesco Zalone, called Checco, as he finds himself in a trying period of his life with financial problems, a failed attempt as a restaurateur and two nagging  ex-wives. He decides to pick and leave Italy for a position as a waiter at an African resort. Here, he meets fellow Italian entrepreneurs who also experienced hardships. As they wallow in their misery, he meets Oumar (Souleymane Sylla), an Italophile obsessed with Italian cinema. Through this encounter, Checco becomes involved in warfare and as he looks for a way out, is faced with the realization that all roads lead to Italy. The film is set in Kenya, Morocco, Apulia and Rome.

We'll keep you updated on when the film will be available in North America.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Museum Celebrating 120 Years of Audio & Visual Arts Opens This Week

Italy’s 120 years of cinema has just been made into an interactive museum nestled in Rome’s iconic Cinecittà Studios. It is a spectacular cinema haven that is not to be missed if you plan on visiting the Eternal City.  

MIAC, which stands for Museo Italiano Audiovisivo and Cinema covers the entire history of Italian cinema and television from the silent era to today. In addition to cinema, the museum boasts a collection of archival treasures from television shows and new digital technologies in the form of newsreels, photographs and documents. Inaugurated in December, MIAC is a result of Rome becoming a UNESCO Creative City of Film in 2015.

The museum is divided into 12 unique rooms, each exploring a different theme. At the core of the museum is the “Timeline.” Displayed along a narrow hall in the center of the rooms, the timeline consists of detailed images and interactive technologies that lay out the events and dates of Italy’s audiovisual history. Running along the length of the hall is the original conveyor belt that once shuttled analog films to the Cinecittà laboratory and today carries visitors’ thoughts on paper printouts.

I was treated to a wonderful preview last month, and I’m thrilled to share it with you here.

As you enter the first phase of this full-immersion spectacle, you will see clips from Italy’s first and beloved variety show, Carosello. Then, as you turn left to proceed, you are immediately faced with “The Emotion of Cinema,” an installation that consists of stunning oversized pictures of cinema icons surrounded by a constellation of lights. The striking, larger-than-life image of Sophia Loren provided the warmest of welcomes and set the mood for the movie wonder that we were about to experience.

After passing through the room of "Emotions," which features projections of closeups from famous movie scenes, you cross the corridor to visit the “Actors and Actresses” room, where you’re greeted by another timeline, a hands-on section with touch screens that guide you through the films of specific periods, for example 1946-1967, 1981-1996, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. There is also a communal block dedicated to costume design, featuring four-time Academy Award winner Milena Canonero.

Stepping into the mesmerizing room dedicated to our revered protagonists of Italian cinema presents a nostalgic montage of memorable scenes and close-ups. Carlo Verdone, Massimo Troisi and Roberto Benigni are just a few of the familiar faces you will see. Three spectacular frames created with dozens of light bulbs enclose the video sequences giving the sensation of being backstage in a dressing room.

Moving on to the “History” room,the role of television and film in teaching history comes into play. Scenes from epics like Ben Hur and Cleopatra, both shot on the grounds of Cinecittà, transmit from huge screens. The powerful, sentimental images of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Charlton Heston in their prime recall the years known as “Hollywood on the Tiber” and serve as a reminder of the longtime cinematic bridge between Italy and the United States.

The “Language”room is flooded with sounds, words and dialogues superimposed on three large screens. The focus on audio gives testimony to the richness and complexity of the Italian language. Perhaps it’s the fascination of the unknown or just the linguistic beauty of a romance language that makes it more enjoyable to read the subtitles of an Italian film rather than watching a dubbed version. The exhibit also explores the myriad of theatrics and performances inspired by the dialects of Italy’s 20 regions. 

The “Power” room holds a simple yet breathtaking installation that truly lives up to its name.Two concrete walls reaching seven feet high reflecting the protagonists of poignant film scenes represent the power of Italians in cinema. Indelible faces and memorable masterpieces are in the spotlight of this spellbinding space.

“Landscape. Eros. Comedy. Food” is arguably the most fascinating room. A curious interactive exhibit that accords the sensation of walking across a lunar landscape, you sink your heals into the sand and rock under your feet while four screens simultaneously transmit scenes from classic and contemporary films. The installation is meant to give the illusion of watching Italian cinema on the moon, perhaps suggesting that Italy is out of this world. The name of this room is a play on the well-earned pride and self-indulgence of Italians as they acknowledge enjoying the fruits of their ancestors’ labor, referring to the Italian landscape as “inimitable, abused and immortalized.” There is a focus on the genre, commedia all’italiana, implying that Italians during that period deserved the joy brought to them by this genre that was created as a direct result of their hardships. 

MIAC considers the “Music” room “the soundtrack of our life.” With a focus on music for film and the genre of musicals, standing in this room is like traveling through time. The tunes heard in this exhibit will take you all the way back to Italy’s first talkie, the 1930 La canzone dell’amore. The beloved maestros of the Golden Age through the 1970s, Nino Rota and Armando Trovajoli, offer a dose of nostalgia with the modern compositions of Ennio Morricone and Nicola Piovani bringing you back to reality. Dramatic light bars draw the accompaniment in time and tone as the music plays.

The “Masters” room is dedicated to the most recognizable faces of Italian cinema throughout the world. A large screen is at the center of the exhibit surrounded by mirrors, metal pillars and unique lighting that draws the pillars up giving the sensation of gold-lit skies. This is the second to the last room and it rounds out the magnificent experience created by the curators, which exudes the grandiose of Italy’s cinema.

The last room is appropriately referred to as the “Future.” You will find yourself under bright lights surrounded by mirrors with a video column in the center. The “future’ interpretation is left to the spectator looking up to infinity and down to a bottomless reflection. One can imagine that regarding the future of Italian cinema, there are no boundaries. The sky is the limit. 

Over the course of 2020, the museum will expand with a space for temporary exhibitions, a media library with access to historic footage and photographs from the vast Luce Cinecittà archive. A library dedicated to Tullio Kezich, an Italian writer and film critic best known for his award-winning biography of Federico Fellini, will contain 5,000 of his works. The analog film restoration laboratory, adjacent to the museum, will reopen and become accessible to visitors, offering a rare opportunity to witness the actual restoration process. 

Also on the grounds of Cinecittà studios is a new exhibition dedicated to Federico Fellini. One of the numerous 2020 nationwide events to mark the 100thbirthday of the infamous director, the exhibit is set in the Palazzina Fellini, one of the historic buildings in the Cinecittà compound. Created by Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, the exhibit offers a glimpse into Fellini's imagination seen through a collaboration and friendship with Ferretti that led to the realization of five films.

The Cinecittà studios are located on Via Tuscolana in Rome. If traveling on your own, take the metro, red line, in the direction of Anagnina and exit at Cinecittà. Click here for more information.

- Jeannine Guilyard

Monday, December 2, 2019

Explore the History of Pompeii Through Cinema

On a recent trip to Torre Annunziata, we made a stop in nearby Pompeii to see the infamous ruins of one catastrophic day that took the lives of an entire village and changed the landscape forever.

I had read about Pompeii, visited exhibits through the years that featured artifacts and watched travel stories. None of which prepared me for the grandiose of the area and in-tact structures of a complex city.

We saw rows of shops and homes line street after street. There was beautiful pottery, mosaic tiled flooring, open spaces which once held landscaped gardens. There were large kitchen areas in the gutted homes with air ducts and stoves. I couldn't have imagined that in 79 AD, a city would have been so sophisticated.

So I am looking forward to watching some films over the next few wintry months here in upstate New York and learning more about the people of Pompeii and how they lived. I find that Amazon is pretty convenient because it doesn't require a monthly subscription.

So I'd like to share some of my findings with those of you looking for some interesting snow day films for the coming months. They range from documentaries to movies- one made in 2014 and another in 1935. Should be interesting to see the differences in interpretations through the generations.


A Look at Rome's Spectacular Exhibits Dedicated to Italian Cinema

Museo Italiano Audiovisivo and Cinema at Cinecittà Studios
I arrived in Rome planning to check out a few premieres and film festivals, and ended up immersed in numerous breathtaking multi-media exhibits recounting Italian cinema of yesterday and today. Here is a recap..

Museo Italiano Audiovisivo e Cinema
Cinecittà Studios

There is a new interactive museum opening soon at Cinecittà Studios on via Tuscolana. It's offers a magnificent full-immersion exhibit that will take you through more than a century of cinema. I had the pleasure of a wonderful, private tour that presented me with testament to the pride that Italians have for the rich history and origins of their cinema. MIAC, which stands for Museo Italiano Audiovisivo and Cinema covers 120 years of Italian cinema from the silent era to the Golden Age to today, and focuses on many aspects, including the stars, soundtracks, maestri, history and dialogues. There is a cool interactive part, which features touch screens in which you can check out the films from a certain timeframe. The years include- 1946-1967, 1981-1996, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. There are several rooms with different themes that place you right in the eye of this perfect cinema storm. It truly is not to be missed. The museum is slated to open December 18. Click here for more information (in Italian).

Permanent Exhibits
Biblioteca Nazionale di Rome 
(Rome’s Central Library)
Spazi900 Museum

Sala Pasolini
There is a multimedia exhibit dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini's love affair with Rome and it's just beautiful. The exhibit takes you along a path divided by his passions of literature, filmmaking and the poor neighborhoods of the Eternal City where he often played ball with children in the streets. These interactions with the contadini of Rome inspired many of his writings, which can be found in the book, Pasolini: Roman Poems. Larger than life images of his films Accattone and Uccellacci e uccellini grace the walls of the exhibit space, situated over a television that loops black and white images of the maestro. There is a room in which his voice can be heard as you walk the corridor, listening to Roman music and gaze at his handsome portraits on the wall.

The Sala Pasolini is not just an exhibit of images but rather an experience that will leave you with the sensation that you walked a few steps in the life of this immortal artist whose work only seems to become more relevant with time.

Elsa Morante
Francesca Comencini's 1997 documentary, Ritratto di Elsa Morante, is on a continual loop in the permanent space dedicated to the Italian novelist. Walking through the dimly-lit exhibit of Morante's belongings, writings and photos taken with her beloved cats, creates an intimate experience that gives you a glimpse into her world.

Carlo Levi
The latest addition to the library's vast collection of artifacts and writings is a permanent exhibit dedicated to Carlo Levi, intellectual, painter, doctor and author of Christ Stopped at Eboli, the book that inspired the 1979 film by Francesco Rosi. Located right next to the Sala Pasolini, the realization of the exhibit was made possible thanks to a collaboration between the library and the Carlo Levi Foundation of Rome, which resulted in a loan of six paintings created by the maestro. According to an official statement by the library, the goal of the exhibit is "to promote and disseminate the multifaceted personality of Carlo Levi in ​​his dual role of painter and writer." Click here to read my previous entry about this exhibit.

70 Years of Cineteca Nazionale
Teatro dei Dioscuri at the Quirinale

This exhibit by Cineteca Nazionale, Italy's national film archive, which is an integral part of the country's most prestigious film school, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, celebrates 70 years of archiving Italian cinema. You will find everything from Federico Fellini to Lina Wertmüller.. Silvana Mangano to Marlon Brando and beyond. It is a must-see exhibit if you love classic films. It’s like stepping into a time machine of cinema. The exhibit runs until January 12 and admission is free of charge. Click here (in Italian) for more information and for the complete program of events.

Luxardo e il cinema
Casa del Cinema
Elio Luxardo’s photographs of the protagonists of Italy's Golden Age of Cinema are on display at the Casa del Cinema. The exhibit was organized by Daniele Luxardo, nephew of the famous photographer and curated by photo critic and family friend, Roberto Mutti. Click here for more information and to watch a clip from my interview with Daniele Luxardo. The exhibit runs until December 8, 2019.

Permanent Exhibit at Rome's National Central Library Dedicated to Carlo Levi

Entrance of exhibit with Levi's self-portrait
Rome's Biblioteca Nazionale (National Central Library) is a treasure trove of information on the most prolific figures of Italian literature. The latest addition to the vast collection of artifacts and writings is a permanent exhibit that pays homage to the great intellectual, novelist, doctor and painter Carlo Levi.

Located inside the Spazi900 museum, next to the Sala Pasolini, is the exhibit dedicated to the author of Christ Stopped at Eboli, the book that inspired the 1979 epic film by Francesco Rosi. The realization of the exhibit was made possible thanks to a collaboration between the library and the Carlo Levi Foundation of Rome, which resulted in a loan of six paintings created by the maestro. According to an official statement by the library, the goal of the exhibit is "to promote and disseminate the multifaceted personality of Carlo Levi in ​​his dual role of painter and writer."

 Actor Fortunato Verducci
I visited the exhibit recently with Calabrese actor Fortunato Verducci. We met there to talk about his varied career in music and cinema as well as his role in the upcoming series, ZeroZeroZero. We entered the main room, which features a self-portrait created by Levi in 1936. The work is displayed on the original easel of his studio, which not only refers to the iconography of the artist, but represents one of the turning points in Levi's pictorial and personal life: his exile in Lucania. The experience, which lasted from August 1935 to May 1936, marked a change both in painting with a new pictorial approach, the "wave" brushstroke, to writing the book that made him famous throughout the world, Christ stopped at Eboli. From that experience of exile, Levi's attention was drawn to the peasant world, enclosed in ancestral traditions, recounted in Christ and stopped at Eboli, testimony and denunciation of the difficult living conditions of southern Italy, amidst poverty and authentic human values. The work was written in Florence during the German occupation, and was published in 1945.

Watch this clip from my documentary Return to Lucania in which the mayor of Castelmezzano, Italy in Basilicata talks about Levi's exile there..

The first edition of Levi's book is exhibited, together with two autographed letters written during the exile to Anna Maria Mazzucchelli, editor of the magazine Casabella.

First edition of Levi's 'Christ Stopped at Eboli'

Levi created portraits of his literary friends upon his return from Lucania. One of them, Eugenio Montale, favorably reviewed Christ stopped at Eboli. Montale's portrait is exhibited in the space along with those of Cesare Pavese, Italo Calvino and Rocco Scotellaro, proof of Levi's literary relations and of his lively participation in the cultural environment of the time.

Portraits of Levi's literary friends
In a museum of literature, the attention given to Levi's pictorial work accentuates two famous writers - Montale and Calvino - authors featured in the Spazi900 and present in the Writers' Gallery, while in the center of the Stanza of Elsa (Morante) is a portrait of Morante signed by Levi. (I can tell you that it is simply awe-inspiring to be in the presence of artifacts that speak to the friendship of these iconic writers.)

La Stanza di Elsa

Even in the post-war period, Levi's attention to the Lucanian peasant world remained constant, as shown by his lasting friendship with the young poet Rocco Scotellaro, represented in the exhibit with a charcoal on paper. After the untimely death of Scotellaro, Levi not only wrote the preface for his posthumous novel, L'uva puttanella, but recounted his death in the painting Lamento for Rocco Scotellaro and in the famous Lucania '61 canvas, which is on display at the Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi in Matera.

The Biblioteca Nazionale di Roma (National Central Library of Rome) is located at Viale Castro Pretorio, 105. Click here to visit the library online.

In Conversation with Director Cecilia Pignocchi

Filmmakers Arthur Couvat and  Cecilia Pignocchi It’s unusual for a first-time filmmaker to be recognized by a high-profile, international fi...