Why does it take so long for certain extremely gifted filmmakers to achieve international attention and praise for their body of work? Italian director Antonio Pietrangeli might have been popular and well-known in his own country but not so much in the U.S. where he was almost forgotten until the last decade. Thanks to filmmaker Alexander Payne, a re-discovery of Pietrangeli’s work began in 2012 after Payne hosted a showing of Lo La Conoscevo Bene (English title: I Knew Her Well, 1965) at the Telluride Film Festival that year (The Criterion Collection would later release it on Blu-ray and DVD in 2016). It was also in 2012 that Raro Films released Pietrangeli’s La Visita (English title: The Visit, 1963) on DVD in America and followed it up with a 2014 DVD release of his Adua e Le Compagne aka Hungry for Love aka Love a la Carte (1960).
Retrospectives of Pietrangeli’s work at museums, film festivals and cinema archives soon followed with MoMA presenting 10 of his movies in 2015 (He only directed 11 feature films plus contributions to two anthology films, 1954’s Mid-Century Loves and 1966’s The Queens. He was more prolific as a screenwriter and also worked as an assistant director on films like Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione. It’s a shame Pietrangeli didn’t live long enough to see his work being re-discovered in the U.S. and abroad (he drowned at sea in 1968 at age 49) but renewed interest in his work doesn’t necessarily mean that most of his work is now readily available for viewing. One of his key achievements, La Parmigiana (English title: The Girl from Parma, 1963) is still missing in action but it is an impressive showcase for actress Catherine Spaak and a fine example of Pietrangeli’s unusually effective blend of comedy and drama featuring a female protagonist. In fact, most of his films view Italian society through the eyes of a sympathetic heroine or heroines.
No, I am not referring to the 1961 musical by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, which enjoyed successful stage productions in London and Broadway before being adapted for the screen in 1966. I’m talking about the 1970 satire, Fermate il Mondo…Voglio Scendere! (the title translates as Stop the World…I Want to Get Off! In English), which was the directorial debut of Italian actor Giancarlo Cobelli, based on a screenplay he wrote with fellow thespians Giancarlo Badessi and Laura Betti, a close friend and frequent collaborator with Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film is a frenzied attack on consumerism and the Italian media but its bursting-at-the-seams energy emanates not so much from outrage as it does from a madcap sense of anarchy.
In 1989 Istituto Luce, the oldest public institution devoted to film production, distribution and archival material in Italy, produced an omnibus film consisting of 12 segments entitled 12 Registi per 12 Citta (12 Directors for 12 Cities). A documentary/travelogue hybrid, the film was made as a promotional vehicle in support of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Rome and part of its intent was to lure tourists to Italy, particularly to the cities showcased in the film. The title is not completely accurate; thirteen directors, not twelve, contributed to the project if you count Giuseppe Bertolucci, the younger brother of Bernardo Bertolucci, who co-directed the Bologna section with Bernardo. 12 Registi per 12 Citta is also unconventional in its presentation with each director approaching his subject in his own unique way and the selected cities include some offbeat choices like Udine and Cagliari as well as some major omissions. What, no Venice?
Will there be a happy ending for Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) and Isabella Candeloro (Sophia Loren) in More Than a Miracle (1967), directed by Francesco Rosi.
Imagine, if you can, a rustic Neapolitan fairy tale directed by Francesco Rosi in the docudrama style of his post-neorealism films of the early sixties like The Moment of Truth (1965), shoot it in Technicolor and Techniscope, add a lush musical score by Piero Piccioni and you get More Than a Miracle (1967), a zesty Southern Italian fantasy-romance that was more appropriately titled Cinderella, Italian Style in Europe. Continue reading →
In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style. Continue reading →