Italy Through Cinema: North-to-South Film Guide

After we hosted Cinema Italia UK’s very successful show of Smetto Quando Voglio, we have the cinematic glory of the peninsula pumping through our collective veins. Italy’s rich filmic heritage is growing, and now Londoners can keep up with the best contemporary content the beautiful country has to offer, every month. It gives us great pleasure to look ahead at what 2015 will offer, but, for budding aficionados of Italian Cinema, we’ve mocked up a little tour of Italy through great films set in particular regions. The classics not only offer heavy-weight drama and social introspection, they offer sumptuous imagery that celebrates the beauty of the Peninsula. Check our North-To-South guide of some of finest Italian films ever made.

Milan – Rocco and His Brothers (dir. Luchino Visconti)

Visconti’s expansive magnum-opus stands tall as one of the pillars of Italian neorealism – the tradition born out of the country’s sorry state after Mussolini. These films often tracked the plight of the poor and working-class, hitting home the brutal truths of the social and moral crises in post-WWII Italy. Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers follows this bleak vein, examining a rural family’s struggle to assimilate in the bustling, yet impersonal, metropolis of Milan. Upon release in 1960, the film faced considerable controversy, Visconti was even asked by the Italian Government to remove a rape scene. However, the film’s legacy lives on. Milan, a hub of fashion of style these days, is as much of a character as the family, a terrifying but exciting modern sprawl. Filmed with grace and elegance, the bleak content of this film won’t stop you from itching to visit Italy’s Northern super-city. A classic masterpiece.

Tuscany – Life is Beautiful (dir. Roberto Benigni)

Roberto Benigni scooped an Oscar for his wonderful performance as a Jewish father taken to a concentration camp during WWII. Taken in with his young son, the father tries to convince him that the ordeal is just a game, to shield him from the horrible truth. This sweet comedy-drama changed the complexion of the Holocaust-film, mixing humour with the dark period that’s otherwise beautifully explored by Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. It was filmed in the small Tuscan town of Arezzo, and they’re so proud of it that message boards pointing out set locations are peppered across the commune.

Rome – La Dolce Vita (dir. Federico Fellini)

No surprises here. The image of Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg frolicking in the Trevi Fountain are amongst the most famous in Italian Cinema. There is, however, a reason for this film’s fame. Mastroianni plays a bored journalist who drifts through life in Rome, musing over the empty decadence and hedonism of his actions. Fellini satirises the media, and the life of the socialite, whilst offering a fascinatingly written case of introspection. La Dolce Vita’s legacy is summed-up by ‘Paparazzi’ becoming a word to describe tabloid photographers, it sprung from the character, Paparazzo. This film is responsible for much of the tourism Rome welcomes, and Fellini’s luscious tributes to the Eternal City explains why.

If you’d prefer something a little less obvious, give Fellini’s ‘Roma’, a go!

Naples – Journey to Italy (dir. Roberto Rossellini)

It would be an immense injustice to suggest Garrone’s haunting ‘Gomorrah’ for Naples. As brilliantly revealing of a mafia caper it is, it undersells the charm of this ancient city. So, we’ve gone for Rossellini’s marital drama, Journey to Italy. Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders star as an affluent but troubled English couple who travel to Naples to tie up a property deal. The husband, an avid workaholic, fails to satisfy his more sensitive wife, leading to immense strain between the two. However, it takes the charm of a Neapolitan religious procession that reignites their fire. This exploration of marital life and love-letter to Italy’s Southern gem is a pleasure to behold.

Sicily – Malena (dir. Giuseppe Tornatore)

Now, we’ve discounted The Godfather as it’s an American production. And, when you take Coppola’s trilogy out of the mix, that leaves Sicily-born auteur Giuseppe Tornatore. His heart-warming filmography includes Cinema Paradiso, Baaria and, our choice to highlight, Malena. Set in the South-eastern city of Siracusa, it follows the vilification of the eponymous lady (Monica Belluci) through the eyes of 12-year-old, Renato, at the beginning of WWII. Renato harbours an adolescent fixation with the beautiful Malena, and as he stalks her, we see her get crushed by gossip over her sex life. The most stunning scene takes place in the city’s Piazza Duomo, a bleach-white expanse encircled by ornate Baroque buildings. Malena, unjustly shamed, walks through the square as the bustle of people stare and chatter. Unsettling, poignant, and, with the setting, beguiling.

Want to explore Italian Cinema more? Cinema Italia UK’s next film is Song E Napule on the 14th December! Book your tickets here


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