Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cinema, Italian Style

Last year it was Antonioni, this year it's Dino Risi - yet another great filmmaker from the heyday of Italian cinema passed away on Saturday. He died aged 91.

Risi may not be as well known internationally as Antonioni, whose beautifully slow, troubling films capture the malaise beneath the veneer of a new, booming Italy. Instead, Risi made a name for himself as the master of Commedia all'Italiana - a genre that includes sizzling titles such as Divorza all'Italiana (Divorce, Italian Style, 1961) by Pietro Germi, and his own Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman, 1974). However, Risi's critical masterpiece and now cult-classic is more in line with Antonioni's disqueting yet seductive take on modern Italy. It's called Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life, 1962), and tells the tragic story of a wealthy layabout (played beautifully by Vittorio Gassman) who encourages a hard-working young boy to abandon his books in favour of a day of fast cars and pretty women. I won't reveal the ending, but it comes as a sudden and nasty shock - the surface gloss gives way to deep cracks, and the viewer is left to wander the meaning of it all. Fellini's La Dolce Vita, made just two years before Gassman's film, carries a similar message, despite the glossy, über-cinematic quality of its mise-en-scène, with its stunning costumes, palazzos and swish nightclubs which shout 'Hollywood' and 'economic miracle' simultaneously. Along with Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960), set on the breathtaking Italian riviera, and Visconti's stunning period feature set in the fading aristocracy of Sicily, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963), these films capture the best of Italian cinema at the time. All four directors communicate a sense of the hidden loss that goes hand in hand with youth, beauty and modernisation.

Writing about all these wonderful films has given me the appetite to watch them all again - it's been too long.

(image: Il Sorpasso)

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