I often talk to clients and friends about Italian films. Watching films in Italian is a great way to listen to the sound and cadence of the language as it is actually spoken – and of course subtitles can help dramatically too! The Italians had such a miserable time during the Second World War that, as soon as hostilities were over, the Italian film industry blossomed. Often with whimsical tales of hope, kindness and imagination. Anything to escape the grinding poverty of so many of the Italian people during the war years.
LADRI DI BICICLETTE – The film ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ was released in 1948, in the ‘neorealista’ style. It portrays a poor family, struggling to survive. The father finally gets a job only to have his bicycle stolen by thieves. The father and his son work together to try and find the bike. It’s a film that stays with you for years. A film about ordinary people, every day challenges and the grim reality of life in Italy just after the war. It’s a poignant tale of humanity. Beautifully filmed and so touching. A film that I’ll never forget.
For my next choice, the cinema itself is the star…..
CINEMA PARADISO – this is a beautiful film about Toto (Salvatore) a young boy growing up in a remote Sicilian village. The boy lives with his mother and sister, the father is absent, away fighting in a far off war. A friendship develops between Toto and Alfredo, the projectionist at the local cinema. Alfredo is a father figure to the boy. There is a special bond between the two that endures throughout their lives.
The cinema offers entertainment and escapism to the local people. The film screenings are very popular and attract full houses. Sometimes there are so many people that members of the audience have to bring their own chair to sit on. The interaction between the spectators in the cinema is hilarious. Every social class is represented in the cinema, from the mayor of the town to the street cleaner. They are all there packed into one building with the common goal of watching the latest movie. Of course there’s always a few courting couples in the back row who are not there to watch the film.
The local priest takes his job of censoring the films, before they are seen by the locals, very seriously. He insists that Alfredo removes every scene of kissing or any form of physical intimacy from every film. His sense of moral outrage, as he watches the films, possibly a little too intently, is very funny. Toto grows up against a backdrop of the great movies of the 1940s and 1950s. Cowboy films with John Wayne and huge epic movies like Gone with the Wind. The cinema is the only entertainment in the village. Everyone goes there, rich and poor, men and women, even the children. It introduces drama and high adventure into the lives of the villagers. Alfredo as the projectionist has a crucial role in showing the latest films to the town. If he makes a mistake, or there’s a delay changing film reels, booing and hissing fills the air.
It’s a wonderful, epic and meaningful film that spans Toto’s entire life. The musical score is fantastic too. A beautiful and poignant evocation of rural, village life in Sicily just after the war. It’ll make you laugh, cry and want to visit Sicily – all at once!
Continuing the theme of escapism, I’m going to move now from cinema and film to poetry and to the beautiful and atmospheric film Il Postino, released in 1994.
IL POSTINO is set in the 1950s on a remote island off the coast of Italy. The film is about a young man who is a fisherman, following reluctantly in his father’s footsteps. However he’s not a very good fisherman and he doesn’t like the work. His father urges him to find another job. By chance the local post office are advertising for a postman to deliver letters to a remote house in the hills. The pay is poor and the post man must deliver to only one house. Mario, our hero takes the job. It turns out that he is delivering sacks full of letters to the poet Pablo Neruda. He has been forced to leave his native Chile because of his communist sympathies. Neruda is already a very successful romantic poet and has a huge and loyal female fan base, writing him love letters from all over the world. Mario is fascinated and very impressed with Neruda’s female following and wants to know how he too can get the attention of women…………..
Over time a friendship develops between Mario and Pablo Neruda. Mario seeks the poet’s advice on how he can attract the beautiful Beatrice who works in a small bar by the harbour. The film is a charming and romantic voyage of discovery, where words are powerful and life changing. When asked by Neruda for an adjective to describe the fishermen’s nets piled up on the jetty, Mario pronounces the nets to be sad. ‘Le rete sono triste!’
After several years in exile Pablo Neruda is able to return to his homeland. The postman doesn’t hear from the ‘great man’ again. Which causes him profound disappointment. However like all good films, it’s worth watching until the very end. For me this film is uplifting and reveals the possibilities available to everyone, whatever their situation in life. I discovered after seeing the film that Mario, Il Postino, was actually ill during the making of the film and died shortly afterwards. How’s that for a poignant epitaph.
I’m going to finish my Italian film selection with an absolute masterpiece from the 1960s. It’s a dark comedy called ‘Divorce Italian Style’. This is a brilliant and very funny film starring Marcello Mastroianni.
DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE – is a dark comedy about a handsome and rather vain young aristocrat who is desperate to marry his cousin Angela. Unfortunately he is already married and divorce is illegal in Italy at the time of the film. Undeterred the main character imagines all sorts of fatal endings for his unfortunate wife. Eventually he develops a plan to trick his wife into having an affair. However things don’t work out quite as he is expecting. Mastroianni is brilliant as the self-obsessed, arrogant and curiously, completely clueless lead character. This film is endearing, amusing and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Happy film viewing, there’ll be more suggestions to come soon!
- I’m a tour guide, travel writer and Italophile. You can read numerous articles on Italy and travel at: the Educated Traveller blog
- Here’s a link to another article I wrote about Italian films: Sicily in the Movies
- I also run a specialist travel business www.grand-tourist.com
- Suggestions, comments, enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Happy Reading and Happy Film Viewing!