Un Festival di Cinema Italiano (a Casa Mia)

Would you like to attend an Italian Film Festival?  For free?  You can.  I did it – I created my own film festival right in my apartment here in NYC and you can too!

Spring Break this year coincided with national Turn Off Your Television Week and I decided to forgo ALL television, to see if I would explode or something.  The first day was rough, but, once I thought of making myself a film festival and watching Italian movies whenever I got the television jones, it became a really fun and enlightening experience.

I did some research to find what were considered some of the greatest Italian films ever made and then I found almost all of them in NYC public libraries. In fact, I discovered the coolest library ever – the NYC Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center.  It has an enormous selection of DVDs.   So, if you decide to make yourself a film festival, choose some movies, get yourself a big bowl of spaghetti, a hunk of Italian bread, a glass of vino and settle down to watch some of these (I promise just a taste of the plots with no spoilers in what follows):

Winner of the Leone d’Oro for Best Film at Casa Mia:

8 1/2 – This wonderful, cool, movie was made in 1963 by Frederico Fellini.  It has one of my favorite opening scenes of any movie – check it out on Youtube.  The movie stars an outrageously handsome and sexy Marcello Mastrioanni  as Guido, a film director with a complicated life.  Almost every scene in this movie is gorgeous and the ochialli and clothes are incredible. The lovely music is by a composer named Nino Rota.  He seemed to have written the music for almost all the films in my festival, come to think of it.

Photo from imdb – click for more information

Winners of the Leone d’ Argento – (there was a tie)

L’Aventura – (1960) Michaelangelo  Antonioni  directed this story about an ambassador’s daughter and her friend (played by a stunning Monica Vitti) who go yachting with the ambassador’s daughter’s wealthy fiancé and four other rich people.  The ambassador’s daughter disappears from an Aeolian Island where they stop to go swimming.  I can’t tell you what happens next, but, dang, after the final scene, I was yelling at the screen for several reasons……

The Conformist (1979) – Bernardo Bertolucci directed this story about a man, Marcello Clerici, who really wants to fit into society so he pursues opportunities with the Fascists who are in charge of the Italian government.  He marries a “normal” woman in an attempt to fit in and then is ordered by the Fascists to go to Paris to assassinate his old college professor who is anti-Fascist.  The professor has a beautiful young wife and well, you must see what happens!

Runner Up:

The Leopard – (1963)  Luchio Visconti directed freaking Burt Lancaster as a Sicilian Prince in 1860, as Italy was being unified.  It was unsettling to see Burt as a Sicilian, but wow, what great costumes and sets. The final 45 minutes is an amazing ball scene with beautiful gowns and dancing.  Definitely worth watching although this movie is more than three hours long, if you watch the “full” version in Italian, which you should.

The Neorealist Films in the Festival

The next three films are “important” in Italian film history, but, they might make you want to take the gas pipe – they are all so SAD…

Two were made by Vittorio de Sica

Umberto D  (1952)  Umberto is an old man with a beloved dog named Flike.  He is being evicted from his room by his horrid, social-climbing landlady.  Poor Umberto, his life sucks.  The man who played Umberto wasn’t even a trained actor – he was great though.  Don’t watch this if you are down in the dumps.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)  I found this movie even sadder than Umberto.  What happens is a family man named Antonio Ricci,  finally gets a job after a long period of unemployment.  The catch is that the job (hanging posters) requires a bicycle, and his first day on the job, his bike is stolen (after he and his wife  pawn their bed  linen for money to get the bike out of hock). For the rest of the movie, Ricci and his son Bruno, look for the bike.  Bruno was awesome, but, this was not a fun movie.  Too bleak, and omg the ending….

The third neorealist film was:

La Strada (1954)  This was also directed by Fellini. In it, Anthony Quinn plays a circus strong-man/ brutish a-hole and Fellini’s real-life wife (Guillieta Massina) plays a young woman named Gelsomina.  Anthony Quinn buys Gelsomina from her mother and teaches her how to be a clown.  Sorry, but, I didn’t like this movie although I know it is supposed to be a classic.  I hate all movies involving elfin/waifish/impish women and I couldn’t get over Zorba the Greek mistreating poor Gelsomina (even though I couldn’t stand her either). The Nino Rota music was nice though.

Photo from imdb


Although I wasn’t a fan of La Strada, I did love another Fellini movie called

Amarcord (1973)  I read that this movie was partly autobiographical – that it was about Fellini’s  childhood in 1930’s Fascist Italy. It’s mostly a comedy about many different people in a small town, with some serious messages about the cruelty and idiocy of the Fascists. I think both Amarcord and the Conformist tried to explain why the Italians went along with the Fascists.  But unlike The Conformist, Amarcord has LOTS of fart jokes and LOTS of shots of ladies behinds.

      Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – Sergio Leone directed an amazing cast in this western that he filmed mostly in Rome at Cinecitta .  A young, beautiful Claudia Cardinale plays an ex-hooker (I swear she must have had an eighteen inch waist), Henry Fonda plays an evil bad guy (!!!!!) Jason Robards plays a good bad guy and Charles Bronson is the hero. Wow, this was fun! Apparently, almost every scene in the movie references some other western film, but I haven’t seen enough westerns to catch the many homages.


Big Deal on Madonna Street  (1958) This is a great comedy directed by Mario Monicelli. It is a crime caper – a bunch of guys plan to burglarize a pawn shop via the adjoining apartment.  One of the stars is Marcello Mastroianni, looking really young and, of course, insanely handsome. For us Legal Studies folk, there is a comedic look into the Italian criminal justice system as an extra bonus!

There are so many other great Italian movies that I have yet to watch and some, that I’ve seen in the past that I highly recommend  – for example, Mediterraneo  which is about Italian soldiers stranded on a Greek Island during WWII and Swept Away (the 1974 Lina Wertmuller one – NOT the Madonna remake) about a rich woman and a working class deck hand (the gorgeous Giancarlo Giannini) who become stranded on a deserted island in the Mediterranean.

Oh and by the way, it’s been ten  days now without the television – I never went back.  Life is Beautiful.


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