Movies and Film
The Past 20 Years
During the 1980s, American movies virtually dominated the Italian film industry, constituting up to 75 percent of the motion pictures the nation's audiences watched. Even more than the '50s, '60s, and '70s, the '80s and early '90s were not boom years for Italian cinema, and few directors emerged to assume the auteur mantle worn proudly by Antonioni, Rossellini, and Fellini.
There are two directors currently working in Italy who have, for better or worse, been dubbed "The Italian Woody Allen." Nanni Moretti disguises often biting social and political commentary beneath a seemingly innocuous comedic cover. Check out Le Messa e finita (The Mass Is Ended, 1986), in which Moretti himself stars as a priest.
Italy's other answer to Woody Allen (and the director who probably better fits the label) is Massimo Troisi, a director renowned for his lighthearted glimpses at Italian society in films like Ricominci da tre (I'm Starting Again from Three, 1980) and Le vie del signore sono finite (The Lord's Ways Are Finished, 1987).
Things have started to change, though, due in large part to the considerable efforts of five or six filmmakers who have worked diligently during the past 20 years to establish once again Italy's reputation for cinematic innovation and brilliance. Foremost among these is Nanni Moretti, whose 1976 Io sono un autoarchico (I Am an Anarchist) marked a turning point in the nature of Italian film comedy. A committed Marxist and a brilliant humorist, Moretti laces his films with an ironic wit that receives its most bizarrely satisfying manifestation in Palombella rossa (Red Lob, 1989), a comment on the recent fortunes of Italian Communism through the allegorical veil of a water polo match. His recent film Caro Diario (Dear Diary, 1996) is a gently moving autobiographical meditation on motorbike riding, Rome, and the artist's own struggle with cancer.
Other important directors in recent years are Maurizio Nichetti (Volere Volare [To Wish to Fly, 1991]), Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo, 1991), and especially Gianni Amelio, whose treatment of contemporary crime includes a spectacular terrorism film, Colpire al cuore (To Strike at the Heart, 1982), and Il ladro di bambini (The Child Snatcher, 1992), the story of a child abductor that marked a significant commercial success for mainstream Italian film.
Italy's "Little Devil"
Roberto Benigni became a household name in the United States only in the late '90s, when Life Is Beautiful, a film he directed and in which he starred as a father using humor to help his son survive a Nazi concentration camp, won an Oscar for best foreign picture (and was nominated for best picture).
But Italian and other European audiences have known Benigni for years as the "Little Devil," a humorous sprite who's popped up in any number of guises as a trickster, a rogue, and generally loud pesty little guy in numerous comedies beginning in the late '70s with Letti Selvaggi (Tigers in Lipstick, 1978). Benigni has also played supporting roles in several films of Jim Jarmusch, including Down by Law (1986), in which he's cast as Tom Waits's jail mate screaming through the bars for ice cream, and Night on Earth (1991), which features his brilliant performance as a taxi driver hurtling madly through the streets of Rome.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.