May 2018, arsenal cinema

Retrospective Pietro Germi

SEDOTTA E ABBANDONATA, 1964

Pietro Germi (1914–1974) was one of the outstanding personalities of Italian cinema from the 40s to the 70s. Born in Genoa, the director, actor, and screenwriter was one of the first generation of Neorealist directors alongside Visconti, De Sica, and Rossellini. Much like those of Antonio Pietrangeli, Germi’s directorial works represent a link between Neorealism and Commedia all’ italiana, “which doesn’t betray the former, but rather moves it forward in popular, satirical fashion” (Gerhard Midding). Germi gained international recognition and fame with his third film IN NOME DELLA LEGGE (1949), a milestone in the history of the mafia film which doubles up as a tribute to John Ford and Sicily, where Germi shot a total of five films. IL CAMMINO DELLA SPERANZA (1950), IL FERROVIERE (1956) and the literary adaptation UN MALEDETTO IMBROGLIO (1959), in which Germi also took on the leading role, established him as a significant force in Italian cinema. The Oscar-winning international success DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA followed in 1961, which was the start of a series of socially critical comedies about Italian customs, traditions, and laws which polemicized the discrimination of the woman and the dual morals of the bourgeoisie. What’s characteristic of Germi’s films is their precise observation of Italian life, their enthusiasm for the expressive power of faces, and the director’s humanist view of the world – who Otar Iosseliani saw as “one of the most noble-minded filmmakers ever to have existed”. For all their bitterness in the depiction of social living conditions, they are above all films “in which the heavy weight of life is assuaged by the rich depth of feeling, a warming maturity of the heart.” (Martin Schlappner) We are presenting eleven films by Pietro Germi from 1948 to 1972 in collaboration with the Italienisches Kulturinstitut. The retrospective is accompanied by four introductions and a lecture by Mario Sesti (19.5.).

DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA (Divorce Italian Style, Italy 1961, 18.5., with an introduction by Mario Sesti) Sicilian baron Ferdinando Cefalù – known as Fefè – (Marcello Mastroianni) has been married for 15 years now and has grown tired of his wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). He desires his 16-year-old cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) and, after finding out that Angela reciprocates his feelings, starts looking for some way out of his marriage – Italian law only permitted divorce from 1970 onwards. Inspired by a newspaper report about a mild court sentence handed down based on § 587 “Crime of broken honour”, Fefè pursues a plan to push Rosalia in the arms of her adolescent love. For if he catches the couple in flagranti, he can shoot Rosalia to save his honor and marry Angela after serving the expected 18-month prison sentence. Pietro Germi’s satirical comedy about Italian marriage and criminal law gave birth to the concept of the Commedia all’italiana. DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA became a prize-winning international success and was the beginning of an international career for the then 15-year-old Stefania Sandrelli.

UN MALEDETTO IMBROGLIO (The Facts of Murder, Italy 1959, 19. & 26.5.) A masked burglar steals valuable jewelry from the apartment of Commendatore Anzaloni. Shortly afterwards, the attractive Liliana Banducci is murdered in the same house. Rome commissioner Ingravallo (Pietro Germi) is entrusted with solving the crime and enters a veritable labyrinth of attacks, altered wills, suspect alibis, and giveaway letters. The literary basis by Carlo Emilio Gadda, a depiction of Roman society and its social structures that is shaped according to different registers of speech, is one of the key works of the Italian modern. Pietro Germi’s adaptation is one of the biggest successes in Italian crime dramas and shows Claudia Cardinale in her first larger role.  

IL FERROVIERE (The Railroad Man, Italy 1956, 20. & 26.5.) 50-year-old train driver from Rome Andrea Marcocci (Pietro Germi) fails to see a stop signal after someone throws themselves in front of a train. The resultant health assessment forced on the hard-drinking Andrea, who suffers from a heart condition, leads to his being demoted to driving a shunting engine. Full of resentment at his demotion and threatened in his role as family provider due to the resultant pay cut, Andrea becomes a strikebreaker. He starts driving passenger trains again, but loses his place in the community of colleagues that used to be friends, while tensions also rise within the family after Andrea forces his pregnant daughter Giulia to marry. In IL FERROVIERE, Pietro Germi took on the leading role in one of his own directorial works for the first time. This melodrama is narrated by Andrea’s eight-year-old son in unsentimental voiceover and is a central work in Germi’s filmography: complex, moving, and deeply humanist.   

SEDOTTA E ABBANDONATA (Seduced and Abandoned, Italy/France 1964, 20. & 29.5.) While the rest of the family takes a nap on a hot Sicilian summer’s day, student Peppino seduces his fiancé Matilde’s younger sister, the 16-year-old Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli). The gynecological examination ordered by her mistrustful parents and a pregnancy test leave no doubt that Agnese has lost her innocence and is expecting a child. To rescue their honor, family head Don Vincenzo Ascalone (Saro Urzì) urges Peppino to marry – but he refuses to wed a woman who is no longer intact, as, according to the logic of his father, “The man has the right to ask; the woman, the obligation to refuse”. This turbulent comedy is a variation on the themes from DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA: the Italian jurisdiction of the time granted rapists exemption from punishment if the woman agreed to marry the man.

ALFREDO, ALFREDO (Italy/France 1972, 21. & 31.5.) Ten years after DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA, it was no longer necessary to make murderous plans to properly separate, as Italy passed a law permitting divorce in December 1970. Pietro Germi’s last film begins in a scene before the divorce judge, a situation for which married couple Alfredo (Dustin Hoffman) and Maria Rosa (Stefania Sandrelli) fought for many years. Alfredo’s look back into the past traces out the story of the shy bank clerk and the spirited pharmacy saleswoman, whose romantic and tempestuous manner – telegrams with amorous pledges, a scavenger hunt with love letters at 78 different locations, constant phone calls, visits to his place of work, and unending nights of passion – increasingly overwhelms and exhausts him. It’s hard to fathom why Pietro Germi’s final and funniest film is usually omitted when the highpoints of his oeuvre are counted. ALFREDO, ALFREDO is an Italian film historical treasure ripe for discovery.

IL CAMMINO DELLA SPERANZA (Path of Hope, Italy 1950, 22.5., with an introduction by Winfried Günther) The strike at and occupation of an unprofitable Sicilian sulphur mine are unable to prevent its closure. When a stranger (Saro Urzì) promises to take the unemployed workers to France for 20,000 lire where work and money apparently await them, some of them sell their entire possessions and set off on the long journey from Sicilia in the direction of the Alps, including single father Saro (Raf Vallone) with his three children and the young Barbara (Elena Varzi), who has been cast out of the village community after getting mixed up with criminal Vanni (Franco Navarra). Pietro Germi’s Neorealist film is about a group of Sicilians who cross the whole of Italy and are unwanted wherever they go, eventually getting sent back by the authorities and being attacked by the locals as “wage squeezers” and “strikebreakers”. The story carries a sad topicality, the only difference being that, 70 years later, Sicily is now the destination seen as a possible liberation by thousands attempting to escape their miserable lives.

SIGNORE E SIGNORI (The Birds, the Bees and the Italians, Italy/France 1966, 23.5., with an introduction by Gerhard Midding & 27.5.) forms together with DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA and SEDOTTA E ABBANDONATA a sort of satirical trilogy about love and marriage morals in provincial Italy. While the two previous films were set in Sicily, SIGNORE E SIGNORI creates a panorama of society in a small town in Venetia. Impotence, extra-marital relationships not permitted by social standing, underage sex, the preservation of honor, and maintaining the façade of decency are the dominant themes that surround several married couples and friends in this comedy, which received the Golden Palm in Cannes.

L’IMMORALE (Italy/France 1967, 24.5.) In this continuation of his socially critical romantic comedies, Pietro Germi caricatures bourgeois conventions in an artistic, educated middle class milieu: Masini (Ugo Tognazzi), a prominent violinist in his mid-forties, has fallen in love with the 20-year-old harpist Marisa (Stefania Sandrelli), who is awaiting the birth of their child. The problem: Sergio already has two families and five children who are unaware of each other’s existence. Increasingly overwhelmed by having to organize three parallel families – all the birthdays, clothing sizes, favorite dishes, holiday wishes and other preferences need to be taken into account – Sergio asks for advice from Don Michele at confession. 

GIOVENTÙ PERDUTA (Lost Youth, Italy 1948, 25.5.) The 19-year-old Stefano, son of a university professor, is the leader of a criminal student gang whose last robbery led to someone being shot dead. Inspector Mariani (Massimo Girotti) is on their trail and suspects Stefano of the crime, but wants to resign anyway after falling in love with Stefano’s sister Luisa (Carla Del Poggio). The film’s central theme is the subject of a lecture by Stefano’s father: the high level of criminality among the younger genrations two years after the end of the war is not a consequence of the large-scale poverty in the country, but has rather been brought about by the loss of values in the years of dictatorship and war. In his second film, Pietro Germi links together Neorealism and genre borrowings in virtuoso style and takes his bearings from film noir in terms of lighting, production desig,n and atmosphere, with signs of US culture highly present: the protagonist wears a white trench coat, Camel cigarettes are traded as a currency, and the nightclub singer signs of Hawaii. 

LA CITTÀ SI DIFENDE (Italy 1951, 25.5.) Poverty and hunger lead four men to rob the stadium cash register during a football match on the outskirts of Rome. The four of them scatter while fleeing from the police. One of them, a former successful football player called Paolo (Renato Baldini) who has never really got back on his feet after breaking his leg, is spurred on by an additional motivation: he hopes to win back his former lover Daniela (Gina Lollobrigida), who left him after he was no longer able to offer her the living standards she desired. As already in GIOVENTÙ PERDUTA, Pietro Germi connects elements of Neorealism with film noir tropes and creates a dark film narrated in voiceover with Gina Lollobrigida as a femme fatale.

IN NOME DELLA LEGGE (In the Name of the Law, Italy 1949, 30.5., with an introduction by Fabian Tietke) Young judge Guido Schiavi (Massimo Girotti) has been transferred from Palermo to provincial Sicily and meets a wall of silence there while investigating a murder. Despite realizing that the town behaves according to its own laws and that the few official representatives of the law – including the head of the Carabinieri Maresciallo Grifò (Saro Urzì) – have fallen in line, Schiavi ends up in conflict with influential mine owner Baron Lo Vasto and mafia boss Passalacqua (Charles Vanel). IN NOME DELLA LEGGE is an early highpoint in Germi’s work and the first post-war Italian film to describe Mafia structures in differentiated fashion, creating an amalgam of Neorealism, the Mafia film and the Western. Lawless men on horseback with guns on their shoulders on unsurfaced roads provide the dusty background for a plot that tells of the law of the strong and of Pietro Germi’s admiration for John Ford. (hjf)

With the friendly support of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Berlino.

arsenal cinema: Retrospective Pietro Germi

07:00 pm Cinema 1


Il cinema di Pietro Germi

Il cinema di Pietro Germi

Lecture by Mario Sesti (in English) Free admission
arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour: Production Design

07:30 pm Cinema 2


Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss

Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss Rainer Werner Fassbinder
FRG 1982 With Rosel Zech, Hilmar Thate, Cornelia Froboess
35 mm 104 min

arsenal cinema: Retrospective Pietro Germi

08:00 pm Cinema 1


Un maledetto imbroglio

Un maledetto imbroglio The Facts of Murder Italy 1959
With Pietro Germi, Claudia Cardinale, Saro Urzì
35 mm OV/EnS 106 min