May 2019, arsenal cinema

Commedia all’italiana


A particular form of socio-critical entertainment emerged at the end of the 1950s in Italy: the subversive comedy broke with the gratification and optimism of the genre, instead using satire and precise observation of daily life to reflect the social upheavals of the era. In the 1960s, the commedia all’italiana developed into one of the most important and successful genres of the Italian film industry. The films were not only extremely popular among the public, but also acclaimed at major international festivals, where they won numerous best director, actor and screenplay prizes. Juggling tragedy and comedy, the films narrate Italy’s cultural history from the end of the war to the 1970s, telling a story of poverty and regional economic imbalances, of the problems related to the shift from an agrarian to an industrial society and to the economic miracle, such as rural exodus and urbanization, uprooting, the rapid decline of traditional values and institutions, consumerism, increased motorization, gender inequality and new sexual freedoms. The films were characterized by a lack of respect towards authority and institutions; biting satire was applied to mock the family, patriarchy and the church and to criticize bigoted moral attitudes and backwards marriage laws. Irony, sarcasm, anger, despair, melancholy and humor came together to form a unique form of comedy, in which happy endings were rare. Outstanding representatives of the genre include the directors Dino Risi, Pietro Germi, Luigi Comencini, Mario Monicelli, Antonio Pietrangeli and Luigi Zampa, as well as the auteur team Age & Scarpelli, who wrote the screenplays for a number of comedies, eight of which feature in our selection. The actors Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Nino Manfredi, Stefania Sandrelli and Claudia Cardinale gave the commedia all’italiana its characteristic face. In cooperation with the Italian Cultural Institute we will screen 21 highlights of the genre made between 1958 and 1974. The retrospective will be accompanied by two introductions and two lectures.

IL SORPASSO (Dino Risi, Italy 1962, 3.5., with an introductory lecture by Luigi Reitani: “Film as a mirror of society” & 9.5., Introduction: Uta Felten) Rome, 15th August, Ferragosto: Looking for a telephone, the 40-year-old Bruno (Vittorio Gassman) ends up in the flat of the law student Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and invites him for a spin in his Lancia Aurelia sports car. The fundamentally different characters and temperaments of the two men are reflected in their driving style: The hyperactive and exuberant bon viveur Bruno constantly overtakes other cars rather aggressively (indeed “il sorpasso” means “passing”) as the hesitant and inhibited Roberto takes fright in the passenger seat. Their two-day trip along the Tyrrenian coast becomes a journey of initiation. This fast-paced, sweeping tragicomedy, with its fashionable Twist-inspired soundtrack, is one of the highlights of the Commedia all’italiana and Risi’s key work The first modern road movie (whose US distribution title was “The Easy Life”) also inspired Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider.

I SOLITI IGNOTI (Big Deal on Madonna Street, Mario Monicelli, Italy 1958, 4. & 11.5.) A handful of small-time criminals from a poor district on the outskirts of Rome dream of a big coup. They attempt to burglar the safe of a pawnshop by going through a thin wall in a neighboring apartment. But everything that could possibly go wrong does. I SOLITI IGNOTI, which was at the intersection between the picturesque comedies of neorealismo rosa and a new more satirical, biting form of comedy, is considered the first commedia all’italiana, combining a cartoon-esque typification of characters with the neorealist emphasis on location in the poor districts of Rome. The comedy is accompanied by the tragedy linked with the efforts of having to find a place in society. The brilliant cast united stars such as Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni with the comedian Totò and Claudia Cardinale, who at the time was still unknown.

IL VIGILE (The Traffic Policeman, Luigi Zampa, Italy 1960, 4. & 17.5.) Otello Celletti (Alberto Sordi) is lazy. His activity is limited to telling everyone, unsolicited, how they should do things better and to persistently badgering the local mayor (Vittorio de Sica) for a job as a motorcycle officer - after all his 10-year-old son did save a town councilor from drowning. When he finally lands the job with the local priest’s help and the film star Sylva Koscina thanks him on television for not fining him at during a road check, he gets a warning from the mayor who tells him not to neglect his duties again. Otello takes him at his word and later gives him a speeding ticket. He then follows him to the house of the mayor’s mistress. Eventually, he is himself put forward as a candidate by the monarchists to run against the mayor. While Luigi Zampa’s formidable political satire about double standards, corruption, power and uniforms (“Those who most want a uniform shouldn’t get one…”) remained practically unknown in West Germany. It was screened in France for the first time in 2016, 56 years too late but to great acclaim.

MAFIOSO (Alberto Lattuada, Italy 1962, 5. & 7.5.) Antonio Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi)’s social ascent happens like in a fairy tale. He leaves the Sicilian village of Calama for the industrialized north and within eight years works his way up to inspector in a car factory. He also gets married and has two blond daughters. When he decides to show his family his home village, his boss – also from Calamo – gives him a present for the honorable Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio). The crime boss reminds Antonio that as a young “picciotto” he would carry out little errands for him and still has some obligations. He asks him whether he’s still a good shot. This film about the Casa Nostra, which came out the same year as Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano, depicts the economic miracle as development without progress: Antonio is not able to escape his origins and the power structures in the wealthy north are no so different from those in the poor south. His boss is just an Italian-American version of Don Vincenzo.

IL BOOM (Der Boom, Vittorio De Sica, Italy 1963, 6. & 17.5.) In his foray into commedia all’italiana, Vittorio De Sica uses plenty of satire to highlight the moral flaws of Italy’s economic miracle: Giovanni Alberti (Alberto Sordi) tries desperately to maintain his flamboyant lifestyle despite the lack of success of his business ventures. When even bad checks can no longer help him to avoid bankruptcy, his wife Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale) leaves him, aware that her family honor and standard of living are under threat. A rich industrialist’s wife makes Giovanni an immoral offer – telling him that she’ll give him 50 million lira to help write off his debts if he donates an eye to her husband who is going blind. “You don’t have to, we don’t live in the age of slavery.”

IL MAGNIFICO CORNUTO (The Magnificent Cuckold, Antonio Pietrangeli, Italy/F 1964, 8.5.) Andrea Artusi (Ugo Tognazzi), a wealthy hat maker from Brescia’s upper class is married to the attractive young Maria Grazia (Claudia Cardinale). After a tryst with a business acquaintance’s wife in a hotel, he is overcome with fear that his wife might also have a lover. He checks her car’s mileage, calls suspicious numbers that he gets from her address book, starts suspecting a winemaker because Maria Grazia talks about barrels in her sleep. He even fires his manservant and replaces him with somebody older. Of all of Antonio Pietrangeli’s tragically ridiculous male protagonists, Andrea Artusi is the most grotesque. A commedia all’italiana about male pride, gender roles and jealousy – “a luxury for people with time and money”.

IL MORALISTA (The Moralist, Giorgio Bianchi, Italy 1959, 10.5.) Agostino (Alberto Sordi) is the General Secretary of the Social Morality Union. He’s known for his rigidity and rallies vehemently against the decline of morality. He makes long speeches at congresses, campaigns for posters and films to be censored and clubs to be closed down. The Social Morality Union’s president (Vittorio De Sica) wants him to marry his 29-year-old daughter. But behind his clean-cut facade, Agostino conceals energies that contrast with the morality union’s tenets. In Giorgio Bianchi’s captivating satire of moral attitudes, hypocrisy, the worst threats seem interestingly to come from Germany. Agostino and two older women from the magazine “Moralità publica” cry “ekelhaft” (“disgusting!”) in German and shake their heads when they see couples making out in a German bar and a striptease dancer (Christiane Nielsen) accompanied by black musicians.

IL COMMISSARIO (The Police Commissioner, Luigi Comencini, Italy 1962, 10. & 25.5.) Dante Lombardozzi (Alberto Sordi), a young, ambitious and pompous deputy police inspector, spots a chance for promotion when his superior – because of the impending Easter vacation - tries to shelve the case of Di Pietro, an MP and professor who was run over and killed. Lombardozzi, whose name his boss refuses to get right, insists on a more detailed investigation. He comes across contradictory eyewitness accounts, orders a second autopsy and discovers that Di Pietro was already dead when he was run over. He also finds out that he spent the last hours of his life with a prostitute. His boss doesn’t cover his back – it is in no-one’s interest that this information come to light, least of all Di Pietro’s circle, especially at a time of rigid morality. This dramatic comedy, with an outstanding Alberto Sordi playing an unsympathetic but skilled inspector who fails because of influential social mechanisms, was only released in Hungary, apart from Italy, and awaits discovery since it is one of the director’s best films.

DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA (Divorce Italian Style, Pietro Germi, Italy 1962, 11.5.) The Sicilian baron Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni) – aka Fefè –, has been married for 15 years to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). He’s sick of her and secretly desires his 16-year-old cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). When he discovers that his feelings are requited, he tries to escape his marriage - divorce was only introduced by law in 1970. Inspired by a newspaper article about someone given a mild sentence for a “crime of honor”, regulated by article 587 of the penal code, he devises a plan to push Rosalia into the arms of her adolescent sweetheart. His hope is to catch them in flagranti so that he can shoot his wife and after a decent interval marry Angela. Pietro Germi’s satirical comedy about Italian marriage laws gave its name to the whole genre and was an award-winning success all over the world. It also marked the beginning of Stefania Sandrelli’s (only 15 at the time) international career.

ALFREDO, ALFREDO (Pietro Germi, Italy/F 1972, 12. & 30.5.) Ten years after DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA, it was no longer necessary to hatch murder plans to get a divorce, which was legalized in December 1970. Pietro Germi’s last film begins in a divorce court. Alfredo (Dustin Hoffman) and Maria Rosa (Stefania Sandrelli) have fought for years to separate. Told mostly in flashback, it depicts the relationship between a timid bank clerk and a bubbly pharmacist, whose romantic and tempestuous nature exhausts him. When Pietro Germi’s highlights are listed, this film - arguably his funniest - is usually ignored, incomprehensibly. ALFREDO, ALFREDO is a largely undiscovered treasure of Italian film.

UNA VITA DIFFICILE (A Difficult Life, Dino Risi, Italy 1961, 13. & 23.5.) Dino Risi’s first masterpiece, which was never distributed in Germany, outlines the political and moral development of the Italian Republic from the last year of the war to the emergence of a new affluent society in the early 1960s. In 1943, the resistance fighter Silvio (Alberto Sordi) escapes being executed thanks to Elena (Lea Massari) who is there by chance and kills the German soldier who is about to fire with an iron. The two get married after the war and seek a place in the rapidly-changing country. He works as a poor reporter for a communist worker’s newspaper, trying on the one hand to preserve his integrity while at the same time to offer family a dignified and secure home. Elena, who is pregnant, does not understand when he rejects an industrialist’s offer of millions in return for removing his name from a potentially scandalous article. Silvio’s “more flexible” colleague shows off his affluence through a series of increasingly big cars.

SEDOTTA E ABBANDONATA (Seduced and Abandoned, Pietro Germi, Italy/F 1964, 14.5.) While the rest of the family takes a siesta on a hot Sicilian summer’s day, the student Peppino (Aldo Puglisi) seduces the 16-year-old Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli), the younger sister of his fiancée Matilde. When her suspicious parents later request a gynecological exam, there is no doubt that Agnese is expecting a child. To save her honor, her father Don Vincenzo Ascalone (Saro Urzì) insists that Peppino marry her. However, Peppino uses Don Vincenzo’s logic and refuses to marry a woman who is not “untouched”. “The man has a right to ask, while a woman has a duty to refuse”. This furious comedy is a variation on the criticism of conventional morality and the law in DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA: Article 544 of the Italian criminal code stated that a sexual offense would lapse if the perpetrator married his victim, even if she was a minor. It was repealed in 1981.

C’ERAVAMO TANTO AMATI (We All Loved Each Other So Much, Ettore Scola, Italy/F 1974, 15.5., with an introductory lecture by Lorenzo Filipponio: “The birth of a new language from the spirit of film comedy” & 31.5.) Ettore Scola’s melancholy masterpiece, which was never distributed in Germany, combines nostalgia and humor to talk about the Italian left – caught between dreams of utopia and the need to adapt - during the three decades after the Second World War. It outlines the lives of three men and the one woman who stands between them. The resistance fighters Antonio (Nino Manfredi), Gianni (Vittorio Gassman) and Nicola (Stefano Satta Flores) become close friends in 1944, fighting against German Wehrmacht and the fascists. When the war is over, they hope a just society will emerge. Gianni who is an assistant in a lawyer’s firm has his idealism put to the test when a shady developer asks him to defend his interests. Moreover, he’s in love with Antonio’s girlfriend Luciana which overshadows their friendship. Thirty years after the war, they concede with disillusionment: “We wanted to change the world, but the world changed us.”

IL MAESTRO DI VIGEVANO (The Teacher from Vigevano, Elio Petri, Italy 1963, 16. & 22.5.) Antonio Mombelli (Alberto Sordi) is a poorly paid primary school teacher in Vigevano, a shoe manufacturing center in Lombardy. He’s treated with little respect at school and at home. His wife Ada (Claire Bloom) would like to benefit from the local industry’s economic boom but Antonio has no enterprising spirit. He carries out his role as a family head and provider and refuses to give in to Ada’s plans to use their modest savings to start up their own shoe factory. Elio Petri’s bitter tragicomedy, which was not screened much outside Italy, is a film about respect and humiliation, dignity and the price of prosperity.

LA VISITA (The Visit, Antonio Pietrangeli, Italy/F 1963, 18. & 25.5.) The 36-year-old Pina (Sandra Milo), who works in a small town, and Adolfo (François Périer), a bookseller in Rome who is about 10 years older, meet through an ad. He travels to San Benedetto Po in northern Italy to meet her but it’s clear from the start that the two have little in common. Pina has many pets and dreams of leading an exciting life in Rome, while Adolfo does nothing to hide that he can’t stand pets. He’s attracted to life in a small town, yet he never fails to communicate to the people he meets that he thinks they are provincial. Cucaracha (Mario Adorf), who is mentally deficient and jealous, spits in his face. Despite the exaggerated comedy, Pietrangeli’s indulgence and sympathy for his characters shape this film about loneliness and love as a projection.

IO LA CONOSCEVO BENE (I Knew Her Well, Antonio Pietrangeli, Italy/F/FRG 1965, 18. & 28.5.) The 19-year-old Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli) dreams of becoming a famous actress. She leaves her parent’s farm in Tuscany and sets off for Rome, where she quickly meets people because she is attractive and has a naïve, open character. She replaces men, hairstyles, clothes and hats at a rapid pace. Antonio Pietrangeli’ opus magnum is less the portrait of an apparently transparent young woman than a protofeminist study of exploitative relationships and an atmospheric document that conveys the zeitgeist of the 1960s, with various dance events, fashion shows, visits to the cinema, parties and a number of popular songs that form a fantastic soundtrack alongside Piero Piccioni’s film music.

TUTTI A CASA (Everybody Go Home!, Luigi Comencini, Italy/F 1960, 21.5., Introduction: Gerhard Midding) This tragicomic film is set during the first three weeks after the announcement by General Pietro Badoglio on 8. September 1943 of Italy’s surrender to the Allies. Lieutenant Alberto Innocenzi (Alberto Sordi) is traveling by train along the Mediterranean coast on his way to relieve other troops when the train is attacked by German soldiers, until very recently Italy’s allies. Amid the chaos, the proud officer removes his uniform and tries to make sense of the blurred lines with a civilian (Serge Reggiani) from Naples. On their path, they meet soldiers, including a US officer who is hiding on a farm, as well as fascists and a young Jewish woman in hiding, partisans, SS units and civilians being transported to Germany in freight trains to work as forced labor. When he finally gets home, Alberto has to escape again because his father wants to recruit him for a fascist unit. The film ends with the Neapolitan uprising against the German occupation at the end of September 1943.

PANE E CIOCCOLATA (Bread and Chocolate, Franco Brusati, Italy 1974, 24.5.) Nino Garofalo (Nino Manfredi) has been working for three years as a waiter in Switzerland. But his seasonal status does not allow him to bring his wife and child over from Italy. When he loses his job and work permit after being caught urinating in public, he is too ashamed to go back to his family. He has a short-lived affair with Elena, a Greek exile (Anna Karina) from the neighborhood, before she decides to marry a Swiss policeman to ensure that she and her son get permanent residency. He eventually finds refuge with a group of clandestine migrants living in a chicken coop but then decides to make one more attempt to pass as a local by dyeing his hair blond. Franco Brusati’s satire was a great success, playing with humor with cliches and depicting the situation of migrants caught between two cultures and subjected to loneliness, nostalgia and the pressure to adapt.

BELLO, ONESTO, EMIGRATO AUSTRALIA, SPOSEREBBE COMPAESANA ILLIBATA (A Girl in Australia, Luigi Zampa, Italy/Australia 1971, 24. & 30.5.) “Good-looking, honest emigrant to Australia seeks untouched rural woman for marriage”: Amedeo Battipaglia (Alberto Sordi) has lived in Australia for 20 years but can’t seem to find the (right) woman to share his life. He thinks that Australians are too independent and emancipated and also wants to meet a virgin - he doesn’t realize that mores have also changed in Italy. Because the few Italians who would come into question in Australia seem to prefer younger or wealthier partners, Amedeo decides to place an ad in Italy for which he uses the photo of a more attractive friend. Carmela (Claudia Cardinale) is also not honest when she responds. She introduces herself as a shepherdess from Calabria currently working in a factory in Rome. In fact, she is a prostitute who hopes to escape her pimp with Amadeo’s plane ticket. Luigi Zampa’s rarely screened satire resorts to romcom to explore the situation of the 500,000 Italians who emigrated to Australia and in many cases ruined their health as miners, spending much of their free time isolated in Italian clubs.

IN NOME DEL POPOLO ITALIANO (In the Name of the Italian People, Dino Risi, Italy 1971, 27. & 31.5.) The magistrate Mariano Bonifazi (Ugo Tognazzi) goes to work on a moped and considers himself an incorruptible and modest servant of the law. He rules that buildings which were constructed against the law be torn down. The plastic manufacturer and construction giant Lorenzo Santenocito (Vittorio Gassman) on the other hand drives a Maserati and pays little attention to the law, especially if it stands in his way. When Bonifazi’s investigation into the death of an escort girl leads to Santenocito, a power struggle ensues. IN NOME DEL POPOLO ITALIANO is a grim commedia all’italiana, a political thriller about corruption, integrity, law and justice. The images of pollution, of seagulls dying because of industrial waste and the omnipresent plastic junk on the beach remain as pertinent as ever.

MORDI E FUGGI (Dirty Weekend, Dino Risi, Italy/F 1973, 29.5.) Giulio Borsi (Marcello Mastroianni), a reactionary pharmaceuticals executive, has just set off for a weekend with his young mistress (Carole André) when the two are taken hostage at a gas station by three anarchists. Hunted by the police and transformed into media stars by the press, the trio escapes with their hostages to an isolated villa. For a brief moment, it seems as if class contradictions can be overcome, but then there is a showdown between the authorities and the far-left outlaws. Dino Risi’s darkest political satire was loosely based on a true story and anticipated the armed struggles between the Brigate Rosse and state power. It is also a clairvoyant account of the increasingly sensationalist and bloodthirsty media. At times, it almost seems like a model for the Gladbeck hostage crisis of 1988. We will screen a rare original print, where the colors have changed. (hjf)

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

arsenal cinema: Commedia all’italiana

07:00 pm Cinema 1

Il moralista

Il moralista The Moralist Giorgio Bianchi
Italy 1959 With Alberto Sordi, Vittorio De Sica
DCP OV/EnS 100 min

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – 
The Kammerspielfilm

07:30 pm Cinema 2

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Mike Nichols
USA 1966 With Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
DCP OV/GeS 131 min

arsenal cinema: Commedia all’italiana

09:00 pm Cinema 1

Il commissario

Il commissario The Police Commissioner
Luigi Comencini Italy 1962 With Alberto Sordi
35 mm OV/GeS 109 min