100+ YEARS OF THE GREAT ITALIAN MOVIEMAKERS
Films are listed in alphabetical order by director. Click on the underlined name to read about the director.
My Name is Maya
The 2015 film follows 16-year-old Niki, who after experiencing a tragic family event, decides to take off with her 8-year-old sister. The two make their way through the streets of Rome in search of the freedom to make their own decisions and live as they want.
La Presa di Roma
The first Italian movie ever made premiered in 1905 and was directed by Filoteo Alberini, an inventor and pioneer whose vision paved the way for filmmakers all over the world. La Presa di Roma is a silent film that recounts the siege and capture of Rome by Italian troops in 1870. Made under the watchful eye of the Italian Ministry of War, it was the first film with a plot that told a specific story, and launched Italy's most successful silent film genre: the historical epic.
An annual falconry competition that takes place in the vast desert of Qatar is at the center of this visual masterpiece. Director Yuri Ancarini combines the spectacular desert landscape of the Arabian Peninsula with a dramatic soundtrack and candid moments to give an intimate look into the world of falconers.
This 2016 political thriller blends money, power and politics to give a contemporary portrait of the effect of capitalism throughout the world and how a select few economists, lacking in moral ground, are worsening the lives of the poor for their own benefit.
Story of a Love Affair
Michelangelo Antonioni's first feature film in 1951 follows Enrico Fontana, a possessive husband who hires a private detective to follow his wife Paola (Lucia Bosè). His paranoia inadvertently sends Paola back into the arms of her ex-love. Rekindling this old romance makes Paola contemplate her options in erasing Enrico from the picture.
The Lady Without Camelias
Antonioni teamed up again with Lucia Bosè in his second feature film, which shows the rise to fame of a young actress named Clara. With beautiful shots of 1952 Rome, which seems like another world, the film is a detailed account of Clara’s life upon becoming a sought after actress and how fame plays a role in every chapter. It’s worth noting that French actor Alain Cuny is as handsome and charming as ever in the role of Lodi. He appears in the beginning and towards the end. My feeling is the movie would have been much better with him being a bigger part of the storyline because of his chemistry with Bosè.
This 1960 masterpiece is the story of a missing person through the experiences of the people heading the search. Those people, the missing woman’s fiancé and best friend end up having their own affair. Antonioni's partner and muse Monica Vitti starred in the film and gave a powerful performance with a brilliant air of indifference.
One can say that Antonioni reinvented himself with the making of Blow Up for which he earned two Oscar nominations. The film tells the story of a disenfranchised fashion photographer. After taking a photograph in a London Park, he realizes something mysterious in the background, setting the stage for the 1966 drama, which co-stars Vanessa Redgrave. To this day, the film stirs up conversation and draws criticism due to its vast room for interpretation. In addition to the Oscar nominations, Blow Up won the Golden Palm at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival as well as a nomination for Best English-Language Foreign Film at the 1967 Golden Globes.
Fists in the Pocket
A 1915 silent film with a melodic soundtrack and stunning shots of the Bay of Naples, filmmakers Francesca Bertini and Gustavo Serena created a timeless story of love, passion and envy. They also captured images of Naples that are surprising clear for being shot 100 years ago.
In addition to her leading role, Bertini contributed to the script and casting. “It had been my idea to wander around Naples taking ordinary people from the streets. Now everyone’s invented Neorealism! The real Neorealist film is Assunta Spina," recalled 90-year-old Bertini in a 1982 interview.
Noteworthy is the cinematography, which was done by the senior Vittorio Storaro, father of the renowned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro known for his work on the films of today's great directors Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Ford Coppola just to name a few.
Francesco Bertolini (with Giuseppe De Liguoro and Adolfo Padovan)
This 1911 Italian production of the epic writings of Dante is one of the creepiest, most fascinating films I’ve ever seen. It helps if you are a fan of the grotesque-type genres such as horror or Giallo to truly appreciate this film. The art aspect of this production is what I appreciated the most. It’s like a canvas set into motion with the deep colors and ghoulish characters. I don’t recommend seeing this right before bedtime.
This 5-hour epic follows two friends through five decades of struggling through the dividing forces in Italian society.
Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando portrays a middle-aged American man with emotional baggage who has a passionate affair with a beautiful young French girl in Paris.
Il teatro dei ricordi
Starring the great French actor, Jean Sorel, this 2014 short film is an enigmatic tale of a tormented woman looking for a temporary escape. The film opens in a dense forest as a young woman is walking around looking dazed and confused. She starts to run as if in a panic while a violin resounds. Shortly thereafter, she finds herself in an theater with Sorel who introduces himself simply as the guardian.
Staring Alba Rohrwacher, the 2015 film is based on the true stories of women in Albania who choose to live their lives as men in order to be granted certain freedoms.
Daughter of Mine
Bispuri's second feature delves into the complex world of adoption as a mother develops a curiosity and affection for the child she gave up a decade ago. Set amid the majestic sea and mountains of Sardinia, Daughter of Mine is an emotional yet simple story of three women in conflict who share a strong bond of love.
The Man Without Gravity
A modern fairy tale about a weightless man, Oscar comes to into the world on a stormy night, in the hospital of a small town and immediately we understand that there is something extraordinary about him. He floats in the air, hovers in the lightest room of a balloon as his mother and grandmother look on in amazement.
Adapted from Margaret Mazzantini's novel and starring Penelope Cruz, the 2013 film is set in Sarajevo and retraces the story of Gemma and Diego, a couple whose relationship was torn apart because of war. Gemma returns to the city after escaping years earlier with her son, and the couple is forced to face the toll that war took on their lives, experiencing the power of love as it helps to redeem what was lost.
- Watch Sergio Castellitto as a lead actor in Sandra Nettlebeck's 2002 romantic comedy, Mostly Martha
The story of a headstrong chef who is trying to manage her mischievous 8-years-old niece, stressed out Martha gets a lesson on love and prioritizing when a handsome Italian colleague shows up.
The Night Porter
Charlotte Rampling stars as a concentration camp survivor who comes face to face with her former abuser and lover after many years in this story of tortured, doomed love.
John Malkovich stars as a former hitman enjoying his retirement in a northern Italian villa. When he seeks revenge on a neighbor, he is inadvertently forced back into the game.
Starring the young and gorgeous Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter, Canavi's 1985 film Francesco is the story of St. Francis of Assisi told from the point-of-view of his followers.
Follow Your Heart
"To make mistakes is natural, but to leave without understanding them takes away the meaning of life." Virna Lisi stars as Olga in this 1996 film adapted from Susanna Tamaro's book, which was one of my favorite read of my 20's. A grandmother creates a journal recalling the past as she writes letters to her estranged granddaughter who she raised like her own child. Margherita Buy is angelic as a young Olga in a flashback that explains the roots of her emotional problems and provides answers to questions about the death of her daughter. I recommend reading the book first. It's a short but profound read.
This female ensemble comedy tells the story of four sisters coming to terms with secrets buried in the past. The 2015 film explores the consequences of infidelity and how the offspring of multiple marriages and affairs have to deal with the voids, resentment and in this case, sisters from other mothers. This was Virna Lisi's last film and she was exquisite.
A hilarious and adorable romantic comedy starring two of Italy's most masterful contemporary actresses as they fall for the same young lover.
This series about witches in 17th-century Italy is very easy to binge watch. Set amid gorgeous locations on the outskirts of Rome, a teenage midwife accused of witchcraft must choose between fulfilling her powerful destiny and a the man she loves. Several episodes are directed by Comencini.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Based on Paolo Giordano’s novel by the same name, this 2010 film follows two lonely souls who connect through the pain they both experienced. The film premiered at the 67th Venice Film Festival and made its North American premiere at Lincoln Center’s annual series, Open Roads: New Italian cinema.
My Brilliant Friend
Adapted from the novel by Elena Ferrante, the series follows a friendship between two women from when they were children to adulthood and all the tumultuous times that surround and shape them.
Starring Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher, this 2015 English language film is set in New York City and follows a young mother who becomes dangerously obsessive over the care of her baby.
On My Skin (Sulla mia pelle)
This 2018 film is based on the heart-wrenching true story of Stefano Cucchi, a 30-year-old Roman man who was arrested in October of 2009 for possession of drugs. He subsequently suffered severe physical abuse while being denied medical care for his epilepsy during incarceration. Just one week later, he succumbed to the abuse. The coroner’s report showed massive dehydration and broken bones. Prison officials said he had fallen down a flight of stairs. In 2014, 11 people, including three prison officers, were cleared of all charges. What followed was mass protesting across Italy with people holding up signs of his severely bruised face and emaciated body. Alessandro Borghi gave an award-winning performance in the role of Cucchi.
This 2011 film addresses Italy’s ongoing issue with clandestine immigrants, exploring the moral side of the issue when a Sicilian family helps save an immigrant mother and child from drowning and takes them into their home. Such practice is illegal and the family faces criminal charges. Articulately written and directed by Crialese, the film shows the growing problem of illegal immigration from multiple angles.
Détour De Seta
This 2004 documentary is Salvo Cuccia's homage to the great Italian documentary filmmaker, Vittorio De Seta, who is known for his early films, which focus on the daily lives of Italy's poorest workers. They are strong images of real life situations which tell a story without narration. Cuccia presented the film with Martin Scorsese at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival.
Cuccia’s 2007 documentary tells the story of Vincenzo Tusa, a leader in preserving the archaeological site of an ancient Greek city of the 7th Century B.C. from turning into commercial property. Through a series of recollections, archival footage and breathtaking video shot by Cuccia's production team, we learn how Tusa reached his goal.
Frank Zappa Summer '82: When Zappa Came to Sicily
Cuccia takes the children of Frank Zappa on a journey through their origins as he recounts the summer of 1982, when Zappa played a concert in Palermo that was halted halfway through.
The Mechanical Man (L'uomo meccanico)
This 1921 Italian science fiction film is one of the first science fiction films produced in Italy, and the first film that showed a battle between two robots. The original film was about 80 minutes in length. However, only about 26 minutes of footage remains.
The story begins with a scientist creating a device shaped like a man that can be remote-controlled by a machine. The mechanical man possess super-human speed and strength. The scientist is killed however by a gang of criminals, led by a woman named Mado, who wishes to get the instructions for building the mechanical man. The criminals are captured before they are able to get them and are brought to trial and condemned. Mado manages to escape and kidnaps the scientist's niece whom she forces to give her the instructions which she uses to build a mechanical man.
The mechanical man is used for a variety of crimes, controlled by Mado. The scientist's brother however is successful in creating a second mechanical man which he uses to combat the original. The two mechanical men fight each other in an opera house, which leads to the dramatic ending.
Giuseppe De Santis
One of the first films of the Neorealism film movement, Bitter Rice is a multi-layered story, which called on star Silvana Mangano's talent and sex appeal to portray a peasant girl who could manipulate anyone with her beauty. The story is set during the rice-planting season in northern Italy in the midst of Italy's economic challenges.
The grandson of Vittorio De Sica directed four out of the six episodes of this 2018 Netflix series. The story focuses on teenagers of an affluent Roman neighborhood who lead double lives in the dark, nighttime underworld of the Eternal City. I appreciate De Sica's unique point-of-view as someone who grew up as cinema royalty providing insight into what it’s like to be a privileged teen in Italy when we are used to seeing many Italian series set in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
A Garibaldian in the Convent
Starring Leonardo Cortese, María Mercader and Carla Del Poggia, this 1942 comedy follows a grandmother who recalls the days of her youth when she rivalled another girl for the affections of a wounded Garibaldi soldier.
This 1946 neorealism classic follows two friends, Giuseppe and Pasquale who test-ride horses and dream of owning one themselves. They work on the streets of Rome as shoeshine boys in the depressed economy of Post-War Italy. The boys become the scapegoats of a complex theft and their lives are destroyed. The story is a heartbreaking testament to the financial distress Italians faced in the wake of World War II. The film received an Honorary Award at the Oscars and was the inspiration behind the category of the award for Best Foreign Language Film as it was the first foreign film to be acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
A Place for Lovers
Marcello Mastroianni and Faye Dunaway star in this 1968 film about a love affair between a terminally ill fashion designer and an Italian engineer. Mastroianni and Dunaway met on the set where they began a three year relationship.
Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif)
The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer
A unique portrait of Palermo’s tormented mafia years during the early 1990s, this 2014 film is told from the point-of-view of the city’s residents. The story focuses on a child who looks up to the political leaders of his country until he begins to understand the corruption by witnessing the violence with his own eyes.
Winner of Best Documentary at the 19th Venice Film Festival, this 1958 documentary is Luigi Di Gianni's love letter to the land of his father's origins. Having first visited the region with his parents when he was a boy, the trip made an impression on the 9-year-old and created a deep affection that would one day inspire him to return. “I always remained very emotional about returning to this part of my homeland of Lucania,” he says. “It seemed like a different planet compared to Rome, where I lived. The tiring journey, the unpaved roads, the difficulties in getting there by bus: Everything remained etched in my memory and in my heart.”
Grazie e Numeri
Shot in the region of Campania, this the fascinating 1962 documentary explores the relationship between the citizens of Naples and the “anime pezzentelle” interred in the Fontanelle Cemetery. For the most part, the corpses contained in the cemetery belonged to the victims of a plague that swept across Italy in 1656 and a cholera epidemic that struck in 1836. These bones eventually attracted the compassion of the living, who descended into the cemetery to establish a relationship with the souls who once animated them.
Tempo di raccolta (Harvest Time)
Di Gianni’s 1967 Tempo di raccolta (Harvest Time) documents a day in the life of Calabrese women as they work in the olive groves of the region. The simple but stunning beauty of those majestic centuries-old trees, Di Gianni’s choice of traditional music, and the play of sun and shadow during those autumn days turn the film into a visual and aural symphony.
Il male di San Donato (The Evil of San Donato)
“The film takes place during the ceremony of the Feast of San Donato, protector of the village of Montesano in Salento, which back then was a part of Lecce,” Di Gianni explained. “During the event, people were seized by restlessness, epilepsy, powers of madness, because the saint, San Donato, is the protector of madmen and epileptics, and the village was invaded by this evil.” The film focuses on a number of possessed villagers who, with the help of their neighbors, struggle to overcome the powers that have taken hold of them.
This 1954 Academy Award winner opens on a deserted beach as Gelsomina Di Costanzo (Giulietta Masina) is called by her young siblings to meet Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a burly side show performer who arrives to announce the death of her sister, Rosa, his former assistant. As Gelsomina’s mother cries, she offers to replace Rosa with Gelsomina, pleading, “She’ll do what she’s told. She just came out a little strange.” Zampanò agrees, giving the family 10,000 lira (about $10.00), two pounds of salami, a pound of cheese and two bottles of wine. Although Zampanò is not very kind to Gelsomina, she becomes attached to him and is hurt by his meandering and womanizing. So she decides to leave and enjoys a carefree, intoxicated evening running around a piazza, watching a tightrope walker (Richard Basehart), whose eye she catches after the performance. Before long, Zampanò finds her and she is partnered with him again. The pair joins a circus where she meets up again with that tightrope performer who turns out to be an adversary of Zampanò. There’s a moving scene in which Gelsomina is presented with an opportunity to leave Zampanò but questions what good it would do because she doesn’t believe that she’s of use to anyone. She says that she is sick of living and questions why she was born. She decides to stay with Zampanò, convinced that it’s her purpose in life. He continues his destructive behavior, only appreciating Gelsomina after it’s too late.
Nights of Cabiria
Another Oscar winner, this 1957 film opens on the banks of a river in a neighborhood in the outskirts of Rome. A young couple, Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) and Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi), are taking a leisurely walk when out of nowhere, Giorgio grabs her purse, pushes her into the water and runs away. Some kids hear her calls for help as the current is whisking her away. The kids manage to save her. As soon as she gains consciousness, without showing any gratitude, she frantically looks for Giorgio and runs home all the while believing that she just fell in and he got scared and ran away. After some tough love from her best friend, Wanda (Franca Marzi) and time alone to think and ponder what could have happened if those kids didn’t jump in after her, she wises up and burns all of his belongings. From this point, Cabiria reveals little by little her childhood dream that prince charming really does exist. At one point, under the trance of a magician, she recalls the beauty of her youth with her long black hair and how that no longer exists due to the cruel, streets where she makes her living. When a seemingly actual Prince Charming presents himself to her, he seems too good to be true, but she decides to go all in and let her defenses down. That decision brings her to a cliff overlooking a lake, again purse in hand alongside a man she thought she knew. What she does afterwards is testament to an inner spirit that is undefeatable.
Fred and Ginger
Set in Fellini’s Rome of the bizarre and misfits, this 1986 gem is a tender satire about two dancers, played by Giulietta Massina and Marcello Mastroianni, who made careers imitating Rogers and Astaire and are reunited on a tacky variety show. Mastroianni and Massina absolutely shine together.
Marcello Fonte and Edoardo Pesce give harrowing performances as a meek dog groomer and the bully that drives him over the edge in this suspenseful modern masterpiece.
Divorce Italian Style
Ferdinando (Marcello Mastroianni) is married to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), a nagging but well-meaning wife who won’t leave him alone. In search of some peace and quiet, he falls in love with the mild-mannered and charming Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), his first cousin through marriage. His feelings for the young girl become all consuming, and he daydreams about ways to kill Rosalia so that he can be with Angela. Finally, inspired by a local murder trial in which the wife, a victim of adultery, shot her husband to save her family’s honor, he concocts a plan to find a man to seduce his wife so that he can do the same.
Seduced and Abandoned
Germi’s masterpiece in the commedia all’italiana genre, this 1964 film opens with Agnese played by a gorgeous Sandrelli wearing a fitted black dress walking through the narrow streets of her Sicilian village. As she heads to confession, a Sicilian troubadour accompanied by a mandolin tells her story of giving in to lustful feelings for her sister’s fiancé, Peppino. Upon entering the confessional, she breaks down in tears, only to have the priest further shame her. Peppino announces that he doesn’t want to marry a girl who succumbs to temptation, even if it was with him, and flees. A chase ensues as the singing/narrator describes Agnese’s father’s determination to save the family’s honor. Peppino won’t budge, and the family lawyer comes up with a plan to shoot Peppino in a way that would be easily defended in court.
Dustin Hoffman portrays a humble guy who thinks he married the woman (Stefania Sandrelli) of his dreams until he has to live with her day in and day out. The 1972 Italian comedy won a David Di Donatello for Best Film and scored Hoffman Honorary Citizenship in the town of Ascoli Piceno where it was shot. It is not available to stream as of now, but the DVD is available on Amazon.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone enjoyed working with American actors, and nowhere was that more apparent than in his fourth Western. Generous financial backing from Paramount studios gave Leone the opportunity to fulfill his dream of working with Henry Fonda. Leone transformed the clean-shaven hero into a demon-eyed killer, forever changing the way America viewed him as an actor. The famed Australian film and arts critic, Adrian Martin described Leone’s films as “odes to the human face”, describing the director's signature use of extreme close-ups of his actors’ faces, eyes and expressions. A great example of this can be seen in the opening of this 1968 film as a desolate, frightful face comes into frame.
The Big Deal on Madonna Street
Considered one of the great masterpieces of Italian cinema, the A-list cast of this 1958 film includes Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni and Totò. A group of smalltime thieves concoct a plan to rob a pawn shop in Rome. One of the funniest scenes takes place around a kitchen table when the group is distracted by a bland pot of pasta fagioli.
Risate di Gioia (The Passion Thief)
Starring two of Italy’s most beloved actors, Totò and Anna Magnani, the pair stars as broke actors on New Year’s Eve who set their sights on a doomed pickpocketer. Magnani gives an over the top, stunning performance. The film is not available to stream with English subtitles but worth watching for the chemistry between these two cinema legends.
Click Here to Watch on YouTube (without English subtitles)
We Have a Pope
It's labeled a comedy but it's really a reflection on the human condition and spirit, and how events of the past affect how we deal with the present.
This 2011 film, Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope), follows a newly elected pope who really doesn't want the job. When Cardinal Melville is unexpectedly chosen by his peers to lead the Catholic Church, the enormous responsibility brings old disappointments and dreams back to the surface. Just as he is about to step onto the world's stage to address his followers, the Pope has a panic attack and literally gets out of dodge. A renowned psychiatrist, played by Moretti, is called in to assess the situation. The film opens with archival footage of the Vatican's funeral for Pope John Paul II and then follows the cardinals into conclave as they ponder their choices for a new spiritual leader, opting for a compatriot who wasn't originally in the running.
Margherita Buy gives an exceptional performance as a film director working on an important project while dealing with the grave health of her mother. As her condition worsens, Buy's character tries to spend more time at the hospital with her brother (Nanni Moretti) while also dealing with a primadonna actor (John Turturro) all day at work. Her biggest challenge is keeping her emotions in check while juggling the demands of her life.
A dark tale set amidst organized crime in a small town in Calabria, the focus of this 2014 film is on the rivalry between two families and the generations it has destroyed. Adaped from Gioacchino Criaco’s novel by the same name, the story is one of desperation in which characters are left with a complete void of hope for the future.
The troubled members of a family with deep-rooted emotional problems struggle to coexist in Andrea Pallaoro's 2013 debut feature film.
Pasolini’s anger towards the shallow urban life of the bourgeoise is reflected in this 1962 tragedy about a single mother desperately trying to provide for her son. The profound pain in the eyes of Pasolini's leading lady, Anna Magnani, are worth more than words can express.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Considered by the Vatican to be among the best film adaptations of one of the Gospels, the 1964 film was shot in the ancient southern Italian city of Matera and captures the stone structures of the city, which date back to the Neolithic era. Pasolini cast his mother as Mary and many locals as extras.
-The Criterion Channel is a great one-stop shop for Pasolini films. Click here to browse the titles.
Click here for a virtual tour of Roman sites relevant to Pasolini’s filmmaking and writing. The tour takes you through 50 addresses and dates accompanied by a map and photos of Pasolini’s life in Rome. The tour spans 25 years, beginning with his first day in Rome in 1950 to his last day, which took place on the day of his funeral in 1975. In between, you will visit his first job, homes and film locations.
Quel Giorno (That Day)
This compelling 10-minute film premiered at the 53rdVenice Film Festival and was shown at more than 50 film festivals worldwide. Adapted from a story by Renata di Maria, the 1996 short film simply but powerfully demonstrates sorrow and empathy as strangers react to a man leaning on a building sobbing.
This 2003 feature film follows a prisoner who settles his debts on a granted day of leave from jail. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and made its North American premiere later that year at Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.
Adapted from the book by Norman Lewis, a British intelligence officer stationed in Naples during World War II, and narrated by British film and TV star Benedict Cumberbatch, Naples ’44 is a hard dose of reality. Intermixing archival footage, old cinema clips, dramatizations and the recollections of an officer who witnessed unfathomable atrocities, Patierno’s film is informative, riveting and at times shocking. “The inspiration to make this film came from my father. One day, he told me about how he had escaped a bombing by accident only because he was on the righthand side of the road. All those on the left died because they were shot by a machine gun being fired from an airplane. He said, ‘If you want to know more, read Naples ’44 because it’s a very interesting book not only about the period during the war but it’s also significant in understanding the Neapolitan people in general.’ I read this book and I fell in love. So from there, the idea came to me right away to make a film,” said Paterno in 2018 when the film premiered in New York.
Light of My Eyes
Luigi Lo Cascio portrays a lonely cab driver who falls in love with a single mother that works at a frozen-food store. The frozen food becomes a symbol for the cold, lonely lives that each character leads. The film is a dramatic character-driven story about two ordinary, working class people who have lived difficult lives. Both have baggage and they find comfort in spending time with one another, although Lo Cascio’s character becomes more emotionally involved in the relationship, while Maria, played by Sandra Ceccarelli, seems at times, indifferent.
Vallanzasca - Gli angeli di male (Angel of Evil) is the story of Renato Vallanzasca, the notorious Milanese criminal responsible for robberies and homicides, which spanned from the 1970s to the mid-80s. Adapted from the biography written by Renato Vallanzasca himself, Carlo Bonini and Antonella D'Agostino, Vallanzasca - Gli angeli di male offers a rare glimpse into the personal and criminal life of one of Italy's most ruthless gangsters.
This series about witches in 17th-century Italy is very easy to binge watch. Set amid gorgeous locations on the outskirts of Rome, a teenage midwife accused of witchcraft must choose between fulfilling her powerful destiny and a the man she loves. Several episodes are directed by
Rome Open City
One of the most iconic films of Neorealism is set in Nazi occupied Rome in the wake of World War II.
Made in 1962, Salvatore Giuliano is the tragic true story of a Sicilian peasant whose social status led him to become an infamous bandit. He has been just as controversial in death as he was in life. He’s been compared to Robin Hood, as he was known for helping poor villagers by taking from the rich. Rosi told his story in an epic film that showed the harsh realities of a peasant and the plight to preserve one’s pride and acquire the basic needs for survival. The story in Rosi’s film takes place right after the liberation of Sicily. Never before was Sicily represented in film with such exact realism and attention to detail. This stems from a fair and historic judgment of the Giuliani case on Rosi’s part.
Brutti, Sporchi e Cattivi
Ettore Scola's 1976 classic follows four generations of a family crowded together in a shantytown shack in the squalor of inner-city Rome. Patriarch-slumlord Giacinto has money from an accident settlement, but doesn’t share it with his family; when he starts spending it on a sex worker, his wife and sons plot against him.
Shun Li and the Poet
The story of a Chinese immigrant and an older Slavic fisherman who strike up a friendship, this 2011 film illustrates the parallels in the diverse paths of two immigrants who are each trying to build a new life for themselves in the Veneto region of contemporary Italy.
Toni Servillo portrays the iconic Giulio Andreotti, a former Italian prime minister, fixture in Italian politics for nearly eight decades, and the subject of corruption investigations in the 1990s. Sorrentino and Servillo collaborated to present their take on the complicated topic of post-war Italian politics and succeeded in actually simplifying the subject, focusing on the career plateaus and valleys of one of its key players. Elected seven times as Italy's prime minister, Andreotti was known for his signature round-shouldered, slow moving stride and sense of strong inner energy.
This Must Be the Place
Sorrentino's 2011 film was his first feature film in English. Starring Sean Penn as Cheyenne, an aging punk rocker in search of the answers to a mystery surrounding his late father, the film explores life and love after as one heads into middle age. Frances McDormand gives a heartfelt performance as Cheyenne's supportive wife unafraid of giving a few lessons in tough love. The search takes Cheyenne on the highways and backroads of the United States, where he meets a whole host of characters, each of whom leads him one step closer to his destination, physically and emotionally speaking.
La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty)
This 2013 Oscar winner boasts an A-list cast, which features Rome natives Carlo Verdone and Sabrina Ferilli, and tells the story of the Roman club underworld. Toni Servillo takes the lead role of Jep Gambardella, an uninspired writer who recounts his days as a young spectator who became seduced and intoxicated with power, finding himself caught in a web of superficiality, disillusionment and corruption. Sorrentino has described the contemporary masterpiece as "A film which probes the contradictions, the beauties, the scenes I have witnessed and the people I’ve met in Rome; a wonderful city, soothing yet at the same time, full of hidden dangers."
Sorrentino's 2015 Youth is his second English language film and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel with Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz, Youth tackles coming to terms with aging and dying, and living each moment with the fearlessness and enthusiasm of a younger version of yourself.
Set in the mid-2000s Italy of Silvio Berlusconi, the egomaniac billionaire Prime Minister who presides over an empire of scandal and corruption, the film follows Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), an ambitious young hustler managing an escort service catering to the rich and powerful. Determined to move up in the world, Sergio sets his sights on the biggest client of all: Berlusconi (Toni Servillo), the disgraced businessman and ex-PM currently plotting his political comeback. As Berlusconi attempts to bribe his way back to power, Sergio devises a scheme to win the mogul’s attention.
Visit the countryside of Sicily in Giuseppe Tornatore's 2009 autobiographical epic, Baarìa. The film recounts three generations in the Sicilian village where he was born. Enrico Lo Verso takes on the role of Minicu, a character tracked across half a century age span. In a recent interview, Lo Verso told us that Minicu has been one of the most coveted roles of his career. To prepare for the part, he lived alone in a hut in the mountains of Sicily and reconnected with his Sicilian origins.
The role that really called on Monica Bellucci's acting skills and proved that she was more than just another model-turned-actress was Giuseppe Tornatore's 2000 film, "Malèna." Bellucci took on the title role of a beautiful widow in small town Sicily during World War II. Her character contends with the men of the village constantly chasing her while the women torment her out of envy.
One Hundred Steps
Based on the true story of Peppino Impastato, the courageous anti-mafia activist killed by Cosa Nostra in 1978, this heartbreaking film tells the story of a young man’s plight to speak truth to power. After a long series of screen tests to find the perfect actor to play the role of Impastato, Luigi Maria Burruano, an actor already cast in the role of the protagonist's father, advised the director, Marco Tullio Giordana to test his nephew. Thoroughly impressed, Giordana offered Luigi Lo Cascio the part. It had to be destiny because it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role.
Based on a fortuneteller's prediction, Romeo Spera, played by Verdone, decides that he and the enthusiastic dreamer, Iris Blond (Claudia Gerini) are destined for each other.
Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
“We’re just human beings in a changing world.” Luchino Visconti’s 1963 three-hour epic is set in Sicily during the political movement which led to the 1861 Unification of Italy. Featuring Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon and Burt Lancaster, the balance of the suspenseful battle scenes and tender love story make it an emotional compelling story worthy of all the awards and acclaim it has received. Available to stream on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.
Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers)
Inspired by the stories of Milanese writer/playwright Giovanni Testori, Visconti's 1960 film is the harsh story of the Parondi family from the southern region of Basilicata, then referred to as Lucania, that immigrates to the northern city of Milan. The film recounts the family's misery and difficulty as Rosa, the matriarch and mother of four boys, tries to hold her family together, ensuring the best future possible for them. However, the cold reality of life makes that dream seem unattainable. The few moments of joy the family experiences together are spent around the kitchen table. When Rosa breaks the bread for her four children, she is reminding them not to break the traditions and roots they have in their warm, majestic land of Lucania.
Click Here to learn about Martin Scorsese’s restored 4K version
Giancarlo Giannini is Pasqualino Seven-Beauties (nicknamed for his seven sisters) a petty thief who commits murder to save the honor of his family. He is sent away to a concentration camp where he witnesses the worst of humanity.
This wonderfully politically incorrect film is the story of a socialite and workman who get stranded together on a deserted island in the Mediterranean.
The Seduction of Mimi
The hilarious tale of a Sicilian worker, played by Giancarlo Giannini, who loses everything because he refuses to vote a mobster into political office. Then he falls in love.
Set in pre-World War II Sicily, boasting an incomparable cast, this 1978 film follows two men (Marcello Mastroianni) (Giancarlo Giannini) as they fall in love with the same woman (Sophia Loren).
Lina Wertmüller: Behind the White Glasses
Documentary by Valerio Ruiz
A documentary about the life and career of the iconic director Lina Wertmüller with testimony from those who have worked with her and those who simply admire her.
Starring two of Italy’s most revered maestros, Alberto Sordi and Vittorio De Sica, this 1960 classic of the commedia all’italiana genre made Italians laugh during a period when they would have otherwise cried. Sordi is a down on his luck traffic officer trying to deal with the red tape of the big city and a shady brother-in-law who enjoys putting him in his place.
Click Here to Watch on YouTube (without English subtitles)
The 1954 Mid-Century Loves is a 52-minute gem, consisting of five short tales directed by Pietro Germi, Mario Chiari, Roberto Rossellini, Antonio Pietrangeli and Glauco Pellegrini. Each is a decadent piece of cinematic perfection with detailed sets, regional music and spectacular cinematography.
Love in the City
Divided into six separate vignettes dedicated to love and heartbreak, and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, Carlo Lizzani, Francesco Maselli, Dino Risi and Cesare Zavattini, Love in the City will transport you back to 1950s Rome. Each short film has a documentary-style feel and offers a rare glimpse into the socioeconomics of post-war Rome when these legendary directors were at the beginning of their careers.
When I started writing about Italian cinema in 2004, it was difficult to find contemporary Italian films online. With the explosion of VOD, that has changed. So I am making a compilation of my personal favorites from the Italian films that I have covered over the last 16 years. This list is a work in progress, so check back frequently for additions. I am currently working on rewatching and reviewing more Antonioni, Rossellini and Bellocchio films as well as adding descriptions for several others as you will see..
Although my focus is on contemporary cinema, I have also written about the classics and the pioneers. So this list truly embraces 100+ years of the great Italian moviemakers. I have seen each and every one of these films, so I can vouch for their quality.
Please feel free to contact me on our social medium platforms to share your thoughts on any of these films.
Thank you, buona visione!
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