Showing posts with label Italian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian. Show all posts

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Life is Beautiful

Buongiorno principessa!” Two simple words that bought a huge smile to my face during a film which has more emotional peaks and troughs than a very emotionally peaky troughy thing. Life is Beautiful or La vita è bella in its original Italian is a passionate and multi award winning comedy-drama set in Italy during The Second World War. Its dark themes are counterbalanced with some delightful comedy and a sweet story about a man trying to protect his young son from the harsh realities of the war. Italian Jew Guido (Roberto Benigni – also director) is a wildly imaginative and romantic soul who woos a local woman in amusing and inventive ways. Fast forward a few years and Guido and his wife Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) have a cute little boy called Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). When Guido and Joshua are taken to a work camp by the Germans, Guido puts in tireless effort to hide the truth from his son, telling him that they are playing a game for points in which the winning team will win a real life tank.

Life is Beautiful really is beautiful in of itself. It’s one of the sweetest films I’ve seen and is amongst many people’s (including my Dad’s and girlfriend’s) favourite films of all time. Not only is it a good-natured story but it’s also very bold. Upon its initial release it faced some criticism for making light of the Holocaust but personally I don’t think it does anything to mock that horrific event or undermine the suffering of the millions who had to endure abysmal treatment under the Nazis and their collaborators. Instead it displays the triumph of human spirit and the deep love of a father for going to great lengths to protect his son.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Black Sabbath

Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (titled I tre volti della paura in his native Italian) is a trilogy of short horror films, presented as a single feature. There is nothing to tie the three films together aside from being bookended by a rather funny and tongue in cheek Boris Karloff who also appears in the middle film. Like much of Bava’s work the film’s original Italian version differs greatly from the more widely seen American release and there’s a fantastic comparison feature on DVD releases which highlights the differences in score, props, dialogue and even ordering of the film. Personally I chose the Italian version to watch.

The Italian version is a little gorier and features a lesbian subplot which is absent from the American release. Bava’s choice to package the films in one feature at first feels strange but to be honest, I don’t think any of the stories could have been successfully stretched to make a feature in their own right and it gives a chance for some terrific tales to get a release.  

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bicycle Thieves

One of, if not the defining masterpieces of Italian neorealism, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Theives) is the first film I’ve seen in the post war sub genre which emerged from a country on its knees in the wake of a brutal Fascist regime. If there are other films in the movement that are half as good as this one, it won’t be my last dip into the genre. Vittorio De Sica’s film is set on the streets of Rome in 1948. With work scarce and hunger raging, a man tries desperately to secure work in an unfavourable job market. He manages to secure a job with adequate pay as someone who puts up film posters but when a thief steals his bike, something he needs for the job, his family are left penniless and he has to wander the streets, searching for his bike amongst a city of millions.

De Sica used ordinary people in the acting roles but it’s difficult to tell that from the performances. Lead actor Lamberto Maggiorani is superb as the man at his wits end following the crime and his miniature adult son, Enzo Staiola comes close to stealing the whole movie. The situation the family find themselves in makes for compelling viewing and the themes and imagery thrown up by the movie add to its impressive overall effect. I wasn’t surprised to read that in Sight & Sound’s first ‘greatest films of all time’ poll in 1952, Bicycle Thieves was ranked at number one. The most recent poll in 2012 ranked it at number 33 all time and my own algorithmic study ranked it at 35.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Black Sunday

Black Sunday, also known as The Mask of Satan or La maschera del dominio in some territories is a 1960 Italian horror movie about a beautiful vampire-witch who is given new life two hundred years after her brutal murder. The movie opens with a horrific scene in which the witch, Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) is put to death at the stake with a spiked, iron mask hammered onto her face. Blood splatters through the mask’s holes and drips down the woman’s body in a scene which would still shock if released today. For 1960s though, the same year that Alfred Hitchcock got into trouble for showing a toilet flushing in Psycho, its effect must have been extraordinary. The movie continues the trend of shocking throughout its 90 minute runtime but doesn’t simply rely on it. Black Sunday, despite its surprising gore, is a well made film which looks and sounds great and has a very good story at its centre.

The film was directed by Mario Bava in what was technically his debut feature. Previously a cinematographer, he had unofficially completed several films as a director but was always uncredited as he took over from directors who left the films they were helming. His background as a cinematographer helped here to blend beauty and gore and produce a film whose reputation stands out against the plethora of similar films from its period.

Friday, 26 April 2013

In my quest for cineliteracy, there are a number of films I’ve had earmarked for viewing for many years. To my great shame as a self confessed cinephile, I’m still yet to see Citizen Cane, Rashamon, Tokyo Story and The Bicycle Thieves amongst many others. Until today, Federico Fellini’s was also on that list. I bought the film several years ago and have had the DVD on my shelf, staring at me, longing to be watched ever since. With a few hours free this afternoon I ignored the shouts from the various light hearted comedies and action packed Westerns who also begged for a stint in the DVD player, switched on my brain and sat down for what I’d long read was a true visionary masterpiece.

Named purely based on the number of films the director had previously made (six features and three collaborations which each counted as half), Fellini’s is a sometimes impregnable film which I found difficult to stay with. The plot, which is more than a little autobiographical, concerns a famous film director, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who is stalled on his latest project due to director’s block. Infatuation and love cause marital problems and producers, agents and stars add to his headache with varying demands. Flashbacks and dream sequences blend seamlessly with the narrative to create an avant-garde but ultimately confusing film which also happens to be one of the most beautiful looking movies I’m yet to see.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Cinema Paradiso

"Out of the fire of love come ashes. Even the greatest love eventually fizzles out"

Giuseppe Tornatore’s much heralded 1988 film Cinema Paradiso begins with a famous film director in Rome called Salvatore (Jaques Perrin) receiving news from his estranged mother that a man called Alfredo has died. The director then remembers back to the mid 1940s when he was a young child in the Sicilian village of Giancaldo. The young Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio), nicknamed Toto is a highly intelligent six year old who becomes fascinated with cinema during his frequent visits to the local picture house Cinema Paradiso. The boy develops a friendship with an old projectionist called Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) and begs him to teach him the art of film projection. Alfredo is hesitant at first, deeming it an unfit job for the sprightly Toto but through charm and persistence the boy finally becomes an apprentice. A few years later the now adolescent Toto (Marco Leonardi) is running the Cinema Paradiso and begins messing around with his own films. One day he spots a beautiful girl at the railway station (Agnese Nano) and his infatuation and love of film becomes shared with his love for the girl.

The film follows Salvatore/Toto from a young boy, right through to his middle age and is one of the most loving films I’ve seen in a long time. This is not only a romantic drama but also a love letter to film itself.