|No. of screens 3,217 (2011)|
Total €618 million
National films 30,208,422 (31.0%)
|Main distributors Medusa Film S.P.A. 16.7% Warner Bros. Italia S.P.A. 13.8% 20th Century Fox Italia S.P.A. 13.7%|
The Cinema of Italy comprises the films made within Italy or by Italian directors. Since the development of the Italian film industry in the early 1900s, Italian filmmakers and performers have, at times, experienced both domestic and international success, and have influenced film movements throughout the world. As of 2014, Italian films have won 14 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, the most of any country, as well as 12 Palmes d'Or, the second-most of any country.
- Early years
- Pink neorealism and comedy
- Hollywood on the Tiber
- Peplum aka Sword and Sandal
- The Spaghetti Western
- Sophia Lorens Academy Award
- Giallo ThrillerHorror
- The 1980s crisis
- 1990 to present
Early Italian films were typically adaptations of books or stage plays. By the 1910s, Italian filmmakers were utilizing complex set designs, lavish costumes, and record budgets, to produce pioneering films such as Enrico Guazzoni's Quo Vadis (1913) and Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria (1914). One of the first cinematic avante-garde movements, Italian Futurism, took place in Italy in the late 1910s. After a period of decline in the 1920s, the Italian film industry was revitalized in the 1930s with the arrival of sound film. A popular Italian genre during this period, the Telefoni Bianchi, consisted of comedies with glamorous backgrounds.
While Italy's Fascist government provided financial support for the nation's film industry, most notably the construction of the Cinecittà studios, it also engaged in censorship, and thus many Italian films produced in the late 1930s were propaganda films. Post-World War II Italy saw the rise of the influential Italian neorealist movement, which launched the directorial careers of Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio De Sica. Neorealism declined in the late 1950s in favor of lighter films, such as those of the Commedia all'italiana genre and important directors like Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Actresses such as Sophia Loren, Giulietta Masina and Gina Lollobrigida achieved international stardom during this period.
The Spaghetti Western achieved popularity in the mid-1960s, peaking with Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy, which featured enigmatic scores by composer Ennio Morricone. Erotic Italian thrillers, or giallos, produced by directors such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the 1970s, influenced the horror genre worldwide. During the 1980s and 1990s, directors such as Ermanno Olmi, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuseppe Tornatore, Gabriele Salvatores and Roberto Benigni brought critical acclaim back to Italian cinema.
The French Lumière brothers commenced public screenings in Italy in 1896: in March 1896, in Rome and Milan; in April in Naples, Salerno and Bari; in June in Livorno; in August in Bergamo, Bologna and Ravenna; in October in Ancona; and in December in Turin, Pescara and Reggio Calabria. Lumière trainees produced short films documenting everyday life and comic strips in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Pioneering Italian cinematographer Filoteo Alberini patented his "Kinetograph" during this period.
The Italian film industry took shape between 1903 and 1908, led by three major organizations: Cines, based in Rome; and the Turin-based companies Ambrosio Film and Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and Naples, and these early companies quickly attained a respectable production quality and were able to market their products both within Italy and abroad.
Early Italian films typically consisted of adaptations of books or stage plays, such as Mario Caserini's Otello (1906) and Arturo Ambrosio's 1908 adaptation of the novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. Also popular during this period were films about historical figures, such as Caserini's Beatrice Cenci (1909) and Ugo Falena's Lucrezia Borgia (1910). L'Inferno, produced by Milano Films in 1911, was the first full-length Italian feature film ever made. Popular early Italian actors included Emilio Ghione, Alberto Collo, Bartolomeo Pagano, Amleto Novelli, Lyda Borelli, Ida Carloni Talli, Lidia Quaranta and Maria Jacobini.
Enrico Guazzone's 1913 film Quo Vadis was one of the earliest "blockbusters" in cinema history, utilizing thousands of extras and a lavish set design. Giovanni Pastrone's 1914 film Cabiria was an even larger production, requiring two years and a record budget to produce. Nino Martoglio's Lost in Darkness, also produced in 1914, documented life in the slums of Naples, and is considered a precursor to the Neorealist movement of the 1940s and 1950s.
Between 1911 and 1919, Italy was home to the first avant-garde movement in cinema, inspired by the country's Futurism movement. The 1916 Manifesto of Futuristic Cinematography was signed by Filippo Marinetti, Armando Ginna, Bruno Corra, Giacomo Balla and others. To the Futurists, cinema was an ideal art form, being a fresh medium, and able to be manipulated by speed, special effects and editing. Most of the futuristic-themed films of this period have been lost, but critics cite Thaïs (1917) by Anton Giulio Bragaglia as one of the most influential, serving as the main inspiration for German Expressionist cinema in the following decade.
The Italian film industry struggled against rising foreign competition in the years following World War I. Several major studios, among them Cines and Ambrosio, formed the Unione Cinematografica Italiana to coordinate a national strategy for film production. This effort was largely unsuccessful, however, due to a wide disconnect between production and exhibition (some movies weren't released until several years after they were produced). Among the notable Italian films of the late silent era were Mario Camerini's Rotaio (1929) and Alessandro Blasetti's Sun (1929).
In 1930, Gennaro Righelli directed the first Italian sound film, The Song of Love. This was followed by Blasetti's Mother Earth (1930) and Resurrection (1931), and Camerini's Figaro and His Great Day (1931). The advent of sound film led to stricter censorship from the Fascist government.
During the 1930s, light comedies known as "Telefoni Bianchi" ("white telephone") were predominant in Italian cinema. These films, which featured lavish set designs, promoted conservative values and respect for authority, and thus typically avoided the scrutiny of government censors. Important examples of Telefoni Bianchi include Guido Brignone's Paradiso (1932), Carlo Bragaglia's O la borsa o la vita (1933), and Righelli's Together in the Dark (1935). Historical films such as Blasetti's 1860 (1934) and Carmine Gallone's Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal (1937) were also popular during this period.
In 1934, the Italian government created the General Directorate for Cinema (Direzione Generale per le Cinematografia), and appointed Luigi Freddi its director. With the approval of Benito Mussolini, this directorate called for the establishment of a town southeast of Rome devoted exclusively to cinema, dubbed the "Cinecittà" ("Cinema City"). Completed in 1937, the Cinecittà provided everything necessary for filmmaking: theaters, technical services, and even a cinematography school, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, for younger apprentices. The Cinecittà studios were Europe's most advanced production facilities, and greatly boosted the technical quality of Italian films. Many films are still shot entirely in Cinecittà.
During this period, Mussolini's son, Vittorio, created a national production company and organized the work of noted authors, directors and actors (including even some political opponents), thereby creating an interesting communication network among them, which produced several noted friendships and stimulated cultural interaction.
By the end of World War II, the Italian "neorealist" movement had begun to take shape. Neorealist films typically dealt with the working class (in contrast to the Telefoni Bianchi), and were shot on location. Many neorealist films, but not all, utilized non-professional actors. Though the term "neorealism" was used for the first time to describe Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film, Ossessione, there were several important precursors to the movement, most notably Camerini's What Scoundrels Men Are! (1932), which was the first Italian film shot entirely on location, and Blasetti's 1942 film, Four Steps in the Clouds.
Ossessione angered Fascist officials. Upon viewing the film, Vittorio Mussolini is reported to have shouted, "This is not Italy!" before walking out of the theater. The film was subsequently banned in the Fascist-controlled parts of Italy. While neorealism exploded after the war, and was incredibly influential at the international level, neorealist films made up only a small percentage of Italian films produced during this period, as postwar Italian moviegoers preferred escapist comedies starring actors such as Totò and Alberto Sordi.
Neorealist works such as Roberto Rossellini's trilogy Rome, Open City (1945), Paisà (1946), and Germany, Year Zero (1948), with professional actors such as Anna Magnani and a number of non-professional actors, attempted to describe the difficult economic and moral conditions of postwar Italy and the changes in public mentality in everyday life. Visconti's The Earth Trembles (1948) was shot on location in a Sicilian fishing village, and utilized local non-professional actors. Giuseppe De Santis, on other hand, used actors such as Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman in his 1949 film, Bitter Rice, which is set in the Po Valley during rice-harvesting season.
Poetry and cruelty of life were harmonically combined in the works that Vittorio De Sica wrote and directed together with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini: among them, Shoeshine (1946), The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Miracle in Milan (1951). The 1952 film Umberto D. showed a poor old man with his little dog, who must beg for alms against his dignity in the loneliness of the new society. This work is perhaps De Sica's masterpiece and one of the most important works in Italian cinema. It was not a commercial success and since then it has been shown on Italian television only a few times. Yet it is perhaps the most violent attack, in the apparent quietness of the action, against the rules of the new economy, the new mentality, the new values, and it embodies both a conservative and a progressive view.
Although Umberto D. is considered the end of the neorealist period, later films such as Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954) and De Sica's 1960 film Two Women (for which Sophia Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress) are grouped with the genre. Director Pier Paolo Pasolini's first film, Accattone (1961), shows a strong neorealist influence. Italian neorealist cinema influenced filmmakers around the world, and helped inspire other film movements, such as the French New Wave and the Polish Film School. The Neorealist period is often simply referred to as "The Golden Age" of Italian Cinema by critics, filmmakers, and scholars.
Pink neorealism and comedy
It has been said that after Umberto D. nothing more could be added to neorealism. Possibly because of this, neorealism effectively ended with that film; subsequent works turned toward lighter atmospheres, perhaps more coherent with the improving conditions of the country, and this genre has been called pink neorealism. This trend allowed better-"equipped" actresses to become real celebrities, such as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Silvana Pampanini, Lucia Bosé, Barbara Bouchet, Eleonora Rossi Drago, Silvana Mangano, Virna Lisi, Claudia Cardinale and Stefania Sandrelli. Soon pink neorealism, such as Pane, amore e gelosia (1954, released in the US as Frisky) with Vittorio DeSica and Gina Lollobrigida, was replaced by the Commedia all'italiana, a unique genre that, born on an ideally humouristic line, talked instead very seriously about important social themes.
At this time, on the more commercial side of production, the phenomenon of Totò, a Neapolitan actor who is acclaimed as the major Italian comic, exploded. His films (often with Peppino De Filippo and almost always with Mario Castellani) expressed a sort of neorealistic satire, in the means of a guitto (a "hammy" actor) as well as with the art of the great dramatic actor he also was. A "film-machine" who produced dozens of titles per year, his repertoire was frequently repeated. His personal story (a prince born in the poorest rione (section of the city) of Naples), his unique twisted face, his special mimic expressions and his gestures created an inimitable personage and made him one of the most beloved Italians of the 1960s.
Italian Comedy is generally considered to have started with Mario Monicelli's I soliti Ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958) and derives its name from the title of Pietro Germi's Divorzio all'Italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961). For a long time this definition was used with a derogatory intention.
Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Alberto Sordi, Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti and Nino Manfredi were among the stars of these movies, that described the years of the economical reprise and investigated Italian customs, a sort of self-ethnological research.
In 1961 Dino Risi directed Una vita difficile (A Difficult Life), then Il sorpasso (The Easy Life), now a cult-movie, followed by: I Mostri (The Monsters, also known as 15 From Rome), In nome del Popolo Italiano (In the Name of the Italian People) and Profumo di donna (Scent of a Woman).
Monicelli's works include La grande guerra (The Great War), I compagni (Comrades, also known as The Organizer), L'Armata Brancaleone, Vogliamo i colonnelli (We Want the Colonels), Romanzo popolare (Popular Novel) and the Amici miei series.
A series of black-and-white films based on Don Camillo character created by the Italian writer and journalist Giovannino Guareschi were made between 1952 and 1965. These were French-Italian coproductions, and starred Fernandel as Don Camillo and Gino Cervi as Peppone. The titles are: The Little World of Don Camillo, The Return of Don Camillo, Don Camillo's Last Round, Don Camillo: Monsignor, and Don Camillo in Moscow. Mario Camerini began filming the film Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi but had to stop filming due to Fernandel's falling ill, which resulted in his untimely death. The film was then completed in 1972 with Gastone Moschin playing the role of Don Camillo and Lionel Stander as Peppone. A Don Camillo (The World of Don Camillo) film was remade in 1983, an Italian production with Terence Hill directing and also starring as Don Camillo. Colin Blakely performed Peppone in one of his last film roles.
Hollywood on the Tiber
In the late 1940s, Hollywood studios began to shift production abroad to Europe. Italy was, along with Britain, one of the major destinations for American film companies. Shooting at Cinecittà, large-budget films such as Quo Vadis (1951), Roman Holiday (1953) and Cleopatra (1963) were made in English with international casts and sometimes, but not always, Italian settings or themes. The heyday of what was dubbed '"Hollywood on the Tiber" was between 1950 and 1970, during which time many of the most famous names in world cinema made films in Italy.
Peplum (a.k.a. Sword and Sandal)
With the release of 1958's Hercules, starring American bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the Italian film industry gained entree to the American film market. These films, many with mythological or Bible themes, were low-budget costume/adventure dramas, and had immediate appeal with both European and American audiences. Besides the many films starring a variety of muscle men as Hercules, heroes such as Samson and Italian fictional hero Maciste were common. Sometimes dismissed as low-quality escapist fare, the Peplums allowed newer directors such as Sergio Leone and Mario Bava a means of breaking into the film industry. Some, such as Mario Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole Al Centro Della Terra) are considered seminal works in their own right. As the genre matured, budgets sometimes increased, as evidenced in 1962's I sette gladiatori (The Seven Gladiators in 1964 US release), a wide-screen epic with impressive sets and matte-painting work. Most Peplum films were in color, whereas previous Italian efforts had often been black and white.
The Spaghetti Western
On the heels of the Peplum craze, a related genre, the Spaghetti Western arose and was popular both in Italy and elsewhere. These films differed from traditional westerns by being filmed in Europe on limited budgets, but featured vivid cinematography.
The most popular Spaghetti Westerns were those of Sergio Leone, whose Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), featuring Clint Eastwood and scores by Ennio Morricone, came to define the genre along with Once Upon a Time in the West.
Also considered Spaghetti Westerns is a film genre which combined traditional western ambiance with a Commedia all'italiana-type comedy; films including They Call Me Trinity and Trinity Is STILL My Name!, which featured Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, the stage names of Carlo Pedersoli and Mario Girotti.
Italy has produced many important cinematography auteurs, including Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Ettore Scola, Sergio Leone, Luigi Comencini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Franco Zeffirelli, Valerio Zurlini, Florestano Vancini, Mario Monicelli, Marco Ferreri, Elio Petri, Dino Risi and Mauro Bolognini. These directors' works often span many decades and genres. Present auteurs include Giuseppe Tornatore, Marco Bellocchio, Ermanno Olmi, Nanni Moretti, Gabriele Salvatores, Gianni Amelio, Dario Argento and Paolo Sorrentino.
Sophia Loren's Academy Award
In 1961 Sophia Loren won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as a woman who is raped in World War II, along with her adolescent daughter, in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women. She was the first actress to win an Academy Award for a performance in any foreign language, and the second Italian leading lady Oscar-winner (after Anna Magnani).
During the 1960s and 70s, Italian filmmakers Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Antonio Margheriti and Dario Argento developed giallo horror films that become classics and influenced the genre in other countries. Representative films include: Black Sunday, Castle of Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red and Suspiria.
Due to the success of the James Bond film series the Italian film industry made large amounts of imitations and spoofs in the Eurospy genre from 1964-1967.
Following the 1960s boom of shockumentary "Mondo films" such as Gualtiero Jacopetti's Mondo Cane, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Italian cinema became internationally synonymous with violent horror films. These films were primarily produced for the video market and were credited with fueling the "video nasty" era in the United Kingdom.
Directors in this genre included Lucio Fulci, Joe D'Amato, Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato. Some of their films faced legal challenges in the United Kingdom; after the Video Recordings Act of 1984, it became a legal offense to sell a copy of such films as Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp. Italian films of this period are usually grouped together as exploitation films.
Several countries charged Italian studios with exceeding the boundaries of acceptability with their late-1970s Nazi exploitation films, inspired by American movies such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. The Italian works included the notorious but comparatively tame SS Experiment Camp and the far more graphic Last Orgy of the Third Reich (Italian: L'ultima orgia del III Reich). These films showed, in great detail, sexual crimes against prisoners at concentration camps. These films may still be banned in the United Kingdom and other countries.
Polizieschi (Italian pronunciation: [politˈtsjeski]) films constitute a subgenre of crime and action film that emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s. Poliziotteschi films are also known as poliziottesco, Italo-crime, Euro-crime or simply Italian crime films. Most notable international actors acted in this genre of films such Alain Delon, Henry Silva, Fred Williamson, Charles Bronson, Tomas Milian and others international stars.
The 1980s crisis
Between the late 1970s and mid 1980s, Italian cinema was in crisis; "art films" became increasingly isolated, separating from the mainstream Italian cinema.
Among the major artistic films of this era were La città delle donne, E la nave va, Ginger and Fred by Fellini, L'albero degli zoccoli by Ermanno Olmi (winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival), La notte di San Lorenzo by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Antonioni's Identificazione di una donna, and Bianca and La messa è finita by Nanni Moretti. Although not entirely Italian, Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, winner of 9 Oscars, and Once Upon a Time in America of Sergio Leone came out of this period also.
During this time, commedia sexy all'italiana films, described as "trash films", were popular in Italy. These comedy films were of little artistic value and reached their popularity by confronting Italian social taboos, most notably in the sexual sphere. Actors such as Lino Banfi, Diego Abatantuono, Alvaro Vitali, Gloria Guida, Barbara Bouchet and Edwige Fenech owe much of their popularity to these films.
Also considered part of the trash genre are films which feature Fantozzi, a comic personage invented by Paolo Villaggio. Although Villaggio's movies tend to bridge trash comedy with a more elevated social satire; this character had a great impact on Italian society, to such a degree that the adjective fantozziano entered the lexicon. Of the many films telling of Fantozzi's misadventures, the most notable were Fantozzi and Il secondo tragico Fantozzi.
1990 to present
A new generation of directors has helped return Italian cinema to a healthy level since the end of the 1980s. Probably the most noted film of the period is Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, for which Giuseppe Tornatore won a 1989 Oscar (awarded in 1990) for Best Foreign Language Film. This award was followed when Gabriele Salvatores's Mediterraneo won the same prize for 1991. Another exploit was in 1998 when Roberto Benigni won three oscars for his movie Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella) (Best Actor, Best Foreign Film, Best Music). In 2001 Nanni Moretti's film The Son's Room (La stanza del figlio) received the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Other noteworthy recent Italian films include: Jona che visse nella balena directed by Roberto Faenza, Il grande cocomero by Francesca Archibugi, The Profession of Arms (Il mestiere delle armi) by Olmi, L'ora di religione by Marco Bellocchio, Il ladro di bambini, Lamerica, The Keys to the House (Le chiavi di casa) by Gianni Amelio, I'm Not Scared (Io non ho paura) by Gabriele Salvatores, Le fate ignoranti, Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte) by Ferzan Özpetek, Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte) by Ferzan Özpetek, The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventù) by Marco Tullio Giordana, The Beast in the Heart (La bestia nel cuore) by Cristina Comencini.
In 2008 Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, a biographical film based on the life of Giulio Andreotti, won the Jury prize and Gomorra, a crime drama film, directed by Matteo Garrone won the Gran Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The two highest-grossing Italian films have both been directed by Gennaro Nunziante and starred Checco Zalone: Sole a catinelle (2013) with €51.8 milion, and Quo Vado? (2016) with €65.3 milion.
They Call Me Jeeg, a 2016 critically acclaimed superhero film directed by Gabriele Mainetti and starring Claudio Santamaria, won many awards, such as eight David di Donatello, two Nastro d'Argento, and a Globo d'oro.
Gianfranco Rosi's documentary film Fire at Sea (2016) won the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival. They Call Me Jeeg and Fire at Sea were also selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards, but they were not nominated.
Other successful 2010s Italian films include: The First Beautiful Thing (La prima cosa bella), Human Capital (Il capitale umano) and Like Crazy (La pazza gioia) by Paolo Virzì, We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) and Mia Madre by Nanni Moretti, Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire) by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Don't Be Bad (Non essere cattivo) by Claudio Caligari, Romanzo Criminale by Michele Placido (that spawned a TV series, Romanzo criminale - La serie), Youth (La giovinezza) by Paolo Sorrentino, Suburra by Stefano Sollima, Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti) by Paolo Genovese, Italian Race (Veloce come il vento) by Matteo Rovere, and Mine by Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro.