Alberto Lattuada: The Great "Voyeur"

in 74th Locarno International Film Festival

by José Luis Losa

For this year’s festival, Locarno put on one of its signature showcases: a retrospective dedicated to a single artist. There aren’t too many international festivals which take such care in recovering the work of a filmmaker. This was the case under the leadership of Locarno’s former artistic director Carlo Chatrian, and the tradition happily continues with Giona Nazzaro’s first year at the helm.

Both Locarno and San Sebastián have been historically noteworthy in this respect. Locarno has dedicated sections of its programming – of incalculable value to cinephiles – to canonical names in North American cinema such as Vincente Minnelli. There have also been retrospectives for directors who broke with that canon, as with the tribute to Sam Peckinpah in 2015.

For 2021, the festival wanted to move geographically closer to home and focus on the figure of Alberto Lattuada, born in Milan and decidedly marked by his origins in the bourgeois north of Italy. The Lattuada retrospective – very complete, we speak of integrity in its strictest sense – addresses his work from its origins in Italy under Mussolini in Giacomo, il idealista (1942) to its final phase, the most controversial not only because of its commercial drift but due to how badly erotic cinema has aged when it is undeniably marked by a fetishistic point of view. We discover here not only the auteur of fierce social criticism but the erotomaniac. In this regard, one of his films deserves a separate mention: Bambina (1974), whose open political incorrectness by today’s standards requires a framework of explanation through a supporting text.

Nevertheless, the value of this retrospective is immeasurable. It has unearthed the director’s obscure second film (La frecchia nel fianco, 1945) and it covers an era of films which are part of the classic Italian cinema of the 40s and 50s (Il bandito, Il delitto by Giovanni Epíscopo, Without Pity, Il Mulino del Po, La Lupa, Anna, Riviera). From here, we can see the influence that the new waves of European cinema have exerted on Lattuada, appreciable in films such as Guendalina, Il Dolci Enganni, Lettera di una novizia or L’amica. Also evident is the Milanese filmmaker’s fondness for adaptations of classics of Russian literature: Il Cappotto is about Gogol, La Steppa interprets Chekhov, La Tempesta is based on Pushkin, and Cuore di Cane converts a seemingly unadaptable text by Bulgakov to cinema.

A retrospective like this one allows us to obtain a unique global perspective on the thematic universe of an author. Thus, one of Lattuada’s leitmotifs, the critique of bourgeois moral hypocrisy closely associated with his knowledge of Milan, is fed back into the very consistent vision that he offers of private vices and public virtues.

His approach as a voyeur is a declaration of principle in his short film Gli italiani si voltano, which is part of the collective film Love in the City. All this short film focuses on is the act of observing a woman as an object of desire through the wandering gaze of anonymous citizens on the streets of Milan.

Since the 50s, Lattuada has become very present in how he films women, with his almost totemic fixation on underwear, lace garments, and in particular, garters. Even in 1957, Jacqueline Sassard’s naked back in Guendolina, a film which disappeared days after its premiere, brought him censorship problems almost on the same level as those caused by the legendary dance of Silvana Mangano in Anna.

The work of the 70s unleashes Lattuada’s fixation, when he filmed Venda a prendere il café… da noi, the aforementioned Bambina, Cuori di Cane, Oh, Serafina and Stay as You Are, to the greater glory of the anatomies of Teresa Ann Savoy, Dominique Sanda, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Angelica Ippolito, Nastassja Kinski, and Clio Goldsmith.

After his creative peak, he was able to adapt to genres as diverse as the Hitchcockian thriller (L’ímprevisto), the war film (Fräulein Doktor), and a hilarious parody of James Bond (Matchless).

The retrospective, screening a dozen titles recently restored with the collaboration of the Cinémathèque Française, also featured presentations by critics well-versed in Lattuada’s work, including Olaf Möller, a critic who is not celebrated nearly enough. Möller’s erudition and gift for political analysis of film is combined with a very fine sense of humor.

José Luis Losa
Edited by Lesley Chow