The Perfect Marriage of Spanish and Italian By Furio Fossati

in 53rd Valladolid International Film Festival

by Furio Fossati

An ideal path in the relationship between Italian and Spanish cinema started last year with the work of producer Alberto Grimaldi and this year SEMINCI wanted to give a 360º outline of the odd couple that is Italian director Marco Ferreri and the Spanish scriptwriter Rafael Azcona. The Matrimonio a la italiana section screened 11 of the 17 works they performed together but, above all, has given the chance for journalist Maite Carpio to carry out an in-depth critical and biographical work in his nice documentary Irreverente Ferreri.

The meeting between the two subjects happened accidentally in 1956 when Ferreri was in Spain, hoping to start working as a movie producer. Rafael Azcona hadn’t planned to become a scriptwriter: he arrived in Madrid seven years before from his small hometown Logroño — trying to pursue a career in writing; knowing nothing about cinema and filmmaking because it had never been in his thoughts.

Azcona, to earn his living, was working for the satirical magazine “La Cordoniz” and, when he received a telephone call from Ferreri asking him if he wanted to sell the royalties of his short story ‘Los muertos no se tocan, nene’, went for advice to his friend Enrique Herreros, who was working in the commercial department of Luis Bunuel’s movie production company and asked him what to do and how much to ask for. The answer, quoted in several biographies on Azcona, was: “Don’t worry about that, it is the less important thing. You will meet a man and he will tell you: “I’m the producer, but I have to warn you we are out of money at this moment”. And this very thing happened: and from that moment started one of the firmest friendships and collaborations of the European cinema, an odd couple that imposed their unique way of movie making and not only in Italy and Spain.

The eleven examples of their cinema shown together were interesting but, above all, gave the chance for audiences to see again the 1965 movie The Man with the Balloons (L’uomo dei cinque palloni), one of the most extraordinary cases of the overpowering film producers because of the ever accepted rule which makes them the owners of the works created for the film commissioned to the director.

Carlo Ponti judged the 85-minute movie not economically acceptable and reduced it to 25, making it an episode of the anthological movie Oggi domani, dopodomani. The result was to create some gags removing completely everything that could stand as social satire. The cast featured Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Catherine Spaak and William Berger. The story was interesting; the owner of a candy factory is persuaded to make a promotional campaign using inflatable balloons. Going back home for Christmas Eve, he’s obsessed by what is the limit of an inflatable balloon before it breaks up. Not even his fiancée is able to divert him from it and an engineer friend of him can’t solve the enigma. Finally the man commits suicide – throwing himself out of a window- thus proving his incapability to survive without knowing.

The feeling of discomfort, of being unable to find certain answers even among beloved people is the key to reading a surely difficult work but it is still of great interest. Even the organizers of the Festival expressed amazement about the audience feedback and displayed extra screenings to satisfy the requests of a town of about 300.000 inhabitants with more than 85 commercial screens and 30 other function rooms for cultural exhibitions.

The selection of the titles was chosen by Maite Carpio, who also completed a beautiful and well-documented catalogue of more than 160 pages. This news writer studied in Valladolid and has lived in Rome since 1996 where he collaborates with Rai, the public Italian TV Channel.

Here are the titles:

The Conjugal Bed (Una storia moderna: L’ape regina) 1963 — starring Ugo Tognazzi and Marina Vlady — tells the story of a car dealer in his forties, convinced by a friar friend to marry a gorgeous, religious, chaste girl. But after the wedding he discovers unspeakable secrets.
The Ape Woman (La donna scimmia) 1964 — starring Tognazzi and a beautiful Annie Girardot — a man who lives by his wits persuades a woman completely covered in hair, who lives in a hospice, to exhibit herself in a fairground. He marries her then they go to France and the woman becomes pregnant, but dies in childbirth. The man will then take advantage of this situation to make money.
The Wedding March (Marcia nuziale) 1966 — again with Tognazzi — four episodes of rare satire.
Her Harem (L’harem) 1967 — starring Carol Baker and Renato Salvatori — tells the story of a woman who doesn’t want to get married because she doesn’t agree with monogamy.
Dillinger Is Dead (Dillinger è morto) 1969 — starring Michel Piccoli, cold as ever — is a difficult movie in which a man discovers a rusty revolver wrapped in old newspaper writing about Dillinger. He cleans it, paints it red, loads it and kills his ill wife to start a new life in Tahiti.
Papal Audience (L’udienza) 1971 — starring Jannacci, Piccoli, Tognazzi, Claudia Cardinale and a great Vittorio Gassman — a man, obsessed by the wish of being received by the Pope, look also for the help of a nice hooker. This movie was awarded in 1972 by FIPRESCI in Berlin.
La Grande Bouffe (La grande abbuffata) 1973 — starring Tognazzi, Piccoli, Mastroianni and Philippe Noiret — a group of friends, including a cook, arrives in a crumbling villa for a gastronomic self-destroying weekend.
Don’t Touch the White Woman! (Non toccare la donna bianca) 1975
The Last Woman (L’ultima donna) 1976 — starring Piccoli, Tognazzi, Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve — set in an incredible Paris.
Bye Bye Monkey (Ciao maschio) 1978 — starring Gerard Depardieu and Stefania Casini — tells the strange adventure of a lights engineer in New York.
How Good the Whites Are (Come sono buoni i bianchi) 1988 — with Michel and Michele Piccoli — tells the misfortunes of a humanitarian mission in Sachel.
Irriverente Ferreri 2007 – directed by Maite Carpio, which will be presented on Rai 1 (public Italian television) is a beautiful document on Ferreri and is essential to understand this odd Milanese character who invented himself as a movie author and is now considered as a cult of independent cinema and not only in Europe.

The exhibition is also to be presented in Italy and France.