Unknown Italian Cinema: Ghosts of the post-war Era from 1946 to 1975 By Furio Fossati

in 65th Venice International Film Festival

by Furio Fossati

After the retrospectives on invincible policemen and the spaghetti-western, this year the Festival rewarded the minor directors of Italian cinema of the post-war period with a full-bodied tribute featuring also minor works of great directors and important television reports during the period 1946 — 1975, almost unknown worldwide except through the names of Masters like Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini and Antonioni.

Film buffs felt a powerful emotion on being able to discover directors forgotten by the system. The work of real discovery of almost unknown titles began with the opening of boxes left forlorn for decades in the storage spaces of the National Collection, intently and competently supervised by the curator Sergio Toppi. Among the greatest surprises was The Sky is Red (Il cielo rosso, 1950), directed by the actor and filmmaker Claudio Gora, mainly neo-realistic in tone.

Also Revenge (Un uomo ritorna, 1948), by Max Neufeld showed that these directors were not affected by the censorship in dialogue and content that was restricting the dramatic power and the authenticity of the stories. Anna Magnani wants the death of the murderer of her son and shouts it out loudly for everyone to hear.

City of Pain (La città dolente, 1949) by Mario Bonnard, which tells the dramatic story of the 350,000 inhabitants of Istra persuaded to move to Italy and left abandoned with the promise, never kept, to go back to their country, had great difficulties to be seen both in Italy and abroad.Raffaele Andreassi’s Flashback (Flashback, 1969), which deals with the Resistance involving scenes out of a cheap Rambo and some sequences in soft-core style, is a typical example of forgotten B-movie oddities. Among the names, maybe known only by older film buffs, representing the development of Italian cinema in the immediate post-war period were Giorgio Bianchi and Duilio Coletti, whereas directors like Gianvittorio Baldi, the aforementioned Andreassi, Giulio Questi and Giuseppe Fina were active in the sixties.

But there are a lot of interesting names, with Zampa with two titles, Federico Fellini with The White Sheik (Lo sceicco bianco), but also with three commercials for Banco di Roma, the great provocateur Carmelo Bene with Our Lady of the Turks (Nostra Signora dei Turchi, 1968); an African movie Il padre by Pier Paolo Pasolini, shot among gypsies on the outskirts of Rome, on and on in a curious game of memory and discovery of a little known movie history such as The Basilisks (I Basilischi, 1973), the directorial debut of Lina Wertmuller. “The miracle of this movie was born in Venice during the Festival”, says the director. “When I met Tullio Kezich and Nello Santi, in those years also independent producers, and shared with them my idea of telling stories about villages, mainly in southern Italy where my father was born and raised, where the hierarchies not necessarily were official and a rich or a noble man could have more power than the major and the parish. I had just worked as first assistant director on Fellini’s for 8 1/2 and I was enough known to obtain their support to write the script and direct the movie. In those years a movie of a new director cost about 100,000,000 liras, mine cost 37,000,000 liras and took less than three weeks to shoot. As cinematographer I had the great Gianni di Venanzio, with me on the Fellini movie, who gave me his great art as a gift. Actually we were able to shoot this movie thanks to the friendship I had with the actors and technicians who were working for me pretty much for free. The movie received 14 international awards and, during the Locarno Festival presentation, I discovered that this reality of villages, that I thought was only Italian, was widespread all over the world, also in communist countries and part of the United States”.

The problem of many authors of those years was that at the same time in Italy there was a cinema of high quality and innovation, which moved the interest away from some good films. Many of the directors have not been honoured with a little essay on their work, nor with a university thesis about them, nor with pieces of writing even in minor newspapers.

There is a possibility that some of these may become cult movies, an important chapter on this unknown cinema to Italian film history.

The movies come mainly from the National Film Collection but also from the Bologna Collection, Friuli Film Collection, Istituto Luce, National Museum of Cinema of Turin but also entities like Mediaset Cinema Forever, Rai Cinema and Rai Teche provided material. Thanks to this exhibition many films have been lovingly restored. A surprise was the big success with audiences which forced the organization to plan additional screenings. Among the most liked was A Girl… and a Million (La cuccagna, 1962), by Luciano Salce, anticipating the character of the ’68 protester. The role was played by the great poet of Italian music, Luigi Tenco, who protested against the music star system by committing suicide during the San Remo Music Festival.

It is to be hoped that this work of great relevance and interest will not fade and scatter but will be used as a resource for studies in cinema and also in Italian customs. A cultural exchange with other international festivals would be very interesting, depicting a different Italian cinema, detached from the image given from the great masters.