Who was Sergio Citti? TFF Shows His Movies and Explains

in 41st Torino International Film Festival

by Roberto Baldassarre

Inside this substantial TFF 41st edition of the TFF, there were two unmissable cinephile retrospectives: one dedicated to John Wayne (who stands out as a graphic icon on the festival poster, holding the young Natalie Wood in his arms, a cinematic moment taken from The Searchers by John Ford); the other dedicated to the director Sergio Citti. On the one hand a Yankee, with a brisk manner, and on the other hand an epicurean “borgataro.” Two distant cinematographic figures, with opposite social backgrounds, but both similar in having embraced an imperturbable philosophy of life (Wayne only on the screen); and both with a mocking joke.

Two similar worlds also, in their settings: the West, often made up of improvised villages, is not dissimilar to the Roman suburbs of the 1950s, teeming with villages made up of patched-up shacks sunk into muddy and dirty terrain. And, just to close these affinities, which create a cinephile six degrees of separation, a filmic reference. In Bellissima (1951), by Luchino Visconti and with Anna Magnani, an improvised cinema among the suburban buildings screens Red River (1948), by Howard Hawks, a milestone of the western and a classic of John Wayne’s filmography. John Wayne “comes” into contact with Anna Magnani, who then comes into contact with Sergio Citti in Mamma Roma (1962) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, where Citti was assistant director and collaborator on dialogue.

This retrospective dedicated to the “Pittoretto della Maranella”—one of director’s nicknames, given because his first job was as a house painter—was created to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of his birth (1933-2005), and above all to give due importance to his work, which was (if not exactly maligned) certainly received superficially in its time, with few exceptions. A meritorious review, accompanied by a volume edited by Matteo Pollone and Caterina Taricano (Sergio Citti. La poesia scellerata del cinema), which also showed his complete filmography to a new audience. From Ostia (1970), an amazing debut in the panorama of Italian cinema, to the unfortunate Fratella e Sorello (2005), made in 2002 and then screened in very few cinemas only three years later, just a few months before Sergio Citti died.

The retrospective opened with two days of studies about Sergio Citti, in which historians, critics, and university researchers analyzed from distinct points of view—and from different generational points—his filmography, made up of a total of 20 works: 10 feature films, two TV serials, five short movies, one medium-length film, and two TV commercials. Each screening was introduced by a film critic or by Citti’s former collaborators, to share anecdotes or an interpretation with the audience. Through this retrospective, there was confirmation of how Sergio Citti was an “unicum” in Italian cinema: An author with his own strong creative streak that almost never coincided with coeval Italian cinema. Only two movies had good success at the box office (Storie Scellerate and Casotto), in the first case because it was mistaken for a decamerotic film (a profitable genre in vogue at the time), the second for being a seaside comedy with all star cast (Jodie Foster, Catherine Deneuve, Ugo Tognazzi, Gigi Proietti, Mariangela Melato, ecc.). And although his cinema was asynchronous, tending towards the fairy tale and not directly political and sociological, some of his observations about Italian society were clear and sharp. In the nostalgic Duepezzidipane (1979), the 1970s are seen as a decade full of violence, alienation, and carelessness. In I Magi randagi (1996), the people are galvanized by the tearful telenovelas (a reference to Berlusconi’s television programmes). And even in Cartoni animati (1998), nominally directed by Franco Citti but completely created by Sergio Citti, there is a melancholy and bitter reflection on the Italy of the 1990s. The protagonist’s pilgrimage (Franco Citti), a relic of the “borgate” of the 1950s, shows a society in which the law of the strongest prevails, and where consumerism and standardization transform the cheerful and understanding hobos into indifferent humans.

Making this film retrospective was not easy. If on the one hand there was the 4k restoration of Casotto (1977), which gave splendor to Citti’s best-known film, on the other it was difficult to find other movies. For example, Storie scellerate, finally screened under the original PEA (Produzioni Europee Associated) brand, or Cartoni animati, of which only one film copy existed at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Equally difficult to put together the 4 works created by Sergio Citti in 1987 for RAI, and the short documentary Ritratti d’autore: Sergio Citti, made for the pay-TV Tele+ by Alessandro D’Alatri, and never broadcast since 1996.

The retrospective on Sergio Citti, therefore, was another precious contribution of the Torino Film Festival to cinema. A huge gift to all those cinephiles who try to recover films from the past, to complete those gaps that the prevailing streaming platforms are not always able to fill, because they prefer a schedule that is based on algorithms.

By Roberto Baldassarre
Edited by Robert Horton