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Porte aperte (1990)
Ignorance is strength ? The action is taking place under fascism !
Of course ignorance can be tolerated, but sometimes enough is enough. So I must reply to Mr. ccthemovieman-1, whose comment really goes over the top, as shown in the following quote : « In this movie, people who support the death penalty are called "fascists." Well, I used to be a flaming Left Winger and I remember calling anyone who disagreed with us a "fascist" back in the '60s, so I guess nothing has changed in that regard. » Well, it's because in this Italian film, the action is taking place in 1938 - that is, under the Fascist regime. So "the people who support death penalty" are not CALLED the fascists, they ARE the fascists, the real thing, the genuine article : fascismo (1922-1944). Nothing to do with the blatant ignorance of fascism displayed in the sixties by some American 'Liberal' activist, which by now has become the blatant ignorance of fascism displayed by some American 'Conservative' activist. As is well known, death penalty in Italy was abolished in 1890, reinstalled in 1922 by Mussolini's regime and abolished again in 1946.
Now this Gianni Amelio courtroom drama (watch out the SPOILERS are coming) tells us the story of a 1938 magistrate (Gian Maria Volontè) who while not being exactly an antifascist, has always been at odds with the 1922 reenactment of death penalty and is now trying to find some loopholes or small print or mitigating circumstances of any kind to avoid delivering a death penalty verdict at the trial he's presiding - except that the accused is as uncooperative as possible since the guy WANTS to be executed.
I shall also add that the Leonardo Sciascia book from which the movie is adapted is based on a true story. A writer with the mentality of an historian, Mr. Sciascia has been digging into old Sicilian trials that took place during the Ventennio (i.e. Fascist era) and found this story. So the movie is also a living page of history. The fascists in the story are called the fascists because they are the fascists.
ccthemovieman-1 should stick to watching American movies, period. Anyway, aren't American movies the best ? Of course they are. So why not keep watching them and forget about the rest.
L'auberge rouge (1951)
There should be a yearly Award for macabre humor
Of course, there will always be some narrow-minded people to remain highly prejudiced against death - especially their own - while in fact, let's say it, death can be so funny ! Unforgettable comedies such as 'Arsenic and Old Lace' (USA), 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' (Britain), 'Divorzio all'italiana' (Italy), 'El Verdugo' (Spain) and of course 'L'Auberge rouge' (France) all should have been granted, in their time, some kind of prestigious Dark Humour or Macabre Humour prize. (Maybe we could call it the Golden Guillotine Award ?) Adapted from a true crime story that took place in 1833 - the Auberge de Peyrebeille affair - this witty gem was remarkably well cooked by screenwriters Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost and director Claude Autant-Lara, decidedly at the top of their game with this black comedy featuring some inimitable acting à la française : Fernandel, hilarious as always, Julien Carette as truculent as a peasant serial killer can be, and above all the great (and diabolical !) Françoise Rozay, accompanied by a bunch of crunchy second-roles specialists, PLUS the very cool song "La Ballade de l'Auberge rouge" sung by Yves Montand himself! 'L'Auberge rouge' is a great French classic, providing amusement, remarkable atmosphere and even joie de vivre - for those who survive !
Oggi a me... domani a te! (1968)
What, it's all you have to oppose Tatsuya Nakadai ???
I've always liked Italian westerns and I enjoyed this one as well. Good script by Argento, great music by Lavagnino (who composed the score for such great Italian as Tutti a casa). But let's admit it, there is an evident problem with the casting. Bud Spencer, William Berger and the other dude are O.K. within the limits of the genre, but - oups ! - in the role of the bad guy, they're facing one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, no less. Ladies and gentlemen, Tatsuya Nakadai ! English being only my second language, I am a little bit limited when it comes to finding the right words to describe the work of this phenomenal actor. His fame outside Japan mostly came from a series of outstanding samurai movies such as Hara-Kiri, Sword of doom or Goyokin. (Among many others) Yet all those samurais are remarkably different from one another, for Nakadai's trademark is mercurial versatility. His acting technique sometimes seems so different from one movie to the next that you'd hardly believe it's the same man. And of course he interpreted plenty of other characters besides samurais, such as the unfortunate hero in Kobayashi's monument The Human Condition.
I could go on talking about this artist for quite a while. Suffice it to say that watching this western put me somewhat in a sad mood. I'm sure Mr. Nakadai enjoyed himself a lot doing this movie - and it shows ! - but when you have the incredible luck to get such an actor in your cast, frankly it is your responsibility to come out with an outstanding spaghetti western, not just an average-to-good like this one unfortunately is. It's too bad such a project didn't fall in the hands of a more imaginative Italian western director - Sollima or Corbucci or even Colizzi.
Yet again, this western is good enough, and is certainly worth watching would it be just for Tatsuya Nakadai alone, playing the villain - and madman - James Elfego with rejoicing maestria. Since the character is in no way a Japanese, Mr. Nakadai does not have his legendary 'sword of doom' with him - but watch your head, for he does have a machete !
Genroku Chûshingura (1941)
We've seen more simplistic and bombastic propaganda, to be sure
Yes, the pace is slow, yes the movie is long; especially to our eyes used to modern (?) movie-making of the recent years that knows only two rhythms, ultra-fast and ultra-ultra-fast. Yet the story of those 47 ronins, at least for those of us patient enough to enter it, to let themselves flow into it, is all in all very interesting and says a lot about 18th-century Japan. This movie is remarkably well constructed and acted and while the rhythm is slow, it is also implacable : the good side of having a slow rhythm is that you can eventually accelerate, something that ultra-fast doesn't allow.
But most of all, I notice this : for a film that was supposed to take place into a war-propaganda effort, I do find this tribute to the traditional virtues of the Japanese warrior to be remarkably sober in tone and almost completely devoid of any rhetoric. So, I am not at all surprised to learn that it was a commercial insuccess when it was released in 1941 Japan : for the spirit and inspiration of 'The 47 Ronins' are much too elevated to fit the ultranationalist hysteria of the times.
La banda degli onesti (1956)
The immortal Totò is at his top in this hilarious farce !
There were a hundred and more Totò comedies on film from 1937 to 1967. Many are worth watching just for the sake of Totò's performance, for he really was one of the greatest clowns in movie history. Yet Italian comic cinema in the post-war years is more than just a collection of funny guys. It's a brand of comedy with a lot, a lot of things in it, and when you start digging under and around the jokes, you suddenly realize what a miracle it was. There are basically two epochs in postwar Italian comic cinema : epoch I, the immediate postwar years, whose protagonists are Totò, Macario, Eduardo & Peppino De Filippo, Renato Rascel, Carlo Campanini; epoch II is the invention of a new comedy genre, commedia all'italiana, which finds its first "complete" expression in 1958 with the Monicelli classic 'I soliti ignoti' (in which Totò also holds a supporting role).
Commedia all'italiana (1958-1978) was so powerful that it is an understandable temptation to read the first wave of Italian comedies (1945-196?) only as a vast prelude for the second wave. But that would be a mistake, because in the domaine of comedy things don't happen orderly, with a preconceived plan, like the way intellectuals would like to have it : on the contrary, when director Monicelli, screenwriters Age-Scarpelli, actors Gassman, Mastroianni and Totò did 'I soliti ignoti' (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958), they never thought about inventing a new comedy genre, even though this is what they were doing. They were only doing whatever they could to entertain their (immense) public, and all of a sudden they struck gold. These things happen by chance, by luck, by random, which is why I call it a miracle.
'La Banda degli onesti' (1955) is a true peak, a summum of the first era of Italian comedy. It is an hilarious farce, full of funny details, crazy situations,mad-hatter characterizations, one-liners to die for. Totò is the central funny guy, but his accomplices don't let him steal the show : Peppino de Filippo for one, another titan of comedy, is irresistible; and as usual, chunky secondary characters abound. Comedy is all about timing and the timing here is flawless, thanks to the perfect Age-Scarpelli screenplay. Veteran comedy director Camillo Mastrocinque knew exactly where to put the camera for maximum effect. With guys like him, it's the camera that follows the actor and not the other way around: no lesson of cinema is given here, only a lesson of laugh !
Il delitto Matteotti (1973)
« I do not wish to speak prudently nor imprudently, but parliamentarily ! »
I really miss those years when I was a teenager (mid 70s - mid 80s) and Canada's French-speaking TV networks, both public and private, were running dozens of Italian movies every week.
Thank God, this time a VHS of the French-dubbed version was released and I am glad to have it here, even though it is in a rather sorry state, as one more piece in my beloved Cinecittà Forever! collection.
Il delitto Matteotti is not at all a masterpiece. Nor can you classify director Florestano Vancini among the better-known "great directors" such as Francesco Rosi, Gillo Pontecorvo and Elio Petri who, in the early 60s, initiated Italy's rich tradition of the political/historical drama/thriller. Vancini, like Damiano Damiani, Giuliano Montaldo or Francesco Maselli, mostly followed in those prestigious steps in the early seventies, as the genre was reaching the peak of its popularity in Italy and abroad. (Yet there was at least one masterpiece directed by Vancini : don't miss his first movie, La Lunga notte del '43, directed in 1960 !)
Quality is everywhere in this movie : in the fine acting, in the dramatic orchestral music by Egisto Macchi (which sounds like trying to outscore Ennio Morricone on his own turf !) and of course in the highly competent historic reconstitution, something that in my view Cinecittà was always better at than Hollywood, at least prior to the 80s crisis. But the first and most important quality of Il delitto Matteotti is, of course, to be an account of the Matteotti affair. So far there has been no other movie about this crucial historic moment, apart from a short documentary/archive film directed by Nelo Risi in 1956.
In 1924, socialist member of Parliament Giacomo Matteotti was kidnapped and later murdered by the Black Shirts after a no-nonsense, straightforward speech at the Chamber in which he called the new government's bluff and the systematic use of terror, violence and treachery during the electoral process. At this point though, fascism had not completed the transformation of the Italian State into a totalitarian Leviathan. Justice, for one, was still operating outside of fascist control and despite many difficulties and attempted intimidation, the investigation of the murder, led by judge Mauro Del Giudice, came circle by circle dangerously close to Benito Mussolini's immediate entourage. Mussolini's own press attaché, Cesare Rossi, was eventually heard by the judge who managed to get a full confession of Rossi's participation in the kidnapping and murder of Matteotti. But King Vittorio-Emanuele III, disregarding the insistence of liberal-to-conservative politicians such as Giovanni Amendola (later murdered), count Carlo Sforza and the Association of War Veterans, refused even to READ the famous Rossi memorandum, even if it was published in the press (which, like justice, was not yet fascistized, or at least not completely). And then, on January 3, 1925, in a sadly famous speech, Mussolini let the mask(s) fall and claimed for full responsibility - thus establishing an open dictatorship.
I couldn't help, while I was watching Il delitto Matteotti once again after all those years, to get the goose bumps during the famous Matteotti speech that opens the film. Franco Nero as Matteotti does a fine job, it is true. And in front of him at Parliament, actor Mario Adorf composes an excellent Mussolini - typically very different in private than in public appearances. But the goose bumps simply come from the facts themselves, for the speech is exactly the one delivered in 1924 by MP Matteotti, minus the "Er"s and the "Um"s. At some point the President of the Chamber, who is a fascist, says : « Mr. Matteotti should express himself more prudently ! » to which comes the famous answer : « I do not wish to speak prudently nor imprudently, but parliamentarily ! ».
There is (and if it wasn't there we would be disappointed !) a left-leaning bias in Il delitto Matteotti, as in most and maybe all Italian political thrillers of the times. Except it doesn't really get in the way. Let's say that the "bias" here is perceptible mostly in the words at the beginning of the film and in the few scenes where appears communist leader Antonio Gramsci (played by the nevertheless excellent Riccardo Cucciolla). It is even funny, the way the filmmakers apparently can't help but depict Mr. Gramsci as a kind of laïc saint, with an aura that says "I'm mister right!". But that's only for a total of, say, 5 minutes in a two-hour flick! Frankly, are we to look a gift horse in the mouth? For there is also a real, genuine effort to neutrality in the plot, also very perceptible in the fact that all anti-fascist forces are present and have their say : from Conservative MP Giovanni Amendola to Christian Democrat leader Don Luigi Sturzo to liberal-radical Piero Gobetti. Hey, they even manage to mention the small Sardinian Action Party in the dialog ! Good effort ! And most important, the whole chronology of the affair, with all its intricacies and sub-plots, is there for the spectator to see. As in many Italian political/historical thrillers of the Golden Age, facts, not ideology, get the upper hand, thanks to a solid tradition of realism at the movies. All in all, Il delitto Matteotti is a very good account of what happened during those days of anguish and wrath. At the end of the film I found myself standing in front of my TV, ashen and abashed, knowing only too well that no Superman, no Bruce Willis would stop the bad guys and that Mussolini would win. I may be born a quarter of century after his death in 1944, but gee! do I hate this guy !
In nome del popolo italiano (1971)
A political satire to die for
Alas, to express how much I disagree with the comment let by Artemis-9 would require to completely spoil the superb plot crafted by Age/Scarpelli. And well, I can't do this to my favorite screenwriters of all times ! ("Big Deal on Madonna Street", "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", "We All Loved Each Other So Much" and many others). But let's at least say that the last half-hour of this Dino Risi popular comedy, culminating in an hilarious transformist tour de force by comic genius Vittorio Gassman, is one of the most breath-taking finale I have seen at the movies. With one more narrative twist à l'italienne, suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the satirical layer and the detective-story layer of the plot suddenly merge and then you realize... well, I can't tell you what you realize. In an interview about this movie - an interview in French with film critic Jean Gili I have here at hand; no surprise, there are no Dino Risi interviews in English - director Dino Risi says : « All in all, if I were forced to choose, I may prefer an openly corrupt businessman (Gassman]) to an hypocritically ambiguous judge (Tognazzi). » Move over, Artemis9 ! In nome del popolo italiano, if need be to say, is one of the peaks of "commedia all italiana" (1958-1978) - the most corrosive, devastating and entertaining satirical spree in movie history ! Vitriol pouring all over Italy - and the world. Yet because these movies are based upon tragicomic (or "comedy/drama") narrative canvas, they are also surprisingly taking, even moving, which is pretty rare when it comes to satire - a genre reputed, often with good reason, for speaking more to the head than the heart.
But not commedia all'italiana. Joke, joke, another joke... surprise! a tragic punch. Another joke. Pow! Another tragic punch. Except you never know when it's gotta hit you in the face. Prepare yourself, be gentle to yourself and watch this old movie from Cinecittà's Golden Age, for it is really a gem. We in North America never did anything like this.
And needless to say : Vittorio Gassman and Ugo Tognazzi are eternal.
Faces in the Dark (1960)
Boileau & Narcejac, French masters of suspense
Like the preceding comment by JimShine illustrates, this movie is only half-good : an average-to-good acting job; and indeed the direction lacks energy and tension.
The strength that remains in this movie comes basically from its clever story, its suspenseful plot. The explanation is simple : it is adapted from a novel by Boileau-Narcejac! Voilà ! Of course ! For the sake of anecdote, let's remind the reader that the British publishers of Faces in the Dark / Les Visages de l'ombre (that was in the early 60s) asked Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac if they couldn't, by any chance, change the conclusive chapter because it was too dark. Well, if they called it 'Faces in the Dark', it must have been for some reason, bozo ! Like many people in the same trade, Boileau-Narcejac wrote and published too much. As a result, let's say MOST of their novels are at least enjoyable, SOME are pretty boring - especially the late ones, as often happens with thriller/suspense writers - and a solid DOZEN are masterpieces of suspense, atmospheric and chilling to the bone ! They also wrote an adorable jewel of the pastiche, 'Arsène Lupin : Le Secret d'Eunerville' which is a full-fledged Arsène Lupin novel better than some of the original ones written by Maurice Leblanc.
In fact, lots of people may know very well a couple of their stories without realizing it : H.G. Clouzot's Les Diaboliques and Alfred Hitchock's Vertigo were both adapted from a Boileau-Narcejac novel.
They also can be counted are among the rare true INVENTORS of the genre, because in the immediate postwar years, they decided to escape from both the whodunit (written from the point of view of the detective) and the noir (written from the point of view of the criminal) and decided instead to write their novels - a genuine breakthrough - from the point of view of the victim. And it is the case with Faces in the Dark, which could well be their most efficient suspense ever - but to know that, you have to read the book, for this movie adaptation, though acceptable, doesn't really do it justice. Reading 'Les Visages de l'ombre' is a really frightening experience (especially the conclusive chapter!), while watching this movie is at best intriguing.
Il caso Mattei (1972)
Of one the most interesting films I have ever seen
CONTAINS SPOILERS. One thing I find very Cinecittà, very Francesco Rosi about The Mattei Affair is how the authors (which also include writer Tonino Guerra and star Gian Maria Volontè) succeed at making us grasp both the negative and positive impacts of Mattei and his action on post-war Italy.
At one point in the film, you hear a character saying that the Italian "economic miracle" (early sixties) is mostly due to the great Enrico Mattei. At some other point, another character says that had the dangerous Enrico Mattei succeeded, democracy in Italy was «finished». Well, without stating it in the open, the film has a way to convey that both these points of view are equally blatant exaggerations; that the truth about Enrico Mattei is a complicated mix, to be exposed in a very short, very concentrated two-hour movie.
Indeed, to succeed at conveying the essential about Mattei IN ONLY TWO HOURS is a already a tour de force.
So you have the sincere Mattei and the demagogic Mattei. You have Mattei the antifascist leader - he fought with the Christian Democrats, by the way, not the Socialists, Mr. De Luca - and then you have the postwar public-sector mogul who compromises (however briefly) in maneuvering with the Neo-Fascist party (MSI) in order to bring about some by-law he needed for ENI's ends. You have Mattei the genius of management, who performed miracles and made the Italian State a fierce competitor against American, British and French petroleum companies, but also the Mattei whose massive and creative use of public money was out of control (he launched a daily newspaper, among other things, in order to promote ENI's interests). You have Mattei the patriot, the man of vision who understood that his country, compared with most other Western countries, was the most devoid of energy resources and had somehow to get around this infrastructural weakness by a bold, risky development policy that included playing rough'n'tough against the British-American petroleum monopoly. But then you have the most dangerous Mattei who, especially after the death of Foreign Affairs minister Carlo Sforza in 1952, started to impose his own foreign-affairs agenda on the Italian government by placing it in front of a series of accomplished facts. And this, by the way, explains how Italy in the 50s could be one of Washington's most solid political allies in Europe on the one hand, while dealing on the other hand with the Soviet Union for a prolongation of a Soviet pipe-line that would reach to Italy through the Balkans.
I could continue like this for many more paragraphs. When I first saw L'Affaire Mattei (in its excellent French version, back in the late 70s when I was a not-too-bright teenager watching TV), I knew zilch about Italy. But this outstanding film, as well as a flock of other Italian movies of the same miraculous era, convinced me that this country like no other was really worth learning more about. How true that was, I still can't believe it today.
One more thing : the De Mauro affair. In 1970, journalist Mauro de Mauro was hired by filmmaker Francesco Rosi in order to document the last days of Enrico Mattei, who died in the crash of his plane. A crash whose cause is still controversial : as of right now, with the documents actually available, neither accident nor murder can be ruled out.
So journalist De Mauro was hired by Rosi to inquire in Sicily about Mattei's death - and he vanished. His body was never found. Two police bodies investigated the matter. The conclusions of the Carabinieri were that De Mauro's murder (murder in all likeliness) was a Mafia action linked to a series of papers he had recently published about the drug trade. The conclusions of the Questura (national police) was that De Mauro had been murdered as a direct result of his investigation on Enrico Mattei's death.
As could be expected, both versions are given equal importance in this Francesco Rosi film. But now, just for kicks, let's imagine it's the Questura investigators who had it right : then it would mean that a film that was meant to be ABOUT the Mattei affair became A PART of the Mattei affair. Anyway, whatever the truth on this issue, that much is clear : Mr. Rosi and his friends were filming in hot water.
And speaking of hot water, il caso Mattei was released in 1972 - roughly a year before the first petroleum shock.
And to top it all, Mattei is interpreted by the mesmerizing Gian Maria Volontè ! He alone is worth the show.
To me, the Mattei Affair is one of the best political films ever made.
Body Parts (1991)
An insult to Boileau & Narcejac !
One of the worse movies I have ever seen. Even more so because it was adapted from a Boileau-Narcejac novel. For years and years, every time a new Boileau-Narcejac suspense novel was released, among the list of already-published books, the title « ...Et mon tout est un homme » was always accompanied by two mentions : « Grand Prix de l'Humour Noir - 1965 », and below, in smaller characters : « En cours d'adaptation cinématographique » (which means : in the process of being adapted for the screen). So year after year, I was expecting the movie to finally emerge from the book. When it finally did, in 1991, I watched it. Poor me.
In a way, «Body Parts» is a tour de force. Sure, Boileau-Narcejac wrote plenty of suspense dramas, very anxiogene ones at that, some of which also became masterpieces of suspense on the big screen : such as Henri-Georges Clouzot's « Diabolique » and Alfred Hitchcock's « Vertigo ». Except that « ...Et mon tout est un homme » is NOT a suspense drama : it is a FARCE ! A macabre farce ! Which is why it was awarded le Grand Prix de l'Humour Noir ! (Grand Prize for Dark Humour)
The movie «Body Parts» is a tour de force in its own kind because, from a crazy plot whose eccentric twists are justified only by the fact that it is satire, they came out with a dead-serious, B-Series horror flick that is really a festival of involuntary humor !
I compagni (1963)
Are the jokes lost in the subtitles, or what?
Most comments on this movie are positive - and quite rightly so. Except for someone who said I Compagni was "depressing". Well, of course it's depressing : it's an Italian comedy ! Why do you think Monicelli and writers Age-Scarpelli abolished the happy end from popular comedy with their milestone farce I Soliti ignoti? Because humor has nothing to do with good feelings. At least, it didn't to the eyes of that crazy movie industry which for a while gave its country of origin the dimensions of a continent.
Which brings me to this other topic : is it possible that most comments here were made by people who saw that movie with English subtitles? That can be a problem, especially for comedy. To difference of all other countries of the western world, English speaking markets (United States, England, English Canada) never developed a dubbing industry worth of the name. (Which also means that when they nevertheless try to dub something or other, the result is generally awful). Of course, from the point of view of domestic market dominance, that's excellent : with such a prophylactic wall, no foreign movie can seriously compete with English-speaking productions. (American comedy director Mel Brooks lead the battle a few years ago to have the French farce Les visiteurs dubbed in English, and lost).
Sometimes, I agree that subtitles are the least worse solution. But not when it comes to comedy, to farce, to entertainment. A subtitled comedy IS NOT FUNNY, or much less funny than the original-language OR dubbed version. For comedy is a matter of tempo, of timing : the one-liners have to fall in place all at the right millisecond. (Even more so when it's written by Age-Scarpelli, the best comedy writers in movie history!) And if you're busy reading the words down below instead of watching the faces of the actors, most of the time, you miss the shot.
To me, the most striking aspect of I compagni (which I saw and re-saw in French as Les Camarades) is that it is surprisingly funny : not unlike Monicelli's and Age-Scarpelli's preceding masterpiece La Grande guerra, I Compagni is a commedia all'italiana, i.e. a tragicomic, satirical fresco where epic and derision are mixed in equal proportions. This is what makes I compagni the best strike-movie ever made - better than Eisenstein's The Strike?!? yes sir! better than John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath?!? yes madam! better than Miguel Littin's Actas de Marusia, starring our beloved red icon Gian Maria Volontè?!? yes comrade! For its humorist's view of life is the perfect antidote against the rhetoric that almost always permeates that kind of film.
Mario Monicelli, Age-Scarpelli are ENTERTAINERS. Comedy specialists. For sure, the type of entertainment they were cooking back then was at the antipodes of Hollywood's feel-good, reassuring, consolative recipes, but IT WAS a recipe all the same, attracting spectators in Italian movie theaters by millions and millions. Commedia all'italiana is a SERIAL, an industrial recipe, producing tons and tons of movies each year between 1958 and 1980.
My problem here, you see, is one of perception : as soon as a movie is not American, it is almost automatically perceived in the United States as something "for intellectuals", happy few, snob radical-chic, whatever. The idea that foreigners also make ENTERTAINMENT for the million is quasi taboo. Well, it is a grave mistake.
As a spectator, I've never been so entertained than by Mario Monicelli's great comedies of the 50s, 60s and 70s - even when they are also very tragic (i.e. "depressing"), as this one evidently is.
Made in Italy (1965)
One more example of Italian satire at its best : laugh and vitriol
I have seen Made in Italy a long, long time ago, in my early days as a commedia all'italiana movie fan. In the tradition of Dino Risi's I Mostri, this comedy is a kaleidoscope of brief episodes loosely united in five chapters, all aimed at illustrating the life and times of those strange, exotic people : the Italians! The tonality of the film goes from outright vitriolic satire to quasi-anthropological vignettes. There are so many stars in the cast it's no use trying to count them all. As usual with a commedia all'italiana that works, comic moments abound, the feeling of reality is surprisingly strong and the actors are fabulous (don't miss Anna Magnani trying to cross a street with her smala of 10 to 12 children). As usual too, there are a couple punches that are deliberately not funny at all : a sine qua non rule of the genre. My memory being somewhat faded, I hesitate to rate it. Let's see : is it an 8, a 9 or a 10?
Incompreso (Vita col figlio) (1967)
The best popular melodrama in movie history
In terms of status, Italian director Luigi Comencini reminds me of his American contemporary Sydney Lumet : as a director, he would embark in equal proportion into projects that were his very personal and others which were more like a studio contract thing. Yet (and that too is true of both directors), all along his fifty-year career, he has shown a remarkable ability to make personal, ambitious projects highly entertaining for millions of spectators, while on the other hand imprinting his unmistakable touch on projects that were meant by producers to be for the standard production. In other terms - and that again is true of both Lumet and Comencini - he's been, for more than fifty years, walking the tightrope between art and entertainment with outstanding virtuosity.
Incompreso, now... Well, Incompreso is not only an excellent movie. It is not only one of the many, many proofs that popular entertainment made in Cinecittà during the Golden Age (1950-1980) is exactly as outstanding, and perhaps even more, than all the "great-author" films that critics (including American critics, when it comes to Europe) automatically favor, while ignoring completely - back then, at least - the marvels of popular movie entertainment. Incompreso is not only one of the best movies ever made about childhood. It is not only one of Luigi Comencini's greatest achievements outside of "commedia all'italiana", the tragicomic new genre of which he was one of the three Grand Masters (the two others being Risi and Monicelli).
Incompreso is more than all this because all this - all that I have said so far - is about classification, status, polemics with those darned intellectuals, etc, the will to save a dream-come-true cinematography that was tragically underestimated not only abroad but in Italy as well - the country that for decades showed the greatest gap of all between the tastes of the critics and those of the public. All these are my personal axes to grind. But now, you must forget about this, and concentrate on watching Incompreso.
When you will watch Incompreso, and I know you will, something will happen to your heart : at some point, you will feel it cracking and you won't be able to help it. And then it will crack some more. Near the unforgettable conclusion, it will fall on the ground in thousands of little pieces. But unlike so many other melodramas, this one refrains from using one single cheap trick. I mean it. It never tricks the spectator into crying. The crying comes only too naturally, with no strings attached or pulled.
Luigi Comencini's Incompreso is the most intense, the most powerful, the most poignant melodrama ever put to screen. And ever means ever. Straight from the heart, straight to the heart, without one single cheap trick. Why use artificial tricks that treat spectators like puppets, while simple reality is enough to reach to their heart? Childhood is the best of times, childhood is the worse of times : both are equally true at the same time and there is nothing we can do to change this.
As a movie-goer, I feel deeply indebted to Mr. Comencini. But the children in me loves him even more. Thanks to the many french-speaking TV channels of my country (Canada), I grew up with the best movie ever made FOR kids, in six perfect episodes of 52 minutes each : Luigi Comencini's Le Avventure di Pinocchio, which made me laugh so much. Then I saw the best movie ever made ABOUT kids : Luigi Comencini's Incompreso - and I cried a river.
Luigi Comencini is 90 years old.