Arts Review, Movies

Summer in Italy

Summer in Italy featured image

TIFF Film Programme, June 27-Sept. 5.
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TIFF’s programmers have developed a deserved reputation for providing truly entertaining film series each summer. Led by senior programmer James Quandt, TIFF’s team has once again succeeded in offering a thoughtful historic presentation that is filled to the brim with brilliant and beloved films. Summer in Italy is an overview of Italian cinema from 1945 to 1973, with one glorious addition, a rare screening of arguably the first narrative feature, the 1914 Cabiria (August 23), which has been praised by Martin Scorsese for its “sheer scope and beauty.”

Apart from Cabiria, the programme is bracketed by two masterpieces, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and Federico Fellini’s Amacord (1973), for which he won his fourth Foreign Film Oscar. As a critic, it’s hard to avoid using “masterpiece” in nearly every sentence in a review of a retrospective of what was Italian cinema’s golden age.

Starting as soon as the Second World War ended, the neorealist movement, propelled by the artistry of Rossellini and Vittorio de Sica, immediately attracted international attention for its humanism and compelling storytelling about life in the tragic circumstances that befell Italy after Mussolini’s defeat.

Rossellini and de Sica were soon joined by other great cineastes, Luchino Visconti (whose first film was made in 1942 but really hit prominence in 1948 with La terra trema), Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini. While all five of these notable filmmakers started with variations of neorealism, they quickly developed different styles. Rossellini famously fell in love with Ingrid Bergman and after marrying her, made work that dealt with psychology and intense, mature relationships. A section of Summer in Italy concentrates on the Rossellini/Bergman “Voyage Trilogy,” Stromboli, Europa ’51 and Voyage in Italy, films, which use landscape to mirror the anxiety ridden states of their protagonists as they gradually progress to some form of spiritual redemption. All three are must-sees: Bergman is brilliant in them and the romantic stories are complex in ways that go beyond what Hollywood could do then—or now.

Visconti, who was a Count and a brilliant opera director who worked with Callas on such La Scala productions as Anna Bolena and La Traviata, became known for the visual appeal of his cinema, as well as its narrative sweep. He’s represented during the summer with two of his (warning, here’s that word again) masterpieces, Sandra, which stars Claudia Cardinale in her best role unraveling family secrets, and The Leopard, in which a brilliantly cast Burt Lancaster plays an aging aristocrat, carefully observing as his noble era draws to a close.

Fellini, the quintessential Italian director, known for his exuberant embrace of fantasy, metaphor, melodrama, romance, satire and humanism—sometimes in the same scene—is shown to good effect in the programme with Il Bidone, Fellini Satyricon, Amacord and, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of all time, La Dolce Vita. Anyone who hasn’t seen this film, in which Marcello Mastroianni plays a jaded writer, who can no longer truly experience “the sweet life” of a now revived Italy, should see it at TIFF. (It’s playing on August 1). It’s a comedy, a tragedy, a drama and a satire. Fellini never made a better film.

The great Antonioni, whose moody explorations captured the ennui of the Sixties better than anyone, can be seen with one of his best, Red Desert as well as his first feature, 1950’s Story of a Love Affair.

Summer in Italy offers many more masterpieces: Rosi’s intensely political Hands Over the City; Bellochio’s China is Near; Bertolucci’s best film The Conformist; Olmi’s The Fiances. The programme also features some well-known comedies from the era: Seduced and Abandoned; Divorce Italian Style and The Easy Life. These films are still worthy of revival but definitely must be seen within an historical context. The good-humored sexism of some of them may not strike some people as amusing any more.

On the whole, Summer in Italy is a true cinematic event. It should—and will—delight audiences from now until Labour Day.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.

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