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Topics in Film: Italian Cinema

The second part of this continuing series examines the creative impact the Italian cinema exerted on that country’s culture and on the world of international filmmaking. The unique contributions of Rossellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Pasolini, and Visconti are examined here as they explore the complex physical and psychological terrain of Italy in the latter half of the twentieth century.


March 1 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

Voyage to Italy (Viaggio in Italia)

Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Italy 1953, 16mm, b/w, 100 min.
With Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders

Tensions pile up in Rossellini’s deeply moving and beautifully nuanced story of a frustrated and bored British couple (Bergman and Sanders) who struggle to keep their marriage alive. The film resembles a diary as it meditates on the problems of the jaded communication between the spouses on their visit to Naples. As Rossellini has stated, "it was very important for me to show Italy, Naples, and that strange atmosphere in which is found a very real, very immediate feeling: the feeling of eternal life, something that has entirely disappeared from the world."

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March 8 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

The Eclipse (L'Eclisse)

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Italy 1962, 35mm, b/w, 124 min.
With Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Lilla Brignone
Italian with English subtitles

In this final installment of the trilogy that began with L’Avventura and La Notte, Antonioni once again presents a middle-class couple in crisis, here against the closely observed background of the urban environment. After an initial breakup with her lover, Vittoria (Vitti) drifts into the classic Antonioni condition, wandering aimlessly through an alienating milieu. In what is perhaps his most compelling deployment of the architectural setting, Antonioni displays an unparalleled visual style, using spatial perspective and graphic delineation to create his vision of the modern world. In the film’s famous final sequence, the narrative space of the story is revisited in the absence of its characters, suggesting perhaps, as Georges Sadoul has noted, the nature of solitude as man’s accustomed state.

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March 14 (Tuesday) 6:30 pm
March 15 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

HFA Archival Print

The Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso)

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Italy 1964, 35mm, color, 116 min.
With Monica Vitti, Richard Harris, Carlo Chianetti
Italian with English subtitles

"Michelangelo Antonioni’s first color film all but subjugates its characters to its landscape. Antonioni trans-forms Ravenna, the city of Dante’s tomb, Byzantine murals and marble churches, into a terrifyingly beautiful desert of slag heaps, factories and sulphorous skies. . . . Vitti is the traumatized heroine who, in a desperate search for love, has a brief affair with the owner of a factory, which her husband manages. Prescient in its connection of existential and ecological concerns, Red Desert is . . . one of the greatest works of European cinema."—James Quandt


March 21 (Tuesday) 6:30 pm
March 22 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

Mamma Roma

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Italy 1962, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Anna Magnani, Franco Citti
Italian with English subtitles

Pasolini’s second film, reminiscent of his Accatone (1961), is a study of the sub-proletariat of Rome. Referencing her roles in the Italian Neorealist classics, Magnani is cast as a woman trying to escape her past as a prostitute as she harbors middle-class ambitions for her teenage son. Her former pimp, however, threatens to reveal to the boy his mother’s profession unless she goes back "on the game."

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April 5 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

The Hawks and the Sparrows (Uccellacci e Uccellini)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Italy 1966, 35mm, b/w, 88 min.
With Ninetto Davoli, Rosanna Di Rocco, Renato Capogna
Italian with English subtitles

A father and son become vagabonds and are accompanied by an intellectual talking crow. They set out on a picaresque journey to emulate St. Francis of Assisi’s mission to the birds. Following his The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Pasolini presents a tragicomic fable which shows two delightful innocents caught, like many Italians, between the Church and Marxism.

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April 11 (Tuesday) 6:30 pm
April 12 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

HFA Archival Print

Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia)

Directed by Luchino Visconti
Italy 1971, 35mm, scope, color, 130 min.
With Dirk Bogarde, Bjorn Andresen
Italian with English subtitles

It was no easy task to translate Thomas Mann’s psychological novella Death in Venice to the screen. Bogarde gives a subtle and moving performance that fits beautifully with the atmospheric realism of the pre–World War I Venice depicted by Visconti in exquisitely painterly style. Bogarde plays a German composer on vacation and on the verge of mental and physical collapse whose obsession with a young boy leads to his over-extended stay in plague-ridden Venice.

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April 19 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

The Sheltering Sky

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Great Britain/Italy 1990, 35mm, color, 138 min.
With John Malkovich, Debra Winger, Campbell Scott

Based on the Paul Bowles novel, Bertolucci’s film chronicles the gradual deterioration of an American couple’s marriage as they journey through the deserts of North Africa in the late 1940s. Beautifully photo-graphed by Vittorio Storaro, this expansive, handsome film is a rich and exotic amalgam of psycho-pathology and eroticism. Bertolucci offers a moving portrait of an overwhelmingly isolated world where love is subverted by disease and madness.

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