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June 6 - August 29, 2015

Titanus, Portrait of a Studio

American attention to the history of Italian filmmaking has tended to examine only the directors of neorealism and art cinema, but over the past few decades, the rich tradition of genre movies from Italy has finally started to receive much-deserved recognition. Similarly, from an exclusive focus on auteurs, interest has widened to include consideration of the films’ production context, including the current rediscovery of one of Italy’s most important studios, Titanus.

Founded in 1904 by Gustavo Lombardo, the studio balanced crowd-pleasing melodramas and comedies with more weighty fare as it grew in importance, building its own soundstages and becoming a major distribution company as well. Its distinctive shield logo would become as familiar in Italy as the MGM lion in the US. With the end of the war, Titanus released the documentary Days of Glory, an important film that helped to reorient Italian cinema from its fascist-era emphasis on glamour and escapism. Shortly thereafter, the studio began producing a brilliant string of intense melodramas by director Raffaello Matarazzo.

Upon the death of Gustavo Lombardo in 1951, leadership of the studio passed to his son Goffredo just as the generation of young filmmakers who would revolutionize Italian cinema began to emerge. Over the next two decades, Titanus would lend crucial support to important early work by Fellini, Antonioni, Ermanno Olmi, Francesco Rosi and Lina Wertmüller, while continuing to produce comedies, melodramas and sword-and-sandal epics. At the same time, it embarked on an ambitious series of international co-productions with studios in France and Hollywood that would ultimately force it to scale back radically. Both the zenith and the crisis for Titanus arrived in 1963, with the simultaneous failure of Robert Aldrich’s Sodom and Gomorrah and the triumph of Visconti’s The Leopard. The amount of money spent on both films forced the company to close temporarily.

It soon reopened, but with more emphasis on distribution than production. Today, under the leadership of Guido Lombardo (son of Goffredo, grandson of Gustavo), Titanus continues primarily as a television company.

The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to offer this series as a tribute to the prodigious depth of Italian cinema in the years from the end of fascism to the economic boom of the 1970s. Alongside films by Olmi, Aldrich, Elio Petri, Dario Argento and others, we present five of the Matarazzo melodramas from the years between 1949 and 1964 as well as four films by the great Valerio Zurlini, arguably the most underappreciated director of the Italian New Wave. – David Pendleton

This series is presented in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce, the Cineteca di Bologna, the Cineteca Nazionale, the Locarno Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the National Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian Museums. Special thanks: Marco Cicala—Cinecittà Luce; Andrea Meneghelli—Cineteca di Bologna; Laura Argento—Cineteca Nazionale; Isa Cucinotta, Rufus de Rham—Film Society of Lincoln Center; Peggy Parsons—the National Gallery of Art.


Saturday June 6 at 7pm

The Fiancés (I fidanzati)

Directed by Ermanno Olmi. With Anna Canzi, Carlo Cabrini
Italy 1963, 35mm, b/w, 77 min. Italian with English subtitles

The separation of a seemingly estranged couple is revealed almost wordlessly, though music, dance and remarkable crosscutting in the breathtaking opening scene of Ermanno Olmi’s classic and understatedly romantic portrait of hesitant young love and Italy’s postwar economic rebirth. One of the key Italian films of the Sixties, I fidanzati is a moving expression of the poetic reinvention of neorealism at work in Olmi’s early cinema through his sensitive use of non-actors and his careful avoidance of melodrama in favor of a documentary-like attention to the quotidian and the quiet moments between action. A gentle, almost Tati-esque humor underscores Olmi’s compassionate and subtle critique of the capitalist and deeply classist forces transforming Italy. Print courtesy of Cinecittà Luce

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Sunday June 7 at 5pm

Days of Glory (Giorni di gloria)

Directed by Giuseppe de Santis, Mario Serandrei, Marcello Pagliero and Luchino Visconti
Italy/Switzerland 1945, 35mm, b/w, 71 min. Italian with English subtitles

Rarely seen in the United States, Days of Glory remains a uniquely significant film because of both the history it records and the turn in Italian cinema it portends. In the wake of the liberation of Rome by Allied troops in the summer of 1944, a group of four filmmakers—including Luchino Visconti and Giuseppe de Santis—took to the streets with 16mm cameras to document what they could of the toll that Nazi occupation of the city had taken and the fury visited upon collaborators both in the courtroom and beyond. The result is a documentary counterpart to Rome Open City (1945): like that film, it helped establish a template for on-the-spot filmmaking that gave birth to the famed neorealism movement. Print courtesy of Cinecittà Luce

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Sunday June 7 at 7pm

Violent Summer (Estate violenta)

Directed by Valerio Zurlini. With Eleonora Rossi Drago, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Lilla Brignone
Italy 1959, 35mm, b/w, 98 min. Italian with English subtitles

After making short documentaries and one comic feature, Valerio Zurlini turned to the kind of sober, restrained, but deeply moving melodrama for which he is best remembered today. Like Rossellini’s General della Rovere, made the same year, Violent Summer looks back to the Fascist era more than a decade before filmmakers such as Pasolini, de Sica and Bertolucci did so. The summer of the title is 1943; against the backdrop of the Allied invasion of Italy, the film tells the story of the romance between the callow son of a Fascist politician and the somewhat older widow of a naval officer. This was Zurlini's first film for Titanus, which would produce or distribute a number of his subsequent features. Print courtesy of Cinecittà Luce

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Friday June 12 at 7pm

Numbered Days (I giorni contati)

Directed by Elio Petri. With Salvo Randone, Franco Sportelli, Regina Bianchi
Italy 1962, 35mm, b/w, 93 min. Italian with English subtitles

Like so many other Italian films from the early 1960s, Numbered Days subtly manifests a vague unease with the nation’s economic boom, which was then cresting. The film follows an aging Roman plumber who has plunged into a midlife crisis after witnessing another man of his age die of a heart attack on a streetcar. The Everyman quits his job, but is at a loss to know just what to do instead. Director Elio Petri made a name for himself by infusing striking and even shocking narrative elements with political critique. Numbered Days finds him mixing mellow humor and cutting drama with an Antonionian attention to architecture. Print courtesy of Cinecittà Luce

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Saturday June 13 at 9:30pm

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dale piume di cristallo)

Directed by Dario Argento. With Tony Musante, Eva Renzi, Suzy Kendall
Italy/West Germany 1970, 35mm, color, 98 min. Italian with English subtitles

Trusting the established screenwriter and film critic with his directorial debut, Titanus opened the gates to the uniquely moody, surreal and stylized underworld of Dario Argento. As in many of his horror films to come, Argento’s first feature derives much of its tension from the frightening holes in memory and the faultiness of audio and visual perception. Sam, an American writer in Italy, happens upon an attempted murder by a shadowy figure who escapes. Obsessed with an inexplicable glitch in his recollection, he is led down a winding plot lavishly strewn with eccentric characters, mod décor, haunted paintings, strange phone calls, a thrilling score by Ennio Morricone, and, of course, a mysterious bird. Heightening the suspense and disorientation with endless MacGuffins and red herrings, Argento fearlessly took a bizarre, intricate route for his first venture out. Print courtesy of Cinecittà Luce

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Sunday June 14 at 5pm

Cronaca nera

Directed by Giorgio Bianchi. With María Denis, Gino Cervi, Andrea Checchi
Italy 1947, 35mm, b/w, 90 min. Italian with English subtitles

While critics have long discussed the influence of Italian neorealism on postwar Hollywood and early noir, Cronaca nera shows neorealist cinema itself, in the wake of Ossessione (1943), exemplifying the fatalism associated with noir. Its title drawn from the name of the crime pages in Italian newspapers, the film follows a gangster on the run who takes refuge with an honest family. He falls in love while trying to go straight, but his past cannot be set aside so easily. If the director, Giorgio Bianchi, is little known today, among the film’s screenwriters are Sergio Amidei and Cesare Zavattini, who between them worked on most of the postwar masterpieces by Rossellini and de Sica.

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Monday June 15 at 7pm

Sweet Deceptions (I dolci inganni)

Directed by Alberto Lattuada. With Christian Marquand, Catherine Spaak, Jean Sorel
Italy/France 1960, 35mm, b/w, 95 min. Italian with English subtitles

Sweet Deceptions manages a fragile blend of innocence and experience reminiscent of the European New Waves just beginning in 1960. The film follows one day in the life of a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl whose sexual awakening leads her to pursue a family friend twenty years her senior. The coming-of-age of a young woman was subject matter that director Alberto Lattuada would return to repeatedly in the future. Sweet Deceptions was daring enough to be briefly censored; parallel to the schoolgirl’s story is a subplot involving a boy her age who is kept by an older woman. Seen today, the film’s balance of frankness and delicacy feels startlingly fresh. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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Saturday June 20 at 7pm

The Professor AKA Indian Summer (La prima notte di quiete)

Directed by Valerio Zurlini. With Alain Delon, Lea Massari, Sonia Petrovna
Italy 1972, 35mm, color, 132 min. Italian with English subtitles

The three films directed by Valerio Zurlini at Titanus—Violent Summer, Girl with a Suitcase and Family Diary—were products of a fruitful collaboration interrupted by Titanus’ financial crisis of the mid-1960s. The Professor marked the reunion of director and studio after a decade in which Zurlini was only able to make two films. Here he returns to his trademark style: sober melodrama involving complex characters. The focus is on the title figure, a teacher—played by Alain Delon—who arrives for a temporary position in Rimini in the midst of a midlife crisis. Unable to face his depressive mistress, he spends his nights drinking and gambling as a mutual attraction develops between him and one of his students.

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Saturday June 20 at 9:30pm

The Demon (Il demonio)

Directed by Brunello Rondi. With Daliah Lavi, Frank Wolff, Anna Maria Aveta
Italy/France 1963, 35mm, b/w, 94 min. Italian with English subtitles

This extraordinary film is part character study, part horror movie, part ethnography. Set in the rural south of Italy, it tells the story of a young peasant woman who, distraught at the fact that her beloved has married another, puts a curse on him and flees into the forest. A series of events causes her village to blame her for its misfortune and to hunt her down. In the meantime, she begins to show signs of demonic possession. In the Sixties and Seventies, Rondi created a series of fascinating movies that bridge the gap between art cinema and Italy’s thriller and horror giallo genre. The Demon itself anticipates both The Devils and The Exorcist, and its deliriously spiritual rebel has been compared to the protagonists of both Ordet and Fists in the Pocket.

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Thursday July 2 at 7pm

Nobody’s Children
(I figli di nessuno)

Directed by Raffaello Matarazzo. With Amedeo Nazzari, Yvonne Sanson, Françoise Rosay
Italy 1952, 35mm, b/w, 96 min. Italian with English subtitles

In 1921, Titanus released a three-part serial based on a popular Italian novel from the turn of the 20th century: Nobody’s Children by Ruggero Rindi. The tale of lovers thwarted by class differences, of illegitimate children and parental recognition denied was a major success for producer Gustavo Lombardo and leading lady Leda Gys. Three decades later, their son Goffredo (himself born out of wedlock) returned to this material to lift the studio’s postwar fortunes. Nobody’s Children focuses on two symmetrical parent-child pairs: the foreman of a mine and his daughter, and the mine’s aristocratic owner and her son. The remake was conferred to Raffaello Matarazzo, the success of whose operatic melodramas had revitalized a career that began in the 1930s; he would come to consider Nobody’s Children his best film.

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Thursday July 9 at 7pm

The White Angel (L’angelo bianco)

Directed by Raffaello Matarazzo. With Amedeo Nazzari, Yvonne Sanson, Enrica Dyrell
Italy 1955, 35mm, b/w, 100 min. Italian with English subtitles

The massive success of Matarazzo’s Nobody’s Children guaranteed a sequel. Matarazzo once again directs the star couple Yvonne Sanson and Amedeo Nazzari, whose roles here bear a complicated relation to those they played in the earlier film—one that cannot be explained here without spoiling both the tear-jerking drama of Nobody’s Children and the extraordinary turn given that material here. As the film builds to its violent climax, Matarazzo introduces hints of the supernatural and the surreal until, as so often in great melodrama, repressed knowledge and emotions burst forth with a vengeance. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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Sunday July 12 at 5pm

Tormento

Directed by Raffaello Matarazzo. With Amedeo Nazzari, Yvonne Sanson, Annibale Betrone
Italy 1950, 35mm, b/w, 98 min. Italian with English subtitles

After the grand success of Yvonne Sanson and Amedeo Nazzari as star-crossed lovers in Raffaello Matarazzo’s Chains, Titanus quickly reteamed all three in a string of remarkable melodramas. The second in this series, Tormento places the star couple at the center of an ensemble piece about a middle-class community striving to improve itself, but torn apart by jealousy and hypocrisy. The film’s rising count of crises reaches a fever pitch that is truly operatic yet always grounded by Matarazzo’s gift for realistic detail. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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Friday July 31 at 7pm

Chains (Catene)

Directed by Raffaello Matarazzo. With Amedeo Nazzari, Yvonne Sanson, Aldo Nicodemi
Italy 1949, 35mm, b/w, 95 min. Italian with English subtitles

In the 1920s, Titanus pioneered what came to be called the “Neapolitan” genre: contemporary melodramas about social conditions in Southern Italy that typically focus on a pair of young lovers separated by prejudice, poverty or hypocrisy. These films stood in marked contrast to the more static epics and costume dramas otherwise in vogue in Italian cinema and helped make Titanus an important studio. After the war, with production severely curtailed during national reconstruction, the studio revived its fortunes with a return to the Neapolitan film with Chains, in which a young working-class couple’s bond is tested by the reappearance of the wife’s former lover. With its blend of neorealism and full-blooded melodrama, the film was successful enough to create demand for a follow-up; studio, director and stars would collaborate six more times over the next decade. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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Friday August 7 at 7pm

The Passionate Thief
(Risate di gioia)

Directed by Mario Monicelli. With Anna Magnani, Totò, Ben Gazzara
Italy 1960, DCP, b/w, 106 min. Italian with English subtitles

Titanus’ golden age, the 1950s and early 1960s, was also the golden age of the Italian comedy, and the studio was one of the pioneers of both the “pink neorealism” of the 1950s and the “commedia all’italiana” of the 1960s. One of the masters of the latter genre, Mario Monicelli, directed this star vehicle meant to bring together two icons: Anna Magnani and Totò, the comic star whose long screen career began with Titanus in 1937. The pair play longtime friends enlisted by a brutish thief to rob an American tourist on New Year’s Eve in Rome. The film ultimately revolves less around the criminal scheming and more around affairs of the heart, as farce alternates with moments of tenderness or melancholy, all marked with Monicelli’s gift for creating memorable and endearing characters. Print courtesy of Rialto Pictures

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Friday August 14 at 7pm

Girl with a Suitcase
(La ragazza con la valigia)

Directed by Valerio Zurlini. With Claudia Cardinale, Jacques Perrin, Luciana Angiolillo
Italy/France 1961, 35mm, b/w, 120 min. Italian with English subtitles

Following the success of Violent Summer, Titanus and director Valerio Zurlini reteamed for another story of love between a teenager and a slightly older woman. Played by Claudia Cardinale in the role that made her famous, the title character is a nightclub dancer who leaves her brutish (but rich) lover to take up with his more sensitive younger brother despite his family’s furious dissent. However, the tender romance at the heart of Violent Summer is here replaced by a study of the title character, whose struggle against her poverty and whose rage against her rejection may have hardened her heart against the possibility of love. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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Friday August 21 at 9pm

La spiaggia

Directed by Alberto Lattuada. With Martine Carol, Raf Vallone, Mario Carotenuto
Italy/France 1954, 35mm, b/w, 100 min. Italian with English subtitles

Alberto Lattuada is best known in this country for collaborating with Fellini on the latter’s first film, Variety Lights, but his career stretched from the 1940s to the 1980s and shows him contributing to every major strain of Italian cinema. He was one of the architects of the “pink neorealism” of the 1950s, which combines melodrama and comedy to examine the workings of social class and the changing mores in everyday life. A fine example of the genre, La spiagga follows an elegant woman on vacation with her daughter on the Riviera. Posing as a widow, she is ultimately unmasked as a prostitute; the threatened scandal darkens the film’s mood and gives Lattuada a chance to denounce the sexual hypocrisies of the day. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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Friday August 28 at 7pm

Family Diary (Cronaca familiare)

Directed by Valerio Zurlini. With Marcello Mastroianni, Jacques Perrin, Salvo Randone
Italy 1962, 35mm, color, 115 min. Italian with English subtitles

Zurlini’s powerful masterpiece begins in the defeated Italy of 1945 with a phone call to a struggling journalist telling him his younger brother has died; from there, the film flashes back to tell the story of the complex and changing relationship between the siblings, raised in separate households and reunited in the 1930s only to recognize that they have become two very different people. The turbulence of the times takes a back seat here to intimate drama and to cinematography that is sometimes dramatic, sometimes understated, but always autumnal, recalling the modern Italian paintings of de Chirico, Morandi and Ottone Rosai. This quite guilt- and grief-stricken film also features one of Marcello Mastroianni’s most moving performances.

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Saturday August 29 at 9:15pm

Who is Without Sin
(Chi è senza peccato…)

Directed by Raffaello Matarazzo. With Amedeo Nazzari, Yvonne Sanson, Françoise Rosay
Italy 1952, 35mm, b/w, 118 min. Italian with English subtitles

Matarazzo here adopts the 19th century French novel Geneviève, about an orphaned servant girl who renounces her own chances at happiness in order to support her younger sister.While Matarazzo’s films were popular in the 1950s, their operatic approach to melodrama hampered their critical success. After Matarazzo’s death in 1966, the situation reversed; his style of melodrama had long since passed out of public favor, but—much like the rediscovery of Douglas Sirk in the 1970s—critics began to rediscover and embrace Matarazzo’s work.

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