957 (99). La Luna / Luna (1979, Bernardo Bertolucci)

screened March 3 2009 on Fox VHS TSPDT rank #920 IMDb Wiki

Opera singer Jill Clayburgh is sucked into a sexually charged pas de deux with her rebellious drug addict teenage son after she whisks him off to Italy following her husband's untimely death. It may be that Italian arthouse incest movies just aren't up my alley, but between this and my viewing of Viscconti's Vaghe Stella dell'Orsa [TSPDT #718] I see a lot of cinematic talent stumbling to elevate the salaciousness of its subject, resulting in much incoherent hysteria. Vittorio Storaro's swirling tracking shots characteristically generate an energetic atmosphere, though their fluidness clashes with the Cassavetean awkwardness of the dysfunctional mother-son dialogues. For Bertolucci, the story falls within a career-long template of characters wallowing in bourgeois decadence leading to a search for a remedy, whether through Marxism (Before the Revolution, The Last Emperor, The Dreamers), non-Western cultural immersion (The Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha) or family revelation (Stealing Beauty, Luna). Here he seems less concerned with weaving a coherent narrative than in savoring isolated moments, whether sensory (a beautifully choreographed opera sequence; the arrival of mother and son in Italy in black limo heralded by an armada of skateborders) or sensational (boy stabs his arm with a fork in lieu of a needle to inject his fix; mom jerks off son to help ease his withdrawal). A mess, but it has its moments.


The following citations were counted towards the placement of Luna in the TSPDT Top 1000 films:

Dennis Harvey, PopcornQ (1997) Don Ranvaud, Sight & Sound (1982) Rainer Gansera, Steadycam (2007) Stanley Kwan, Sight & Sound (1992)

Six minute family dysfunction highlight reel:

Bernardo Bertolucci's Jungian remake of High School Confidential!, with Matthew Barry as a strung-out teenager and Jill Clayburgh as his mother, who believes in unbounded maternal affection as a cure for his affliction. Clayburgh is an American opera singer living in Italy, a character ploy that allows Bertolucci to explore a clash of cultures as well as an operatic clash of emotions. Loud, vulgar, and frequently obnoxious, the film nevertheless has a perfect integrity in its excesses. This is filmmaking from the groin, unabashed and unrestrained.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

No matter how civilized we Americans think we are, we find it nearly impossible to walk with both feet off the ground at the same time. We are incurably literal minded. We keep thinking of gravity.

This, I suppose, explains my skeptical reactions to Bernardo Bertolucci's new film, "Luna," about a beautiful, successful, willful, American star of grand opera and her brief, unsatisfactory love affair with her 15-year-old son, who is a junkie — which may well be the most obscure movie metaphor of all time. The film, which opens the 17th annual New York Film Festival tonight at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, is one of the most sublimely foolish movies ever made by a director of Mr. Bertolucci's acknowledged talents.

The difficulty in dealing with Mr. Bertolucci is that he doesn't seem to be an artist totally devoid of humor. Because of that, I kept feeling that "Luna" really intended to be funny — laughably funny — when it was being most outrageous. I don't think it is, however. I suspect he wants us to be both moved and shocked by the awful plight of Caterina (Jill Clayburgh), the opera star, and her deeply troubled son Joe, played by Matthew Barry in the snippy manner of the child actor who played Sidney-the-sissy in the Our Gang comedies of my youth.

Caterina, in the person of Miss Clayburgh, comes close to being a great character. She's a mass of contradictions. She's selfish but generous, loving but forgetful, self-absorbed but truly responsive to her art. When Miss Clayburgh says to her son, whose passivity infuriates her, "I come from a world where singing and creating and dreaming mean something," we believe her, for neither the first nor the last time. It's a fine, complex performance in a movie that isn't.

One of the movie's grand set-pieces is a scene in which Joe, beginning to feel the terrible need for a fix, is comforted by his ingenuously sexy mother. As she cradles him, he starts sucking at her breast. Her response is to masturbate him to a climax and then, we are led to assume, to a peaceful, drugless snooze. As bizarre scenes go, it is far less shocking than schematic. I also wonder about its medical accuracy, because I've always understood that such giddy sexual activity was impossible for an addict. Has Mr. Bertolucci discovered a substitute for Methadone? But there I go — being literal again.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, September 28, 1979

Bernardo Bertolucci’s press conference at the 1979 San Francisco International Film Festival got off to a rocky start. The Italian director’s most recent offering, Luna, had been receiving unfavorable reviews, including one by Chronicle critic Judy Stone, published just the day before.

Newspapers, the Italian director noted, “should help an audience that has had its sensibilities destroyed by TV to understand that films are different. Critics should offer analysis and see the films within a cultural perspective. But in America, there isn’t much sensitivity or a political vision of culture.”

“Here, critics say, ‘I like. I don’t like.’ That’s not the point. It’s quite irresponsible, sitting in this ivory tower.”

Stone (who sat directly in front of the director in the press room) had described Bertolucci in print as “the man who introduced Marlon Brando to the erotic potentialities of butter,” a reference to the infamous sex scene in Last Tango in Paris. She’d also noted that Bertolucci’s native Parma is a region famous for its hams.

Luna may be outrageous, Bertolucci admitted, but it’s “not ashamed of emotion.” Cinema, he added, “is the language of reality, reflecting the way people live.” He was trying to make films that are “dialogues with the audience. Before, we were making monologues.”

But he did concede that casting an American was motivated by fear. “I couldn’t stand the idea of an Italian mother and an Italian son, with the Pope and the Church and all the Italian implications…. It would have been too much for me. I had to keep some distance.” In response to criticism that Clayburgh had been miscast, Bertolucci called the actress “a natural woman” who has “great allure.” A lot of people, he added, think an opera star must have big breasts and be fat.

In defense of the film’s apparent disjointedness, its shifts from the son’s perspective to the mother’s and back again without ever saying who was looking, he explained, “I’m trying to deal with the inconsistencies of life, the incoherence of life, the confusion that’s around us and within us. In the ’60s, I was more attracted to revolution; in the ’70s, I started to follow my own language. Luna, in its increased experimentation, is a return to my past.”

- Barbara Alexandra Szerlip, Great Moments at the San Francisco Film Festival

In the wake of the debilitating struggle over 1900 (he has often described the experience as akin to having all his bones crushed) Bertolucci's next two films could be seen as a calculated retreat: Luna (1979) is the small-scale, though no less gorgeous, story of an American opera singer (Jill Clayburgh) struggling with her disaffected teen son (Matthew Barry) and his drug addiction during a trip to Italy. One senses in the film a deliberate attempt by Bertolucci to reinvigorate his career by re-examining his work, especially in the charming manner in which the film becomes a travelogue through the director's earlier career – from the farm in 1900 to an appearance by Pasolini regular Franco Citti, to a small but inspired moment when the boy's father, right before his sudden death, discovers a piece of gum stuck under a balcony railing – right where Brando's character in Last Tango left it, immediately before his own demise.

- Bilge Ebiri, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

This mix of melodramatic spectacle, schocking behavior, Verdian grand opera and Hollywood-style flamboyance results in a highly uneven, unfocused, manic, and bizarre film of muddled intentions. In La Luna, Bertolucci includes characters that break into spontaneous and bizare behaviors similar to the characters on Last Tango in Paris, but he also adds other elements of Hollywood films like Rebel Without a Cause and even Saturday Night Fever. But all of these elements not only not blend well but they literally clash, collide and collapse especially in the last section of the film when Bertolucci attempts to justify his out of control storyline with the most preposterous Oedipal explanation.

The truth is that Bertolucci seems to be pushing the limits with no other purpose than to see how far he can go. There is no attempt to explain why Joe has become addicted to drugs, except when he whines during his heroin withdrawal “I just don’t care about anything!” But the truth is that he cares about a lot of things. We see his genuine interest towards his mother’s singing, exploring sex with his new Italian girlfriend, and caring enough to say no to marijuana when offered to him. If anything, Bertolucci is using the drama of drug addiction as a catalyst for the story of incest. Once again there is no hint on why such a relationship develops. Bertolucci introduces some ridiculous scenarios, as in Caterina scouting heroin from her son's drug dealer, a hysterical scene in which Caterina releases her anxiety in a Jane Fonda-like workout routine with her apparent lesbian friend, and that infamous but also ridiculous mother-son masturbation scene. And then, there is that Oedipal conclusion concerning Joe’s real father written and developed so poorly that it ultimately sinks any credibility left in the film. In short, Bertolucci’s story lacks logic and and credibility due a script weak on character development that ultimately serves as feeble excuse for the gratuitous , laughable and not so erotic set pieces.

- Pablo Vargas, The Spinning Image

Coming in around the middle of Bertolucci’s career, La Luna feels almost like a caricature of his greatest films. Once again he tries to push the boundaries of taboo and erotica, but unlike Last Tango in Paris, this attempt was not nearly as successful or well received. It just isn’t as whole of a film and it almost always feels like something is missing. There is so much build-up, but so little payoff, and the drama and conflict feels contained and exploited. Perhaps in trying to push audiences even further, Bertolucci was forcing too much out of his film, and ended up turning it over on itself, with bland oddness and overlong moments of emptiness. It’s frustrating to think that he may have approached this film with less than the best in purely artistic intentions. However, that does not mean La Luna isn’t delicately polished with lush mise-en-scène, which Bertolucci will always be proficient at. Unfortunately, it just isn’t nearly enough to overcome the tired shock value of the story, or the uninspiring flatness of the main characters, despite their excellent performances.

Sweetly, the film does have an almost epic quality which I was able to, at times, get lost in. This is brought about by the sinuous camera, sexual undercurrents and prominent use of opera, which heighten the experience considerably above simple depravity and exploitation. There are multiple themes laden across La Luna, the most prominent of which being the incestuous relationship between mother and son. As if this wasn’t enough to work with on its own, there is also a bout with heroin addiction and the search for a father figure. It’s heavy, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t go far enough into the characters, or even far enough outside them, to justify so much transgression. Perhaps there was just too much involvement needed that I wasn’t able to find, so I ended up feeling distanced when I should have felt embraced and affected.

- Polar Bear's Film Journal

Some old fashioned motherly love:


A characteristically stunning transfer from Arthaus, which has apparently emerged as Germany's equivalent to America's Criterion. The image is crisp, clean, and sharp, with vivid colors and natural contrast and grain, with only occasional noise visible over black in darkly lit scenes. The disc is dual-layered with a progressive transfer, and the monaural sound presents no problems. The original soundtrack, included on this disc, is 99% in English, yet there's the odd instance of Italian dialogue here and there. Although the disc contains only removable German subtitles, I didn't sense that the Italian dialogue contributed anything vital to the film.

This disc comes with a catalogue insert of Arthaus's other releases. Special features include filmographies, a photo gallery (whose images look culled from the pressbook), advertising materials, and additional text supplements -- such as an interview with Bertolucci -- all written in German. While the supplements are not a significant selling point, the film has probably not looked this good since its release. Despite its critical reception at the time, "La Luna" has its followers, and it's long been an elusive film to obtain, existing only as bootlegs (recorded from cable airings) and a Japanese laserdisc (with frontal nudity censored). Those awaiting a proper DVD release of this won't be disappointed.

- Paul Haynes, DVD Beaver


IMDb Wiki

Biography at Film Reference.com

Quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Bertolucci:

“At the age of twenty-one, Bernardo Bertolucci established himself as a major artist in two distinct art forms, winning a prestigious award in poetry and receiving high critical acclaim for his initial film, La commare secca. This combination of talents is evident in all of his films, which have a lyric but exceptionally concrete style.” -   Robert Burgoyne (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

“One of the cinema’s greatest masters of visual beauty, especially when assisted by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s films are also dramatically naive and pretentious far too often, even addled at times, resulting in risible scenes even when respected actors are used. But at least the nine Oscars won by The Last Emperor, one of his three near-masterpieces, have assured that Bertolucci will not simply go down in history as the man who made Last Tango in Paris.” - David Quinlan (Quinlan’s Film Directors, 1999)

“One of the most accomplished directors of the contemporary Italian cinema…Bertolucci, who believes that “cinema is the true poetic language”, had applied his celluloid poesy mostly to political-human themes, but with Last Tango in Paris (1972) he moved into the realm of the purely human. It established Bertolucci as a commercially viable director as well as a highly gifted one.” - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

“The psychological and intellectual man in society has been brilliantly explored by Bertolucci.” - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)

“I’m no longer interested in making political films. There’s something old-fashioned about them. Young people now don’t care for politics. It isn’t present in life as it used to be. And increasingly I like films which reflect present-day reality.” - Bernardo Bertolucci (1999)

Biographical Entry from Ephraim KatzThe Film Encyclopedia

Interview with Bertolucci by Nathan Rabin, The Onion A/V Club, 2004

An even better interview by David Thompson at the BFI National Film Theater, 2003

Very few international directors in the past four decades have managed to remain at the “critically successful” as consistently as Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, whose career has straddled three generations of filmmaking, four continents, and several movie industries. Alongside his provocative explorations of sexuality and ideology, his highly kinetic visual style – often characterised by elaborate camera moves, meticulous lighting, symbolic use of colour, and inventive editing – has influenced several generations of filmmakers, from the American “movie brats” of the 1970s to the music video auteurs of the ’80s and ’90s. Perhaps the most important reason for Bertolucci’s continuing relevance has been the intensely personal nature of his movies: although he makes narrative features, very often based (albeit loosely) on outside literary sources, Bertolucci’s films over the decades reveal distinct connections to their creator’s private dilemmas and the vagaries of his creative and intellectual life. In other words, he has been able to fulfill his dream of being able “to live films” and “to think cinematographically” – to lay bare his inner life through his work.

- Bilge Ebiri, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

946 (88). Prima della rivoluzione / Before the Revolution (1964, Bernardo Bertolucci)

Screened December 28, 2008 on New Yorker VHS in Weehawken NJ TSPDT #988 IMDb

We have Bernardo Bertolucci's second feature to thank for serving a vivid analogy to the flaws of communism: like sleeping with your hot aunt, it's a utopian fantasy that, once achieved, goes downhill in a hurry.  This semi-autobiographical account of a doomed love affair between a young bourgeois leftist (Francesco Barilli) dallying and diddling with his disaffected aunt (Bertolucci's then-wife, the delectable Adriana Asti) is filmed with genuine emotional conviction towards its ideological confusion, trying its damnedest to articulate its ambivalence through a barrage of stylistic conceits openly borrowed from New Wave contemporaries (even Asti is a mash-up of Anna Karina kitten-cute and Vitti-Moreau-nioni neurosis). The jump cuts, poetic monologues and musical interludes are alternately impressive in their omnivorous ambitions and overbearing in their bombast (especially when Ennio Morricone's music swells to overkill levels). The most memorable stylistic elements are those that would become the touchstones for Bertolucci's career: a camera that moves like a dancer through time and space, wishing to brush its gaze against everything in sight; and a darkly sensuous knack for depicting forbidden sex as a form of self-knowledge, an inescapable vortex at the heart of existence. Few filmmakers have been able to channel the cinema to evoke their all-consuming libido; the catch is that the leftist sentiments depicted in this film (which, upon its spring '68 release in Paris, helped incite the May Riots) amount to just another dalliance for this quintessentially bourgeois superconsumer of life experience.  It amounts to an international arthouse version of The Graduate [TSPDT #215], as clever as that film in fashionably tweaking middle-class boredom with cougar sex and hip filmmaking to compensate for a muddled, reactionary critique of society.  As far as movies depicting scandalous intercourse leading to social revolutions go, Harold and Maude [TSPDT #493] reads like Das Kapital compared to this defeatist tract.

Wanna go deeper?

Last night, Philharmonic Hall presented "Before the Revolution," an unheralded Italian feature by an unknown writer-director named Bernardo Bertolucci. He is 23 years old, and his film is a beauty.

So is its star, Adriana Asti, a large-eyed brunette making her celluloid debut, appeared onstage with the director to take a modest bow before the screening. Her unfamiliar face meant little to the audience at the time. Before the evening was over, it had become a face that discerning filmgoers are unlikely to forget.

She is the focal point of a poignant love story epitomizing a young man's growth through the dense, chaotic jungle of contemporary civilization. Like many of the best modern films, the drama is difficult, subtle and extraordinarily complex in its imagery.

It is a moving story on the most immediate level, and the director has given it sweeping connotations. When the boy, unable to cope with the extraordinary young woman, abandons his struggles and lets her drift away, the drama reverberates with evocations of loss. His failure at love symbolizes a death of the past, an angst-ridden sense of futility in any kind of revolutionary striving, whether emotional, political or merely intellectual, amid the defeat of contemporary society.

Viewing life in such romantic terms is the special province of a very young director, but Mr. Bertolucci has approached his story with such deep feeling that its full implications are communicated. This is a young man's film, but it has large social references.

Cinematically, it is also filled with references, to the best modern directors in Italy and France. Knowledgeable viewers can detect strong influences from Roberto Rossellini and Alain Resnais in Mr. Bertolucci's sophisticated style.

Astonishingly, he has managed to assimilate a high degree of filmic and literary erudition into a distinctively personal visual approach. Technically, he displays authoritative control. Here is a new talent of outstanding promise.

A boyish nonprofessional, Francesco Barilli, is ideally cast as the groping Fabrizio, but Miss Asti is so stunning as the aunt that her character takes over the film. Amid a cast of inexperienced actors, she displays a stage-trained skill and an impressive presence that mark her for an impressive future on the screen.

"Before the Revolution" will be released in this country by Angelo Rizzoli. It is the revelation of the festival.

- Eugene Archer, The New York Times, September 25, 1964

The contrary attractions of sensuality and politics have been the subject of many of Bertolucci's films, but the conflict is presented most passionately and personally here, through the figure of a young bourgeois revolutionary (Francesco Barilli) involved in a tortured relationship with his aunt (Adriana Asti). The visual style suggests Minnelli in its lush subjectivity, particularly when the black and white gives way to color for a brief lyrical sequence.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

In all of Bertolucci's movies, there's a central conflict between the 'radical' impulses and a pessimistic (and/or willing) capitulation to the mainstream of bourgeois society and culture. It's a contradiction that takes on juggernaut proportions in '1900', but it stands as a major source of tension and interest in many of the earlier films. Both Before the Revolution (Bertolucci's second feature) and Partner try to examine it head-on. Revolution is about a middle-class 20-year-old who 'discovers' Marxism and tries - for a while - to change his life; Partner is an exuberant response to the student riots of '68, with Pierre Clémenti as a timid drama student confronting his own anarchic revolutionary alter ego. The first is mostly 'classical' in style, while the second is aggressively 'new wave', but both are full of interruptions and digressions: they throw out ideas and allusions (usually to other movies) with reckless enthusiasm, and they remain invaluable aids to an understanding of the '60s.

- Time Out

In Before the Revolution, Bertolucci first presents the theme which will become foremost in his work: the conflict between freedom and conformity. Fabrizio, the leading character, is obliged to decide between radical political commitment and an alluring marriage into the bourgeoisie. In this reworking of Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma, Bertolucci expressly delineates the connection between politics and sexuality. The film also establishes the Freudian theme of the totemic father, which will recur throughout Bertolucci's work, here emblematized in the figure of Fabrizio's communist mentor, whom Fabrizio must renounce as a precondition to his entry into moneyed society.

- Robert Burgoyne, Film Reference.com

A must for Bertolucci afficianados is Before the Revolution, made, in wide-screen black-and-white, when he was an extraordinarily precocious 23. Understandably, it's autobiographical. The protagonist, Fabrizio (furrow-browed Francisco Barilli), is, like the youthful filmmaker, girl-and-movie crazy, and Marx-and-Freud obsessed, a tie-and-coat high bourgeoisie trying to be a renegade and relate to the historic struggles of the masses...

Though Farbizio orders a suicide-prone friend to a screening of Hawks's Red River, and though Farbizio takes a quick break to see Godard's A Woman is a Woman, mostly he is too stressed and distracted by love and political concerns to benefit from film going. So Bertolucci provides him with a hilarious cinephile friend, who spends his whole sentient life at the altar of movies (he sees them twice in a row). Afterward, he smokes and philosophizes about them. "I remember the 360 degree dolly shot of Nicholas Ray, I swear, one of the highest moral facts in the history of cinema," this friend says, and, "Remember, one can't live without Rossellini!"

Bertolucci, the film geek, is all over his shooting, as Before the Revolution is a perpetual homage to his cinema masters, old and new. Gina, alienated in fashionable clothes and photographed against architecture, comes from Antonioni, Gina in a telephone monologue from Rossellini, Gina framed formally with bare legs from Godard, Gina making faces in granny glasses from Truffaut. (It's interesting to see Bertolucci in 1963 quoting A Woman is a Woman and Truffaut's Jules and Jim, both of 1961, as if they are already canonic texts.)

Bertolucci's other source: Stendhal's early 19th century novel, The Charterhouse of Parma. Thank you, Bernardo, for affording me an excuse to spend several long plane rides reading Stendhal's fabulous 500-page Machiavellian melodrama about the post-Napoleon political maneuverings in the city of Parma. What does it have to do with Before the Revolution? The names of the three main characters are the same--Fabrizio, Gina, and Clelia--and, in each case, Farbizio bypasses the love of his flashy aunt for that of a pious, straightlaced younger girl. And there's stifling Parma, and there's a common setting for high drama of the opera.

But the contrasts are far more telling. Gina of the book is the most conniving belle at court, almost as obsessed by power and riches as she is by conquering Fabrizio. Gina of the movie is a little lost rich girl, panicked and neurotic, a walking nervous breakdown with no aspirations except getting men to love her. (At times, she is a drag, and her multi-moods are the most tiresome part of the movie.) Fabrizio of the book is a soldier (he fights at Waterloo), an adventurer, a nobleman, an autocrat, a political opportunist with little worry of conscience. Bertolucci's Fabrizio is a person of acute self-consciousness, pained by his political ineffectuality (that of the bourgeois class) and agonized that the promised Marxist paradise will never come.

- Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix

Apart from Pasolini, who cited the movie in a famous essay, “The Cinema of Poetry,” in 1965, the Italians hated “Before the Revolution.” The French adored it. The movie was screened during the Critics’ Week at Cannes in 1964, where it won prizes and was identified by French critics as “an homage to the school of the Cahiers,” which it certainly was. Bertolucci had been a regular reader of the Cahiers almost since he was a child—he was introduced to the magazine by his father, who wrote movie reviews as well as poetry—and he was an acolyte of Godard, whose stylistic fingerprints are all over the movie. Bertolucci became the New Wave’s adopted Italian. He went to Paris and met Godard, Langlois, Agnès Varda. Though no one could see his movie, because it lacked a distributor, it became a critical touchstone at the Cahiers. (The movie also played a role in the so-called Hollywood New Wave; it is an influence on Martin Scorsese’s first major picture, “Mean Streets,” which came out in 1973.) For his part, Bertolucci used to say that he preferred to give interviews in French, on the ground that French is the true language of cinema. [Henri] Langlois himself was responsible for the French release of “Before the Revolution,” which finally happened in 1968. The Cahiers critics all awarded it four stars, their highest rating—“chef d’oeuvre.” By 1968, student radicals were citing it as explanation and inspiration, and the phrase “before the revolution” appeared in accounts of the events of May in the French press.

The words are taken from a remark of Talleyrand’s: “He who did not live in the years before the revolution cannot understand what the sweetness of living is.” Bertolucci insisted that he meant the title ironically, that life “before the revolution” is agony; he has his protagonist mutter, despairingly, “It’s always ‘before the revolution’ if you’re like me.” But with movies you believe the camera—what the camera loves cannot be all bad—and the camera tells us that although Talleyrand was undoubtedly on the wrong side, he was not wrong. “At first my story was a modern ‘Charterhouse,’ ” Bertolucci explained in an interview in the Cahiers in 1965, “but then it gradually developed into ‘Sentimental Education.’ ” Fabrizio is not a revolutionary; he is playing at being a revolutionary, because that is what young people in the postwar middle class do. His kind of revolution is just a chapter in the bourgeois family romance (thus the incest: it violates the norms of the nuclear family). If “Before the Revolution” is a prophecy of the rebellion of May ’68, in which students from the Sorbonne marched in solidarity with workers from the Renault auto plants, it is also a prophecy of its failure.

- Louis Menard, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003

Bertolucci used Before the Revolution to explore the nature of political doubt: Fabrizio abandons one type of patriarchy (his conservative family) for another (the ideological demands of Marxism). As in most of the director's films, this dichotomy is accompanied by sexual tension: While left-wing politics and haute bourgeois surroundings provide the milieu for Revolution, the main narrative (a very loose adaptation of Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma) concerns Fabrizio's affair with his aunt Gina (Adriana Asti). But unlike in his later works, Bertolucci doesn't quite manage to reconcile the film's sexual politics with its more overt ideological content. Try as we might, it's hard to read Gina as a symbol for anything – she simultaneously represents sexual freedom and Fabrizio's stuffy family relations; it's hard to divorce her from the rest of the world, even though she is clearly an outcast in her own surroundings. (It's also possible to read the incest taboo as a sublimation of homoerotic desire; several early scenes are devoted to Fabrizio's clearly gay, suicidal young friend Agostino [Allen Midgette], whose death is one of the centerpieces of the film.) Ultimately, what emerges from Before the Revolution is not a coherent vision but a brilliant, highly kinetic portrait of a very confused young man – made, perhaps, by a brilliant and very confused young man. Bertolucci even throws in a beautifully filmed, lushly scored ode to the environment, in which a minor character delivers a lyrical monologue to the decaying Po River, right near the end – a gorgeous sequence that almost feels like it deserves to be its own short work.

- Bilge Ebiri, Senses of Cinema

Bertolucci’s film is gorgeously written and acted – it’s Asti’s film all the way though – and it paves the way for The Conformist, a film whose protagonist is on the opposite side of the ideological fence from Fabrizio. If there’s any complaint, it’s with some of the montages that look a bit too much like Godard lite (complete with jump cuts), but that is a small complaint. Most of the film has a visual elegance that prefigures Bertloucci’s better known works such as The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris. (This film’s beautiful black and white photography is by Aldo Scavarda, who shot Antonioni’s great L’Avventura.) Some of the film’s later scenes, where we see Fabrzio and his fiancée meet Gina at a performance of Verdi’s Macbeth are almost elegiac in their melancholy beauty. Rough going for some viewers, no doubt, but particularly rewarding of second and third viewings, Before the Revolution is a brilliant social document and masterful filmmaking.

- Nick Burton, Pif Magazine

Inspired by Godard and Resnais’s Marienbad (1961), Bertolucci tries everything: zooms; a moving car camera, attached either to the front or the side; dissolves within a scene—if you will, “soft” jump-cuts; hard jump-cuts; misty lyrical poetry by a lake. This movie is in love with movies and movie-making.

It is also one of the most important films for understanding the sixties. Its lovely incest (seven years before Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart) reaches for a synthesis derived from thesis (family, structure, order) and antithesis (the pleasure of doing one’s own thing). In the States we knew on the basis of this reconciliation that revolution would never happen here.

Or, perhaps, anywhere else in the postwar West. A schoolteacher tells Fabrizio, “[Y]ou can argue only with people who have the same ideas.”

Devastating; irreplaceable; phenomenal.

- Dennis Grunes

Michael Guillen re-organizes a number of the above citations in his own essay on the film for Twitch

Deeper Readings

Attilio Bertolucci called his son's films from the 1960s "autobiographical in a symbolic sense." "We are all Catholics," he said, "Bernardo was baptized and all that. There is a contradiction in Bernardo. I think that at the same time he hates and loves his background, his life, his class. Therefore the heroes of his autobiographical films always try to break loose but fail in the end." Bertolucci himself contended: "More than just being autobiographical, it was a way to exorcise my own fears. Because to be like that character is almost a destiny for all bourgeois young Europeans."  When asked about the origins of his Marxist sympathies, Bertolucci said: "I was always like that. Marxism in Italy is very common."

While the more immediate Grim Reaper has retained most of its original freshness, the impact of Before the Revolution has gradually weakened with the passage of time because so many of its stylistic elements are characteristic of the 1960s search for a new language. This reflective first-person film testimony is, in a way, an anthology of the efforts by 1960s filmmakers to renovate film narrative by, among other things, basing it on present-tense stream of consciousness. Bertolucci's restless camera uses many components cherished by various New Waves, which, in retrospect, appear outdated: high-angle shots culminating in frozen compositions, repetitions of the same shot from a slightly different perspective, freeze frames, unexpected and unmotivated changing of distance between camera and object, subjective tracking shots and pans, etc. Bertolucci's style is based on insistent, extremely seductive takes reminiscent of the language of Romantic poetry with its highly personal sets of signs.

In its time, Before the Revolution was hailed as a major achievement of the New Italian Cinema, equaled only by Fists in the Pocket. The film amassed many awards and strengthened Bertolucci's image as a prodigy. But its box-office results were rather poor, and the producers labeled Bertolucci "noncommercial." He had to wait another four years before he could embark on his next feature film, Partner (1968), which reconfirmed both his exceptional talent and his avowed eclecticism.

- Mira Liehm, Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present. Published by University of California Press, 1986. Pages 194-195

If there is a single subject in the film, it is the existence and future of the individual within an ephemeral moment, and the future of that moment itself within a larger historical process. Bertolucci uses the conventional set-up – romance and revolution – but disguises it in a strikingly novel manner. It seems unfortunate that over the years, the critical dialogue on Before the Revolution seems to have overlooked (or at least undermined) the love story in the film. I assume that this is because it is a puzzling romance, doomed from the beginning and consistently fraught with doubt and disorder. But watching Gina and Fabrizio is like looking upon parallel rail-tracks from the window of a moving train – they come together, collide, move apart, and all at a speed that makes the spectacle hypnotic and their inevitable separation so abrupt. From the familial warmth of their first encounter, to the innocent gaiety as they shop in the streets of Parma and the painful solemnity of their separation at the opera house, their relationship morphs unpredictably from one state to another. Their utterances stretch from the intimate (“I exist because you exist”) to the banal (the endless talk of rain). Their first love-scene is as erotic as anything Bertolucci has subsequently fashioned, reaching a height of sensuality even as Fabrizio and Gina lie on separate beds. It is difficult to imagine the realisation of such a moment in the cinema of today, with the common perversity attached to acts of self-gratification. Sensibly, the film is also not completely devoid of a romantic idyll. In what could be considered the centrepiece of the film – a single 3-minute long take – Bertolucci’s camera circles Fabrizio’s living-room to almost magically transform a dull bourgeois conversation about eating, into a picture of the lovers dancing to an evocative song on the radio. The father exits, the grandmother is asleep, and we are left alone with a frame that closes in to reveal the geographies of mouths and necklines.

The most remarkable aspect in the presentation of this love affair however, is that the incestuous underpinnings that appear to be the most obvious reason for its termination are not necessarily suggested as being entirely responsible for its failure. Gina and Fabrizio are depicted as fundamentally different individuals. She idealises the present and would like nothing to move; “everything still like a picture with us in the middle, motionless”. She also questions the significance of time and the idea that the world has order that can be manipulated. For Fabrizio, time is everything – the key to historical progress and structure. His relationship with the present is more nostalgic because with every passing moment his future becomes his past. The relationship seems hopelessly self-destructive and both characters riddle themselves with guilt. Gina is prone to bouts of madness and cries out that every war, storm and fire is her fault. Fabrizio’s ideological preoccupations leave him cold, and he later admits that he wanted to fill Gina with vitality but gave her anguish instead. Finally, the lovers are never ready to confront the possibility that their affair is more than just a satisfaction of curiosities or a remedy for boredom. To use Gina’s allegory, “clouds pursue clouds”. She pursues him pursuing her.

The centrality of Fabrizio’s political “disarmament” in Before the Revolution has elicited several responses to Bertolucci’s intent in this film. Was he exploring the nature of his own political doubt? This seems likely in view of the proximity between Bertolucci and his protagonist, and he has claimed that the film served as an exorcism of his Marxist fears of being sucked back into the “milieu”. Some even suggest that the film prophesises the failure of the May ’68 uprising. In essence, not unlike the love story that runs parallel to it, the political narrative of Bertolucci’s film highlights the vagaries in following a nebulous idea. Fabrizio presents himself as a staunch Marxist; he sees activism as ennobling and a source for meaning (like poetry). But he is merely a pretender to the cause. He brandishes a bookish rhetoric but this is only to sound convincing. Towards the end he chokes while chanting a Marxist slogan. This is the realisation that he will never be the “new kind of man” that he believes in – one that is “wise enough to educate his parents”. So there is some irony in Bertolucci’s appropriation of Talleyrand’s remark. For Fabrizio there is little “sweetness” in this time “before the revolution”; it is filled instead with agony and despair.

Is it surprising then that people criticise the film for being intangible? Bertolucci claims that at the time he sought out a cinema that did not engage the audience on an obvious sensual level. Like the directors of the nouvelle vague, he was keen to challenge the fascist model of the passive spectator exercised by popular cinema. This involved a deliberate distanciation of the audience through an unconventional employment of narrative and style. But there was always the fear of being ignored, of completely alienating the spectator to the point where the art became incomprehensible. Fortunately, in Before the Revolution, the amorphous structure of the film becomes inextricably linked to the ambiguities of the subject. A shapeless figure (the spectator) pursues a shapeless form with shapeless substance. 40 years after its release, Bertolucci’s film continues to demand that we suspend our traditional habits of viewing. It remains inconsumable in the conventional sense but it is hardly incoherent.

- Neel Chaudhuri, Senses of Cinema

Bertolucci's artistic 'piece de resistance', Before The Revolution, is an intangible and anti-narrative experiment in film cohesion. The film progresses seamlessly towards an enigmatic conclusion, while charging indoctrination with corruption and utilizing propaganda as style. Bertolucci responds to dogma by replacing media with medium. Textually the signified here becomes the signified. Characters in the film are meaningless, and vacant icons; they become the images (the shadows on the wall) that they 'act' upon. However, this style and deconstructionist meta-theatricality make the film unabsorbable. Where Pasolini's intention of creating an un-consumable film worked in Salo, Bertolucci's Before The Revolution spreads itself too far and too thinly. The plot revolves around Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli), a melancholy man in a disintegrating world, who, after the death of his friend Agostino (Allen Midgette), falls in love with the esoteric Gina (Adriana Asti), his aunt. Love blossoms between the two, then fails in a final act of desperation. The film covers many themes, from alienation to sex, from cinematic history to understanding. Collage-like in structure, the film begins with a premise of monumental grandeur, shot in striking B&W and magnificently filmed by Aldo Scavarda (who filmed the earlier L'avventura of Michelangelo Antonioni), the film exudes an artistic quality that attempts poetic lyricism. Via repetitious zooms, and varying editing, the viewer is dislocated from the 'light-show' and is deadened by the phlegmatic momentum. (A momentum that is so overbearing the film almost becomes parodic.) As Fabrizio meanders through city-scapes, falling in and out of love with Gina and endlessly searching for an existential meaning, his encounters with political forces are too conspicuous and diverting. The viewer simply cannot care for both Fabrizio's search and the heavy-handing statements about 'thought-control'. While we, the consumers, become so easily pleased with the sugar-coated beauty of the film, its caustic message is lost.

- Keith Breese

Obsessive still shots are also characteristic of Bertolucci's film, Before the Revolution. However, they have a different meaning than for Antonioni. However, they have a different meaning than for Antonioni. The world-fragment, imprisoned in the frame and transformed by it into a fragment of autonomous beauty which refers only to itself, does not interest Bertolucci as it interests, in return, Antonioni. Bertolucci's formalism is infinitely less pictorial: his frame does not intervene metaphorically upon reality, sectioning it into so many mysteriously autonomous places, like pictures. Bertolucci's frame adheres to reality, according to the canon of a certain realist manner (according to a technique of poetic language, followed by the classics from Charlie Chaplin to Bergman): the stillness of a shot upon a portion of reality (the river, Parma, the streets of Parma, etc.) reveals the grace of a profound and confused love precisely for that portion of reality.

Practically, the whole stylistic of Before the Revolution is a long "free indirect subjective" based on the dominant state of mind of the protagonist, the neurotic young aunt. Whereas there was, in Antonioni, a whole substitution of the sick woman's vision for that (of febrile formalism) of the author, in Bertolucci such a substitution does not take place. What there has been is a contamination between the vision the neurotic woman has of the world and that of the author, which are inevitably analogous, but difficult to perceive, being closely intermixed, having the same style.

The intense moments of expression in the film are, precisely, those "insistences" of the framing and the montage-rhythms, whose structural realism (derived from Rossellinian neo-realism and the mythic realism of some younger master) is charged, throughout the uncommon duration of a shot or a montage-rhythm, till it explodes in a sort of technical scandal. Such an insistence on details, particularly on certain details in the digressions, is a deviation in relation to the system of the film: it is the temptation to make another film. It is, in sum, the presence of the author, who, in a measureless liberty, goes beyond the film and threatens continually to abandon it for the sake of an unforeseen inspiration which is that - latent - of the author's love for the poetic world of his own life-experiences. A moment of a naked and raw subjectivity, entirely natural, in a film in which - as in Antonioni's - subjectivity is mystified by a method of false objectivism, the result of a pretextual "free indirect subjective."

Beneath the style generated by the disoriented, disorganized, beset-by-details state of mind of the protagonist, is the level of the world as seen by an author no less neurotic, dominated by an elegiac, elegant, but never "classicist" spirit.

- Pier Paolo Pasolini, "The Cinema of Poetry." Published in Movies and Methods: An Anthology. Edited by Bill Nichols. Published by University of California Press, 1976. Pages 553-554

Fabrizio epitomizes the contradiction between the power of the bourgeois past and the felt need for the revolution to be carried out by the Communist party. Fabrizio's conflicts with the other characters, each representing another segment of Italian society, turn the film into an analytic metamovie. The major conflict between Cesare (representing the political aspect) and Gina (representing the sexual apolitical aspect) is resolved only in Bertolucci's following films which synthesize Freud with Marx. Before the Revolution is a film "before the analysis" (the beginning of Bertolucci's analysis was in 1969) in which both the political and the sexual are betrayed by the young, immature protagonist. And, indeed, the film not only identifies with Fabrizio but also criticizes him on every level. Fabrizio is criticized by both Gina and Cesare. Gina criticizes Fabrizio for capitulating to bourgeois morality while Cesare criticizes him for being incapable of acting correctly on either the personal or political level. Gina in Before the Revolution (giving voice to the reactionary position from a leftist point of view) argues with Cesare that people cannot change. To support her argument she quotes Oscar Wilde's dictum, "You can't change even one person." In The Last Emperor, however, (which coincides with the end of Bertolucci's first analysis) Bertolucci based his thesis on the belief that man can change.  If we take Bertolucci as representing the authorial position of Before the Revolution, then we can take Fabrizio's capitulation to bourgeois filmmaking. Although the film, through its shifting narrative and character focalization, privileges Gina's and Cesare's positions, Bertolucci's career has followed Fabrizio's path.

- Yosefa Loshitzky. The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci. Published by Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 198.

About the RHV Region 2 DVD

How Does the DVD Look?

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Before the Revolution has undergone substantial restoration and the results are stunning! With an exceptional degree of detail, spectacular contrast, a flawless progressive transfer, no print damage, and an image that sparkles with its beautiful black and white gradation this DVD presentation by RHV is without a doubt a collector's dream. I can hardly think what else the Italian distribs could have improved on this presentation as just about every aspect that is typically scrutinized by film buffs has been treated with enormous care. Quite frankly this is as good as this film has ever looked. Region 2, PAL.


There have been some heavy speculations that Criterion might release Before the Revolution as part of their collection and I most certainly hope that this is not just a rumor started by those who like to play with possibilities. With this said however unless such release materializes with a lengthy commentary by the director of the film sharing his thoughts and memories I believe that English-speakers need not wait for a better release. Why? I can hardly see how this all-English friendly DVD could be topped by anything the R1 distribs may or may not release. Indeed, ALL of the extras on this double DVD set have been subbed in English:

On disc one you would fine the theatrical trailer for the film as well as a nicely done gallery of stills. There is also the short "Cinema D'Oggi" extract where Bernardo Bertolucci comments on the film while selected footage is being shown. Next, there is the "Effetti Personali" segment where selected dialogs and lines are being recited by the cast (approx. twenty years later) throughout locations from Before the Revolution with the original footage from the film being inserted as well.

On disc two you will find the remaining extras from this spectacular release. First there is a short segment titled "Traveling Companions" where Enzo Siciliano, and Adriano Apra are being interviewed. Much of what is being said is recollections pertaining to film's history so there is plenty that fans of Bertolucci will find intriguing. Next, there is a massive interview with Bernardo Bertolucci where he goes into great detail talking about his film and practically touching upon just about all that one might be curious about (I consider this to be the strongest extra from the DVD as I am most certain if a R1 release actually happens it is likely that RHV will not license it). "Gina and Fabrizio" is the next interview provided for this release where Adriana Asti and Francesco Barilli share their thoughts on the roles they were given in Before the Revolution. Unlike the previous interview with Bernardo Bertolucci however I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. "The Workshop of the Young Masters" provides another set of interviews with Ennio Morricone, Roberto Perpignani, and Vittorio Storaro where they discuss their involvement with the film. Morricone's comments were particularly interesting given his enormous reputation between Italian film directors. Next, we have "Re-Readings" with Francesco Casetti, Lucilla Albano, and Giovanna Grignaffini where everyone once again shares their thoughts and recollections on Before the Revolution while highlighting their involvement with the film. Next, there is the "After the Revolution" segment where directors Marco Tullio Giordana (The Best of Youth) and Marco Bellocchio talk about the impact Bernardo Bertolucci and his film had on Italian cinema. Last but not least we have a special documentary that follows the restoration process of this film while highlighting the success which the producers were able to achieve spending thousands and thousands of hours working for the best possible quality.

Final Words:

Quite frankly this is the most spectacular R2 presentation of an Italian film I have ever seen!! RHV truly have delivered a package that is without a doubt the definitive version of Before the Revolution (both in terms of technical presentation and in terms of supplemental material). I would go on record here and reconfirm my opinion that a Criterion release will NOT surpass the wealth of extras as well as the stunning audio/video restoration work the Italian distribs have provided. Unless somehow Criterion manage to convince Bertolucci to record a commentary for this film (and I wonder what else he could contribute as practically ALL he has to say could be found in his interviews provided for this double Italian set) there is no reason for you to wait!! This is one of the all-time BEST R2 English-friendly releases I have seen, all cinema considered: DVDTALK Collector's Series.

- Svet Atanasov, DVD Talk

Rarely does a DVD come along that deserves the title definitive version and in the case of RHV’s Before the Revolution DVD they have put together an impressive release that truly deserves the title of definitive edition, highly recommended.

- Michael Den Boer, 10,000 Bullets

About Bernardo Bertolucci

IMDb Wiki

Biography at Film Reference.com

Quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Bertolucci:

"At the age of twenty-one, Bernardo Bertolucci established himself as a major artist in two distinct art forms, winning a prestigious award in poetry and receiving high critical acclaim for his initial film, La commare secca. This combination of talents is evident in all of his films, which have a lyric but exceptionally concrete style." -   Robert Burgoyne (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

"One of the cinema's greatest masters of visual beauty, especially when assisted by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci's films are also dramatically naive and pretentious far too often, even addled at times, resulting in risible scenes even when respected actors are used. But at least the nine Oscars won by The Last Emperor, one of his three near-masterpieces, have assured that Bertolucci will not simply go down in history as the man who made Last Tango in Paris." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"One of the most accomplished directors of the contemporary Italian cinema...Bertolucci, who believes that "cinema is the true poetic language", had applied his celluloid poesy mostly to political-human themes, but with Last Tango in Paris (1972) he moved into the realm of the purely human. It established Bertolucci as a commercially viable director as well as a highly gifted one." - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

"The psychological and intellectual man in society has been brilliantly explored by Bertolucci." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"I'm no longer interested in making political films. There's something old-fashioned about them. Young people now don't care for politics. It isn't present in life as it used to be. And increasingly I like films which reflect present-day reality." - Bernardo Bertolucci (1999)

Biographical Entry from Ephraim Katz' The Film Encyclopedia

Interview with Bertolucci by Nathan Rabin, The Onion A/V Club, 2004

An even better interview by David Thompson at the BFI National Film Theater, 2003

Very few international directors in the past four decades have managed to remain at the “critically successful” as consistently as Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, whose career has straddled three generations of filmmaking, four continents, and several movie industries. Alongside his provocative explorations of sexuality and ideology, his highly kinetic visual style – often characterised by elaborate camera moves, meticulous lighting, symbolic use of colour, and inventive editing – has influenced several generations of filmmakers, from the American “movie brats” of the 1970s to the music video auteurs of the '80s and '90s. Perhaps the most important reason for Bertolucci's continuing relevance has been the intensely personal nature of his movies: although he makes narrative features, very often based (albeit loosely) on outside literary sources, Bertolucci's films over the decades reveal distinct connections to their creator's private dilemmas and the vagaries of his creative and intellectual life. In other words, he has been able to fulfill his dream of being able “to live films” and “to think cinematographically” – to lay bare his inner life through his work.

- Bilge Ebiri, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Bertolucci's films exude a stylishness and filmic beauty that has rarely been captured by the artifice of cinema, yet the substance of Bertolucci's films, and indeed his primary point, remains quite confused and vague. While Bertolucci openly criticises and 'mocks' the conventions of Western cinema, his films tend to resemble collages or aglomerations of well-designed set-pieces that do not coalesce into a unified form. Perhaps, this was Bertolucci's intent, to create a cinema that defies categorization and elucidation. The interrogations in The Grim Reaper resonate with self-reflective examinations of film; as Bertolucci queries the form and substance of cinema. However, Bertolucci's interrogations manifest themselves in extremely varied and uncomfortable constructions, as he cannot seem to fully devote himself to an interpretation.

This lack of coherence and the inconsistency reaches its height in Before the Revolution, which, although being quite breathtakingly beautiful, is absurdly self- engrossed. Bertolucci's later Spider's Stratagem and The Conformist engage in a self-reflexive hyper-realism that borders on visual genius. Bertolucci's critique of the spectator and fascism gives breathtaking insight into the apparatus of 'propaganda' and the emotional usurping of the individual within the web of 'cinema.' Bertolucci challenges the 'authority' of film by holding images and viewers hostage (willingly, of course) with a political and ideological blitzkrieg.

- Keith Breese

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI is a true child of the cinema. His father, a poet and teacher of art history in Parma and Rome, was also a film critic, and little Bernardo tagged along with him to two or three films a day. Bertolucci made his first film—a ten-minute short—when he was 15, his first feature when he was 20. By that time, he had also published a prizewinning book of poetry, In Search of Mystery, and worked as an assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini on Accattone! "He was just as virgin to the cinema as I was," Bertolucci recalls. "So I didn't watch a director at work. I watched a director being born."

Bertolucci was born as a director with his second feature, Before the Revolution, which brought him, at 23, the sort of critical tributes once lavished on the youthful Orson Welles. The film's title recalls Marx, but it is actually taken from Talleyrand: "He who did not live in the years before the revolution cannot understand what the sweetness of living is." The film is about a young man's struggle to reconcile radical politics with an almost lavish romanticism, to fuse Marx and Talleyrand in his lofty, poetic soul. Revolution has the intimate feeling of a personal memoir, of experience hardly assimilated and still freshly felt.

Revolution also set the pattern of Bertolucci's lush, visual style, a kind of free-flowing flamboyance that seems to be a celebration of the act of filmmaking. There were references to movies, countless movies, everything from early Godard to Red River. Bertolucci continues this tradition of paying homage to his mentors: In The Spider's Stratagem, made in 1969, the camera lingers briefly over a poster for Robert Aldrich's Wagnerian western The Last Sunset; in Tango there is a scene aboard a barge, between Maria Schneider and Jean-Pierre Leaud, that is meant to evoke Jean Vigo's classic L'Atalante.

- Time Magazine, January 22, 1973

Bertolucci made his first film after years of apprenticeship with some of the greatest personalities of the Italian artistic scene. Introduced by his father, Attilio, the famous Italian poet and literary critic, Bertolucci started attending regular discussion meetings of an artistic group that included Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Giorgio Bassani, the brothers Sergio and Franco Citti, and P.P. Pasolini, the host. Two women, both aspiring actresses, belonged as regular guests at Pasolini's house: Laura Betti and Adriana Asti. But soon there was a rift, caused by Bertolucci, at the time an extremely attractive young man. Betti wanted to influence his life and career, but he preferred the less explosive Asti, choosing her for the leading female role of his second film Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution, 1964) and eventually marrying her. Betti, who became one of Italy's best actresses, did not speak to them for years. The encounters at Pasolini's place went on (after 1963 in his modern duplex at Via Eufrate), but Bertolucci and Asti were rarely among the guests. In retrospect, it seems that it was not Asti who caused the split. Rather, Bertolucci wanted to free himself from the influence of Pasolini, whom he first met at the age of fifteen.

Yet it took many years for Bertolucci to liberate himself from his "spiritual father." In 1975, he contended: "Pier Paolo Pasolini has always been a father figure to me. When he spoke badly about Last Tango in Paris, I felt a kind of liberation. The more he insisted on the film's poor qualities, the more he was destroying his image of the father figure."

- Mira Liehm, Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present. Published by University of California Press, 1986. Page 191

945 (87). Il Sorpasso / The Easy Life (1962, Dino Risi)

screened December 28 2008 on VHS in Weehawken NJ TSPDT rank #828 IMDb Wiki

Dino Risi, who passed away this June to little fanfare, helmed nearly 80 features over a career spanning seven decades, the most celebrated of them being this road comedy, one of the early influencers of the genre.  A mild-mannered student (Jean-Louis Trintignant, more buttoned-up than usual) has his eyes opened to the excitements and vices of booming 60s Italy when he's taken for a ride by a braggadocio businessman (Vittorio Gassman, whose last name fits his character in terms of his talking and driving).  The garrulous script is co-written by Ettore Scola (We All Loved Each Other So Much, A Special Day), and it shows in the story's reliance on broad social types who require a full story arc to acquire dimension and pathos. Trintignant never overcomes the flat naivete of his character, basically a prop for Gassman's blowhard hedonism, which borders on belligerence (not surprisingly, Risi also wrote and directed the original version of Scent of a Woman).  But when Gassman points out a family secret to his protege's unbelieving eyes, he gains credibility as a social critic who's not so much an asshole as too smart for his own good, earning the film a rib-jabbing cynicism worthy of Billy Wilder.  The sudden, tragic ending feels as arbitrary as the one in Easy Rider [TSPDT #331], a film it allegedly inspired, while other sardonic moments are undercut by the film's essential ambivalence towards its own social critique: a fete full of gum-chewing teenyboppers eager to lose their virginity brims with leering undertones of adult envy; a sun-baked beach party exceeds tourist ad levels of brain-fried fun. The Easy Life's ambivalent worldview may lack the singular formal curiosity of Antonioni (whose L'Eclisse is the target of the film's biggest punch lines) or the carnivalesque lyricism of Fellini, but the way it mixes equal parts hipper-than-thou wisecracks, mainstream morality and tasty dollops of la dolce vita may account for its mass appeal.

Want to go deeper?

Opening Sequence on YouTube:

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Il Sorpaso / The Easy Life on the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Joaquin Oristrell, Nickel Odeon (1994) Orlando Lubbert, Miscellaneous (2001) Paolo D'Agostini, Sight & Sound (1992) Rainer Knepperges, Steadycam (2007) CIAK, 100 Capola Vori del Cinema (2000) Italian Critics Best Italian Films 1942-1978 (2008) Jose Luis Guarner, Genre Favourites: Comedy (1993) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Vittorio Gassman as a middle-aged playboy who takes law student Jean-Louis Trintignant under his wing, the better to teach him the cynical lessons of modern Italian living. Dino Risi's corrosive social comedy managed to combine the aggressive energy of the French New Wave and the dissipated drift of Antoniennui in a way that seemed fresh and daring in the Italian commercial cinema of 1962. It still holds up today, though Risi's attachment to surfaces (the superficial as corollary of the social) looks less like criticism than complicity. Still, it's an unsentimental vision he offers, edging toward nihilism, with little of the thematic softening and emotional backing off that frequently mar the comparable efforts of Wilder. The cynicism is thoroughgoing and more than a little heartless, but the styling, with its astute balancing of commerce and modernist understanding, is resolutely assured.

- Pat Graham, The Chicago Reader

DINO RISI, the Italian writer-director known here only for "Poor But Beautiful" ("Poveri Ma Belli"), shown in New York five years ago, has improved immensely to judge by "The Easy Life" ("Il Sorpasso"), which arrived at the Festival Theater yesterday. For his examination of an aimless wastrel and his destructive effect on an idealistic youngster and others, he merely touches on his flight from responsibility in a seemingly simple and obvious, yet sensitive commentary on what certainly are universal faults.

Call this a comedy-drama in which the comedy is only a surface symptom. Basically, Mr. Risi and his scenarists are telling the story of Bruno, a youthful but middle-aged happy-go-lucky type, who adores his fast white roadster as much as he does the girls and the self-indulgent life it symbolizes. This is also the story of Roberto, an ill-fated serious, Caspar Milquetoast-type of Roman law student who is drawn, quite casually, into Bruno's swift orbit for two days during which he loses not only his perspectives and ideals but also his life.

The views and the girls are extremely photogenic and the headlong dash toward fun and games would appear to be obvious and somewhat pointless if they did not add up to a dramatic whole.

But Mr. Risi's fast-paced direction and, more important, the truths he underlines, give his uncluttered film meaning and poignancy as well as mere speed. He is fortunate in his principals, too. Vittorio Gassman makes a superbly brash, coarse, hail-fellow-well-met Bruno who, in one of his rare moments of honest sadness, warns Roberto away from his "easy life" because "I've never had a real friend." As the diffident, introspective Roberto, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who has been seen here in a variety of French films, is excellent as his opposite number, an impressionable youngster whose shame and fears finally turn to admiration of his strange friend's "easy life."

- The New York Times, December 23, 1963

After learning about commedia all’Italiano, I found more to appreciate in The Easy Life. I had always found the film a high-spirited adventure made on a modest budget and influenced by the breezy style of the French New Wave, but now I see it as the embodiment of comedy, Italian style. The deceptively simple story follows the adventures of Roberto, a young college student who is persuaded to hit the road with Bruno, an older playboy. Bruno drives a gleaming white sports way too fast, and he honks the cutesy-sounding horn way too much; the car makes a nice symbol of Bruno’s larger-than-life but invasive presence. My favorite part of Bruno’s car is the tiny record player built into the dashboard. In one scene, Roberto pops in a favorite record as the old man who is their temporary passenger looks on in wonder. (This is the pre-audiocassette era but who knew there were cars equipped with record players!).

The pair whiz past newly built apartment buildings that all look alike, stop by a popular but overly crowded new tourist spot along the beach, talk about modern alienation as revealed in the new Antonioni movie, and listen to new music in Bruno’s high-priced sports car — all the result of the economic prosperity and consumerism foisted on the public by marketing and advertising.

The audience identifies with Roberto, and sometimes the camera is positioned in the car’s back seat, creating the illusion that we are riding along with the pair and are part of the party. Like Roberto, we are repelled by Bruno (the embodiment of the new Italy), who is rude, crass, and disrespectful of religion, monogamy, and other traditional values. But, also like Roberto, we are attracted to this handsome playboy, because he is sexy, fun, and just too hip for the room. Yet, we are right to be wary of him, and at the end of the film, we discover the consequences of his lifestyle and its influence on a new generation. The film’s title, The Easy Way, has a double meaning; it not only refers to Bruno’s preferred lifestyle but it was also contemporary slang for Italy’s economic boom.

- suzidoll, TCM Movie Morlocks blog

There are curves that you cannot fail to remember. We're are not talking about breasts here, we're talking about the Calafuria reef near Castiglioncello. This is where Bruno Cortona (interpreted by Jean-Louis Trintignant) died in a car accident, in the Italian cult movie Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life) by Dino Risi. The shore between Livorno and Rosignano has always been famous as a tourist spot, but after hosting the set of Il Sorpasso, Vittorio Gassman's most popular movie, it turned into a symbolic place, forever branding the Italian cinematographic imaginary.

The movie by Dino Risi - who recently passed away at the age of 91 - was shot in the summer of 1961, casting places like the Pineta Marradi, the Pratovecchio and the Romito on the movie screens, giving a new dimension to the cinematographic holidays. Il Sorpasso pictured the road as a symbolic space, taking place at the end of the Italian boom ruined by the individualism and coarseness of industrial society, turning this movie into a national cultural phenomenon and allegedly inspired the American road movie Easy Rider. The movie's most memorable symbol is the Via Aurelia, the Roman road which also gives the name to Vittorio Gassman's spyder, the Aurelia B24. The trip starts from the capital's high class quarters, winds down the "borgate romane" (the working-class suburbs of Rome) and runs along the Fregene and Capalbio shores, motoring through places that capture the generational myth of the summer holidays and the awkward euphoria of people who have just discovered the freedom of the open road.

- Martina Magno, Emanuela Marchetti, Check In Architecture. See accompanying video with footage of locations from the film as they exist today:

About Dino Risi

IMDb Wiki

There is a brief but telling scene in Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life, 1962) that encapsulates his vision as a film-maker. In it, Vittorio Gassman’s playboy parks his racer illegally, and then casually tucks under the windscreen wiper the parking ticket from a neighbouring car so as to avoid getting a fine himself.

The gesture’s mix of elegance, bravado and cunning are for Risi both the best and worst of his fellow Italians’ characteristics, and emblematic too of the country’s postwar transformation from the values of a traditional society to those of consumerism.

This theme supplied the material for the most successful of his 50-odd films, and customarily led Risi to be hailed as one of the chief creators, both as director and screenwriter, of the commedia all’italiana, at once funny and tragic. It might be more insightful, however, to say that the preoccupations of his films simply chimed with his own character — sardonic, melancholic, perpetually unfaithful and disappointed in love. He had trained as a psychiatrist, and his work is notable for its psychological insight.

- The Times Online

The title "maestro of Italian film comedy" was one that Dino Risi, who has died aged 91, shared with Mario Monicelli, 18 months older, but still alive. Along with the late Pietro Germi, who made Divorce, Italian Style (1961), they created the genre which became known as "comedy Italian style", a considerable improvement on the average Italian comic films of the time. Even if Risi's 1974 film Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman), with Vittorio Gassman as man trying to come to terms with his blindness, was perhaps his greatest international success (winning him an Oscar nomination for its screenplay and a Hollywood remake with Al Pacino) it was his 1962 comedy, also starring Gassman, Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life), which was to become a cult movie. It is among the films that most reflected the mood of its times, in this case the social malaise behind the Italian economic "miracle" of the 1960s.

Like Germi and Monicelli, but also Federico Fellini, of whom he was a friend and admirer, Risi never took part in the militant political battles of those years, and was thus often snubbed by leftist intellectuals, but among his 50 or so features, many were biting satires of Italian foibles in which Gassman, who made 16 films under his direction, and other great stars of those years such as Ugo Tognazzi, Marcello Mastroianni, Nino Manfredi, Sophia Loren and Monica Vitti had scintillating and significant roles.

Risi was the son of a distinguished Milan doctor who was the physician of the La Scala opera house: among his patients was a young journalist named Benito Mussolini. But the Risi family was anti-fascist, and after the armistice of 1943 it refused to become involved with Mussolini's puppet republic of Salò. The family took refuge in Switzerland, where Dino and his brother Nelo, a poet also destined to become a film director, forgot their medical studies and became interested in films.

In Geneva, Risi took a film course with exiled French director Jacques Feyder. Back in Milan after the war, to please his father he got his medical degree, but started making short films. One of these, Darkness in the Cinema, about a man suffering from depression who after an afternoon in the cinema recovers his joy for life, was seen by the producer Carlo Ponti, who bought it and hired Risi as a scriptwriter.

After his first two forgotten features, in 1955 he directed Loren in two films, in both of which she co-starred with Vittorio de Sica. One was The Sign of Venus, the other Scandal in Sorrento, the third of the popular Bread and Love films (Pane, Amore e ...), which the director of the first two films, Luigi Comencini, and their star Gina Lollobrigida had declined to make. These were followed by a series of comedy successes with young stars which were scathingly accused of turning neorealism into "rosy realism", but expanded the possibilities for Risi as a director.

In 1961 he made A Porte Chiuse (Behind Closed Doors) with Anita Ekberg, with whom he had an affair. That same year he made Una Vita Difficile (A Difficult Life), his first cynical look at the "social malaise" of the times, scripted by Rodolfo Sonego, in which Alberto Sordi plays an idealistic communist party follower who finally gives in to the temptations of the new capitalist era only when in desperate economic plight. Humiliated, he makes a pathetic if dignified attempt to save his honour. Recently restored, this film has at last won due recognition.

But it was the clamorous success of Il Sorpasso the next year that finally took Risi out of the "rosy realism" ghetto. Gassman played the phoney playboy driving a sports car around a deserted Rome on a summer's day who induces a studious young man (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) to keep him company, dragging him into an "Easy Rider" trip towards adventures on the road and in seaside resorts, before a reckless "sorpasso" (overtaking) sends the car over the cliffs. Gassman is thrown out of the car and survives, but Trintignant is killed. The producer did not want the tragic end, saying: "This is a comedy!" Risi made a bet with him: "If it rains tomorrow, I'll agree to find a happier ending." It did not rain, and the director's ending was shot as written, without damaging its box-office triumph.

Among his subsequent hits, of varying quality, the one still most appreciated remains I Mostri (The Monsters, 1963), 20 sketches in which Gassman and Tognazzi were given the chance to indulge in grotesque caricatures that ranged from fanatical soccer fans to corrupt politicians, a rogues' gallery that can still make Italians laugh and wince. But Risi would often tackle serious subjects such as in Caro Papà (Dear Dad, 1979), in which Gassman played a businessman former partisan, whose son studies semiotics but is a member of a terrorist group. He discovers too late that his son had been trying to convince his comrades not to execute him.

In 2002 Risi was given the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice film festival. Two years earlier he had already made his last film, a cynical look at the Miss Italy beauty contest which was shown only on television.

He was separated from his Swiss-born wife Claudia, mother of his two sons, Marco and Claudio, both film directors. He is survived by them and by the choreographer Leonice Snell, with whom he has lived for the past 30 years.

- Obiturary by John Francis Lane, The Guardian, June 9 2008

In the early 1950s, Italian cinema was turning away from the politically charged movement known as neorealism, with its harsh, documentary-like depiction of daily life. Adding an element of sentimentality and comedy, Mr. Risi joined a group of filmmakers who at first were condemned with the label “rose-colored neorealism,” but quickly earned the affection of an Italian public eager to put war trauma in the past.

- Obituary by Dave Kehr, The New York Times, June 9, 2008

Risi is considered one of the prime creators of "rose-tinted" neo-realism ("neo-realismo rosa"), having big box-office hits with Pane, amore e . . . (Scandal in Sorrento, 1955), starring Sophia Loren at her most voluptuous, and Poveri ma belli (Poor But Beautiful, 1956), after which he established himself as a master of caustic Neapolitan comedies that used buffoonery to satirise the often bleak realities of contemporary Italian life. "The Neapolitans say that there is no burial without a burst of laughter," he said. "Life is a mixture of the serious and the comical, the good and the bad, continuously."

Notable among these early movies was the first film he directed starring Gassman, Il Mattatore (Love and Larceny, 1959), and a very funny comedy poking fun at Italy's judiciary, A Porte Chiuse (Behind Closed Doors, 1960), featuring a delightful performance by Anita Ekberg as an amoral beauty on trial for the murder of her wealthy lover. Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life, 1962) starred Gassman as a hedonist travelling around Italy in a sports car with a shy student (Jean-Louis Tritagnant) and was described by the critic Paolo D'Agostini as "a skilful description of Italy's and Rosi's own transition from youthful euphoria to utilitarian cynicism."

Rosi told the French historian Jean A. Gili, "I joined the ranks, not of militant realism, but of those films which later revealed themselves to be perhaps even more politically committed than the ones that claimed to be, in their stressing of the evils of Italian society".

Asked to define his directorial style, Risi replied that it was hybrid. "Critics like classifications, they always want to put you in a compartment. I bring subjects to the screen that I'm interested in and which can be very dramatic, though I always add a pinch of irony in even the most serious stories". Risi was given a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 2002, the year he retired after spending his final years mainly writing for television. In 2004 he published an autobiography, I miei mostri ("My monsters").

- Tom Vallance, The Independent

936 (77). Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa... / Sandra / Of a Thousand Delights (1965, Luchino Visconti)

Screened November 26, 2008 on DivX in South San Francisco, CA TSPDT rank #638 IMDb Wiki

Filming what many consider his apotheosis, The Leopard (TSPDT #71), Luchino Visconti landed on the theme that would occupy him for the remainder of his career: the imminent obsolescene of his own class, the aristocracy. In his follow-up to The Leopard Visconti revisits the Italian upper class in their crumbling modern environs, following the titular expatriate (Claudia Cardinale) and her American husband on a return trip to the family estate.  Ghosts of the past take form in the suspected murder of Sandra's father by her mother and her lover, the family lawyer, and the incestuous desires of her estranged brother, compelling her to turn her family reunion into a series of ugly confrontations. Cardinale lends furrow-browed intensity to the most challenging role of her career, but her attempts at seriousness are undermined by Visconti's puzzling insistence to shoot her in as titillating a manner as possible, lingering on her cleavage, legs and bare back, reducing her to an arthouse Brigitte Bardot.  Combined with her brother's anguished caterwauling, the affair risks being undermined by unintentional camp, sogged by the same hysteria that pushes Rocco and His Brothers (TSPDT #185) over the top. Visconti would do more interesting things with this undercurrent of self-parody in his later films; at best this is a puzzling transitional work, with outstanding gothic atmospherics to recommend it, courtesy of an outstanding antique villa for a set that speaks hushed volumes on its own.

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa on the TSPDT 1000:

Jean-Louis Leutrat, Sight & Sound (2002) Marcel Oms, Positif (1991) Omar Al-Qattan, Sight & Sound (1992) Suzanne Liandrat- Guigues, Positif (1991) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

This film is an unusual "police" film. It was called Modern Electra but, in order to explain the term "police film", I will refer to another tragedy: Oedipus Rex, one of the first police films. In Oedipus Rex, the culprit is the least suspect (Oedipus who, at the beginning of the story, calls himself "the only stranger".)

Perhaps the ancient audience would leave the theatre convinced that the real culprit is not Oedipus but Fate; however, this convenient explanation is not sufficient for the contemporary audience. The audience dismisses the charges against Oedipus and makes him feel guilty only to the extent that the story affects him personally...

Sandra's conscience, motivated by the "event" (return to the family home), starts searching for the truth: a truth completely different to the one Sandra believed was ingrained in herself; a painful truth that a character like her might never manage to learn entirely.

Therefore, Sandra and her victims (or her persecutors) find their position in modern society or, rather, they discover that they no longer belong there and, through their own drama, help us to better comprehend the reality and the meaning of our historical condition.

If I am allowed to work again on a theme I loved at the beginning of my career, I would say that today, more than ever, I am interested in anthropocentric cinema. The film Sandra of a Thousand Delights is a verification - and not an exception - of this dominant interest. That's why I made this film.

- Luchino Visconti, Introduction to the publication of the screenplay, Capelli, 1965

If you are looking for the parallels in "Sandra," which opened at the Fine Arts yesterday (following its single showing at the New York Film Festival last fall), you will see that this dour Italian picture, which Luchino Visconti has made with the beautiful Claudia Cardinale in the title role, can be viewed as a modern adaptation of the dark and passionate tale of Electra and her brother, Orestes, as told in Greek targedy...

It is by pictorial suggestion that Mr. Visconti conveys the singular hollowness, remoteness, and morbidity of his tale. It is from the shadowy environment that the hints of shapeless mysteries emerge. And the passion that flames in the few clashes between Miss Cardinale and Jean Sorel as her indolent, decadent brother who wants to fix himself to her again acquires momentary convictions mainly from its setting within this ornate Borgian frame.

It is not an especially gripping story that this dimly reflective picture tells, nor is it one that resolves any interest in the impulses of incest or normal love. It is just an echo of far emotional thunder against which Miss Cardinale moves with a fine air of grim preoccupation and frequent startling exposes of physique. Mr. Sorel is slow and shaggy as her brother. Nothing really emerges from him. And Michael Craig is stolid as the baffled husband who finds his comfort in a well caressed pipe. Renzo Ricci is raw and realistic as the lawyer who is rightly peeved with the whole deal, and Marie Bell gives a vivid notion of the anguish of a demented woman in one strong scene.

More than a modernized "Electra," this "Sandra," which was known in Italy as "Vaghe Stella Dell 'Orsa" ("Dim Stars of the Big Bear") might better be viewed as an extension of the despair for a crumbling upper class that Mr. Visconti expressed in "The Leopard." It is an agonized farewell to the past.

- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, January 17, 1966

Luchino Visconti poaches on the neighboring property of Alain Resnais and Douglas Sirk in this melodramatic 1965 study of a woman's journey into her past, a past that contains a father murdered by the Nazis, a mother driven to insanity, and incidental implications of adolescent incest. Much maligned in its time, the film has been creeping back into critical respectability: thanks to Fassbinder, melodrama has become acceptable again. Still, it doesn't seem completely successful, even in the gentle light of revisionism--feelings and motives remain rather murky, and Claudia Cardinale's overambitious portrayal of the heroine does little to clarify things.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

Visconti's retelling of the Electra story starts with Sandra/Electra (Cardinale) returning to her ancestral home in Italy - and reviving an intimate involvement with her brother (Sorel) which troubles her naive American husband (Craig) - on the eve of an official ceremony commemorating the death of her Jewish father in a Nazi concentration camp. As ever with Visconti, he is ambivalently drawn to the decadent society he is ostensibly criticising; and Armando Nannuzzi's camera lovingly caresses the creaking old mansion, set in a landscape of crumbling ruins, where the incestuous siblings determine to wreak revenge on the mother (Bell) and stepfather (Ricci) who supposedly denounced their father. Something like a Verdi opera without the music, the result may not quite achieve tragedy, but it looks marvellous. The title, culled from a poem by Leopardi, has been better rendered as 'Twinkling Stars of the Bear'.

- Time Out

Vaghe stelle dell'orsa removes the critique of the family from the social to the psychoanalytic plane. While death or absence of the father and the presence of an uprising surrogate is a thematic consideration in several Visconti films, he here explores it in conjunction with Freudian theory in this deliberate yet entirely transmuted retelling of the Elektra myth. We are never completely aware of the extent of the relationship between Sandra and her brother, and the possibility of past incest remains distinct. Both despise their stepfather Gilardini, whom they accuse of having seduced their mother and having denounced their father, a Jew, to the Fascists. Sandra's love for and sense of solidarity with her brother follows upon a racial solidarity with her father and race, but Gianni's love, on the other hand, is underpinned by a desire for his mother, transferred to Sandra. Nevertheless, dramatic confrontation propels the dialectical investigations of the individual's position with respect to the social even in this, Visconti's most densely psychoanalytic film.

- Joel Kanoff, Film Reference.com

As he did in Il Gattopardo (1963) and would do again in The Damned (1969), Visconti explores the decay and collapse of an aristocratic family as a reflection of national history. Both Claudia and Gianni feel driven to connect the dots of family history. Their stirring up a cauldron of secrets and suspiciousness ultimately shatters one of them, who commits suicide. Mourning may become Electra, but Claudia heads back to America—in its simplicity, heartlessness and obliviousness (qualities represented by her spouse), a refuge from her obsessions with father, brother, Italy, the past.

We have, then, a skeletons-in-the-closet film, one that generates ancient echoes through its absorption and delicate rendering of the Electra myth. Italy has made many haunted films about its Fascist past and the German oocupation, but this may be the most gripping. Armando Nannuzzi’s black-and-white cinematography encompasses claustrophobic darkness and sorely ironic ravishing light. It befits an operatic mood-piece about unsettled and unsettling events, both familial and national.

- Dennis Grunes

About Luchino Visconti

IMDb Wiki

Biography at the BFI

A content-rich biographical entry by Michael Walford at the University of Warwick Kinoeye blog

Quotes found at the TSPDT profile page for Visconti

"This Italian director offered strong, stern, unremitting portraits of societies, often high, and veneers crumbling under exterior pressures. Most of them are impressive, and beautifully decorated with all the visual elegance of a man who was both set designer and costume designer early in his career. However, after 1960, they have progressively less to offer in terms of entertainment. A trip to a late Visconti film became increasingly an occasion for admiration rather than enjoyment." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"A Marxist aristocrat, Count Don Luchino Visconti di Morone was widely praised for both the realism and vaguely politicised tone of his early films, and the operatic sumptuousness of his later historical costume dramas. Throughout his career, however, style dominated content; all too often, the result was camp, decorative melodrama disguised as solemn, socially significant art." - Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)

"The films of Luchino Visconti are among the most stylistically and intellectually influential of postwar Italian cinema. Born a scion of ancient nobility, Visconti integrated the most heterogeneous elements of aristocratic sensibility and taste with a committed Marxist political consciousness, backed by a firm knowledge of Italian class structure...Visconti turned out films steadily but rather slowly from 1942 to 1976. His obsessive care with narrative and filmic materials is apparent in the majority of his films." - Joel Kanoff (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

"A director of intense, frequently opulent dramas, Visconti began his career as one of the purveyors of Italian neorealism (La Terra trema, 48) of a heavy, surging kind. Later he was more grandiose, cutting to the depths of human emotions in decadent atmospheres." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

Luchino Visconti occupies a singular position in film history. He was instrumental in the creation of modern cinema by being the first to throw down the neo-realist gauntlet with Ossessione (1942) and later contributed one of the movement's canonical cornerstones, La Terra Trema (1948). Of the three giants of the first wave of post war neo-realists, he was the only one to maintain his position at the forefront of art cinema into the '60s, when Rossellini had moved to television and De Sica was making more commercial films. Visconti's later career was devoted to the creation of a series of period movies including Senso (1954), The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, 1963) and Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia, 1971) that are still without parallel in terms of atmosphere, detail and sheer dramatic force. It was in these that his genius, although often evident from his earliest work onwards, developed fully.

- Maximilian Le Cain, from "Visconti's Cinema of Twilight," published in Senses of Cinema

It is not the nicest face one ever saw on a film director: as cruel as a hawk, as supercilious as an aristocrat who does not expect to be understood, it glared out through the cigarette smoke of an 120-a-day habit. Luchino Visconti imposed himself on others and on his productions. On The Leopard, when he had to accept his producer's decision to cast Burt Lancaster as the Sicilian prince, he responded by ignoring the American actor. It was domination through distance. Yet observers noted how, gradually, the shrewd but insecure Lancaster began to pick up the lordly gestures, the sneers and the mannerisms, of Visconti himself. The actor had learned that you can't expect a real aristocrat to explain himself, or to be accessible. But he can offer an example. When the film was a triumph, and took the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Visconti must have been all the more resolved to stay aloof and alone.

Visconti, who died in 1976, has not exactly faded away. Yet surely he is not the power he was. It will be interesting to see whether the immersion that is coming our way will hasten his removal, or make this gloomy narcissist a model for much larger things. In 1962, in Sight and Sound's poll of the best films ever made, Visconti's La Terra Trema (1948) finished at number nine. Today that starkly beautiful and formal, yet allegedly neo-realist study of poor fishermen in Sicily is rarely seen. The gulf between the poverty of the people and the richness of the art is a little hard to take. In 2002, Visconti was not in the top 10, yet some critics and film-makers held out for a few films - Senso, Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, Ludwig. There was even one vote for Death in Venice, which in some quarters is regarded as a gruesome parody of the "art film".

- David Thomson, The Guardian

The final state to be considered would be the crystal in the process of decomposition. The work of Visconti shows this. This work reached its perfection when Visconti was able both to distinguish and put into play, in varying combinations, four fundamental elements which haunted him. In the first place, the aristocratic world of the rich, the aristocratic former-rich: this is what is crystalline, but like a synthetic crystal, because it is outside history and nature, outside divine creation... The abbot in The Leopard will explain it: we do not understand these rich, because they have created a world to themselves, whose laws we are unable to grasp, and where what seems to us secondary or even inopportune takes on an extraordinary urgency and importance; their motives always escape us like rites whose religion is not known (as in the old prince who gets his country back and orders a picnic). This world is not that of the creative artist, even though Death in Venice presents a musician, but precisely one whose work has been too intellectual and cerebral. Nor is it a world of simple art enthusiasts. Rather, they are surrounded by art; they are profoundly 'knowledge about' art both as works and as life, but it is this knowledge which separates them from life and creation, as in the teacher in Conversation Piece. They demand freedom, but a freedom which they enjoy like an empty privilege which could come to them from elsewhere, from the forebears from whom they are descended, and from the art by which they are surrounded...

But, in the second place, these crystalline environments are inseparable from a process of decomposition which eats away at them from within, and makes them dark and opaque: the rotting of Ludwig II's teeth, family rot which takes over the teacher in Conversation Piece, the debasement of Ludwig II's love affairs; and incest everywhere as in the Bavarian family, the return of Sandra, the abomination of The Damned; everywhere the thirst for murder and suicide, or the need for forgetting and death, as the old prince says on behalf of the whole of Sicily. It is not just that these aristocrats are on the brink of being reuined; the approaching ruin is only a consequence. For it is a vanished past, but one which survives in the artificial crystal, which is waiting for them, absorbing them and snapping them up, taking away all their power at the same time as they become lodged it. Thus the famous tracking shot with which Sandra opens: this is not displacement in space but sinking into time without exit.

The third element in Visconti is history. Because, of course, it doubles decomposition, accelerates or even explains it: wars, assumption of power by new forces, the rise of the new rich, who are not interested in penetrating the secret laws of the old world, but aim to make it disappear...

And then there is the fourth element, the most important in Visconti, because it ensures the unity and circulation of the others. This is the idea, or rather the revelation, that something arrives too late. Caught in time, this could perhaps have avoided the natural decomposition and historical dismantling of the crystal-image. But it is history, and nature itself, the structure of the crystal, which make it impossible for this to arrive in time.

- Gilles Deleuze, from Cinema 2: The Time Image, Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005, pages 91-93

About Claudia Cardinale

IMDb Wiki

UK Tribute Site

Claudia Cardinale has a MySpace page

Cardinale was discovered during the era when Brigitte Bardot created one sensation after another both on screen and off. Cardinale could merely have become "the Italian Bardot," and, indeed comparisons have been drawn between the two actresses. But a number of factors helped lead Cardinale's career in a different direction. The publicity surrounding both Cardinale's films and her personal life was not nearly as sensational as that concerning Bardot. More importantly, Cardinale soon began appearing in the films of the major Italian auteurs. Minor, and later more substantial, roles in the films of Mario Monicelli, Mauro Bolognini, Luchino Visconti, and Federico Fellini made her a star in Italy and abroad.

- Susan M. Doll, Film Reference.com

931 (72). C'eravamo tanto amati / We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974, Ettore Scola)

screened November 8 2008 on Columbia VHS in New York, NY

TSPDT rank #734  IMDb

The premise plays like a joke: a Marxist, a capitalist and a common worker stumble through four decades of post-World War II Italy, each pursuing their ideal of what modern society largely at the expense of the others. The joke is on all of them, as Ettore Scola and fellow writers Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli plot a bittersweet march from the exuberant hope following the end of Fascism to a 1970s dystopia of class stratification and red tape, where middle class families huddle overnight just to enroll their kids in schools while the rich idle away in comfortable seclusion. Scola and company trade in rough caricatures, betraying mild contempt for both the ineffectual intellectual (Stefana Satta Flores) who leaves his wife and child to puruse a pipe dream of socialism through cinema education, and the selfish industrialist (Vittorio Gassman) who spends a lifetime accumulating wealth and privilege while turning his back on those who love him.  Their fellow war buddy, a hapless hospital orderly (Nino Manfredi) who remains steadfast to his principles as well as to their common love interest (Stefania Sandrelli), is left as the de facto hero of the middlebrow.

There's about as much - or rather, little - insight into the historical period covered here as there is in Robert Zimeckis' Forrest Gump (TSPDT rank #577) - both films share the trait of interpreting historical developments in terms of moral shortcomings among individuals caused by their selfishness and ignorance.  Fortunately Scola and company infuse their simplistic overview with enough witty, knowing dialogue to keep the proceedings engaging. Perhaps most interesting is the linking of the failure of post-war Italian society to that of neo-realist cinema. The fierce concern for the plight of all humanity of such films as Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (TSPDT #15) gives way to the industrial boom and pursuit of individual wealth of the 50s and 60s. In Scola's sardonic view, the legacy of neo-realism amounts to little more than the million dollar answer of a television game show, which the contestant, a passionate cinephile, isn't even able to answer correctly.

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"We All Loved Each Other So Much" is the forgettably awkward title of Ettore Scola's wise, reflective Italian comedy that examines 30 years of recent Italian social history in terms of the friendship of three men and the one woman each man has loved at one time or another. It's the sort of thing for which European film makers, especially Italian, have a special feeling, while Americans have none whatsoever, if only because American producers are made uneasy by movies that are about friendship and that attempt to cover so much time.

"We All Loved Each Other So Much," which opened yesterday at the Beekman, is full of fondness, rue, outrage and high spirits. It is also—surprising for an Italian film—packed with the kind of movie references that French filmmakers like, and it is dedicated to the late Vittorio DeSica, whose "Bicycle Thief" plays a prominent part in the picture.

Mr. Scola, who has been represented here both as a writer ("Il Sorpasso") and director ("Made in Italy," "The Pizza Triangle," among others), employs a comic style that is effective for being loose, allowing him to introduce real people as themselves, to parody "Strange Interlude's" spoken interior thoughts, to go from slapstick to satire and then to drama of genuine feelings.

At its best, the film combines a number of different emotions at once, as when the film-obsessed Nico attempts to teach Luciana the fundamentals of Sergei Eisenstein's theory of montage on Rome's Spanish Steps, all the while seducing her.

Though the film is very funny at moments, the dominant mood is a sense of loss, but even here the film makes its point in a backhanded way. "We wanted to change the world, but the world changed us," says Antonio, the aging hospital orderly. Yet Mr. Scola recognizes this as the windy cliché of someone given to self-dramatization. After 30 years the three friends are more worn, more tired, more experienced than they were as young men, but neither the world nor time has changed them in any essential ways. That's the bitter truth.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, May 24, 1977

Neorealism... can be considered the father of Italian comedy, even if the latter was born precisely as a reaction against neorealism. Neorealism trieed to restore the dramatic and authentic face of the Italiy of those years, while the Italian comedy, with opposing, solely evasive intentions, tried to fabricate a concilatory, rural, Don Camillesque Italian picture of "bread" and of "love." The Italian comedy began thus, in a rather false way. Little by little, however, it grew, it took to following ever more closely and critically the progress of society. It registered its changes, illusions, realities, from the "boom" to the "crack," it continued to corroding some of the taboos of which Catholic Italiy is the victim, taboos of family, sex, institutions...

Anxiety about irresponsible uses of the medium and the failure of the masses to apprehend cinematic teachings - these are the filmmaker's preoccupations in We All Loved Each Other So Much. If the film should really be entitled C'eravamo tanto delusi (We Were All So Disappointed) as Scola once noted, then the cinematic disappointments would constitute one of the three themes on which Scola's film so bitterly reflects. Failed expectations in love and politics are the other two concerns which join to form Scola's commentary on Italian culture frm the liberation to the mid-1970s... The disparity between teh film's ideological openness and its conclusive love story thus suggests the dual generic provenance of We All Loved Each Other So Much, which owes its plot structure to the commedia all'italiana and its social responsibility to neorealism.

- Millicent Joy Marcus, Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism, published by Princeton University Press, 1986 pages 393, 420

References to cinema abound in the film. Film buff Nicola playfully recreates Eisenstein's Odessa Steps sequence on the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna, and in the scenes of the 1950s, Scola shows us the characters in the squares and streets of Rome in a manner reminiscent of early Fellini films. With the 1960s, we switch to color, the prosperity of the Italian "economic miracle," and the atmosphere of Fellini's La Dolce Vita: Scola re-creates the shooting of the famous Trevi Fountain sequence from that film with the assistance of Fderico Fellini, who plays himself and is mistaken for Rossellini by one of the crowd. Then Scola moves to paraphrase the mature style of Antonioni's Eclipse, employing it to dramatize the failure of communication between Gianni and his wife. Perhaps the most complex linkage between cinema and society, fiction and fact, in We All Loved Each Other So Much involves the figure of De Sica. In the 1960s, Nicola had appeared on Mike Bongiorno's quiz show Lascia o radoppia (literally "quit or go for double," a program patterned on "The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question" in America). The jackpot question involved an explanation of why the boy cries in The Bicycle Thief at the end of the film. Nicola explained that he cries because De Sica put cigarette butts in the boy's pocket and then accused of stealing them, mistaking the "factual" answer for the "fictional" one.

- Peter E. Bondanella, Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present, Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001, p. 371

About Ettore Scola

IMDb Wiki

Following law studies at the University of Rome, he began his working career as a writer for humour magazines. Entering the film industry as a screenwriter in 1953, he contributed bright material to films of Dino Risi and other directors, often in collaboration with Ruggero Maccari. As a director from 1964, he started with traditional Italian-style comedies but increasingly his films took on a serious edge, revealing a maturing social concern and a growing search for a meaningful dramatic context. His We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974), dedicated to Vittorio De Sica, wistfully captured the essence of 30 years of postwar Italian cinema through the three friends, veterans of the Resistance. Scola won the best direction prize at Cannes for Brutti, sporchi e Cattivi / Down and Dirty (1976), a vivid portrait of misery. His A Special Day (1977) - a politically based allegorical depiction of a brief liaison between a jaded housewife (Sophia Loren) and a homosexual radio journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) under the gathering clouds of WWII - was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film. Perhaps his most ambitious film was La Nuit de Varennes (1982), a masterful, fanciful, visually striking, idea-rich costume epic of the French Revolution. History, politics, and people, and the effect they have on one another, continue to be a core theme in the films of Scola, one of the most highly regarded figures in European cinema today.

— Ephraim Katz, The Film Encylopedia

Revered more in the international film community than in American cineaste circles, chameleon director Ettore Scola's name is inexcusably absent from several English-language reference works. With Scola, one has to dig deep for the auteurist consistencies that make less elusive artists easier to pigeonhole. While Scola's fascination with political attitude and social change dictated by purely personal psychology never varies, he skips the light fantastic through such specialties as historical epic (La Nuit de Varennes), the musical (Le Bal), screwball comedy (A Drama of Jealousy), domestic drama (The Family), and grand romance (Passione d'Amore). In each case, the director gives established genres a uniquely invigorating spin. Critic Stephen Harvey compares Scola to Joseph Mankiewicz, and that pithy summation of Scola as a Mankiewicz seasoned with oregano sheds light on how Scola's comic screenwriting background (over fifty screenplays) informs his later career as a filmic maestro.

In all Scola's films, the choreography of history steps in partnership with his simpatico actors, gliding camerawork, and updated neorealistic melancholy. Even taking his overcooked Hollywood debut,Macaroni, into consideration, and the failure of his last films to secure American releases, Scola's place in humanist film history is unassailable. Unlike many screenwriters who turn director to ensure an unedited venue for their glorious dialogue, when Scola has something to say he lets his mise-en-scene do the talking.

—Lillian Schiff, updated by Robert J. Pardi, Film Reference.com