Tag Archives: Italian

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

Lina Wertmüller, a visionary female director around a time when there were few female directors with notoriety, created The Seduction of Mimi (1972), a flavorful Italian adventure/drama/comedy.

Any fans of Federico Fellini will immediately draw comparisons to his films with saucy banter, odd characters, and lively music. But amid the fun exists importance.

Wertmüller produces a film with more of a defined plot focus than Fellini usually does.

The key to the enjoyment of The Seduction of Mimi is twofold. Actors, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato starred in three of Wertmüller’s films together, usually as love-torn yet bickering couples with lots of drama and misunderstandings.

The other films are Love and Anarchy (1973) which I have not seen and Swept Away (1974) which I have seen.

The actors work so well together that anyone familiar with them will instantly be delighted especially during high-energy scenes when they spar or passionately solidify their romantic intentions.

Giannini was Wertmüller’s muse in a time when rarely if ever a male actor was a muse of a female director.

The other nicety is the title of the film. One might assume (I did) that the character of Mimi is female and is seduced by a male but in Wertmüller’s film, it is the reverse. This causes traditional gender stereotypes to be turned on their heads with more awareness of assumptions.

Mimi (Giannini) is a Sicilian dockworker who inadvertently becomes involved in an increasingly complicated series of personal conflicts.

After he loses his job after voting against a Mafia kingpin in a ‘secret’ election, Mimi leaves his frazzled wife Rosalia (Agostina Belli) to find work. He moves to Turin, where he engages in an affair with a Communist organizer, Fiorella Meneghini (Melato).

Soon Mimi finds himself juggling not two but three relationships and three children while plotting to take revenge against the corrupt forces that ruined his life.

The Seduction of Mimi is quite good but I’m more partial to her other films like Swept Away and the hysterically brash Seven Beauties (1975), her best work in my opinion.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about ‘Seduction’.

Taking nothing away from Melato’s performance, Mimi is the focal point and Giannini is a pure delight. For viewers unfamiliar with his work, his dazzling green eyes and almost manic style fills the character with pizazz and passion.

The actor is also great at making his wacky shenanigans seem realistic.

Beyond the hijinks, Wertmüller offers serious messages about sexual hypocrisies, political dilemmas, and corruption. She mixes jokes with purpose so that the audience learns a thing or two while being richly entertained.

Like her obvious mentor, Fellini, she appreciates good satire and incorporates that into her films.

Visually, there’s some cool and wacky camera-angle stuff going on. Mimi repeatedly notices moles, beauty marks, or otherwise odd eccentric facial features which come into focus as shaky closeup camera shots.

Since the film is so Italian it’s joyful to watch it for this aspect alone. There are frequent sequences shot on location in Sicily, and around Italy, a treat for those partial to European films.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) is a film I’d like to see again for more appreciation and further examination. It’s a film that has more going on than meets the eye and leaves its viewer pondering more specifically regarding the Union storyline.

Inferno-1980

Inferno-1980

Director Dario Argento

Starring Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleonora Giorgi

Scott’s Review #1,372

Reviewed June 27, 2023

Grade: B+

Any fan of famous Italian horror director Dario Argento knows to expect a visual extravaganza from his films. They reek of color and a weird atmosphere that makes them distinguishable from other less crafty directors and that’s worth a lot to a cinema fan.

Inferno (1980) is no exception but to be fair the plot is brutal to follow as the visuals easily surpass the storytelling. On the flip side, despite being set mainly in New York City, Inferno has a definitive Italian vibe.

And why shouldn’t it since it’s shrouded in Italian creativity?

Fans of Argento will know what I’m saying and leap into the film as I did, immersed in art direction rather than a defined plot.

The film is the second in his “Three Mothers” trilogy, and Inferno focuses on a Manhattan apartment building inhabited by a deadly spirit that murders the tenants in sadistic ways.

The other two films in the collection are Suspiria (1977) and Mother of Tears (2007).

When a poet named Rose (Irene Miracle) discovers a book that suggests she’s living in a building built for one of three evil sisters to rule the world, she begs her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey) to visit her from Rome.

But when he arrives, she’s disappeared without a trace. Mark encounters several creepy characters as he attempts to unravel the mystery and find his sister either dead or alive.

It takes some time to figure out who the main character is supposed to be. Is it Rose, Mark, Mark’s friend Sara, or Rose’s neighbor, Elise? Before long three of the four are sliced into bits.

The kills are superior with my personal favorite being the death of one character guillotined with the glass of a broken window. This is nearly usurped by a pack of snarling cats attacking another victim with murder on their minds.

As a cat lover, this made me grin with pleasure.

As alluded to earlier, the story is simply too hard to follow. Therefore, the showdown between the main character and the witch is a letdown and it is uncertain what becomes of the witch.

I also desired to see the witch more.

But maybe I just wasn’t paying too close attention. The gorgeous sets caught my attention more than any plot point did.

I was especially enamored by the gothic New York City apartment set which takes center stage during most of the film. The blue velvet curtains and dimly lit corridors combined with desolate corners and few inhabitants made me want to stay there.

Especially appealing is a secret hole in the wall that carries sounds throughout the behemoth building.

The colors and the camerawork successfully add eerie and memorable sequences. One can easily dine on a bright green wall and gush over a deep blood-red drape or shadow.

The gloomy and downright scary underwater sequence when Rose dives to grasp a secret key is brilliant camerawork.

Alida Valli, so good as one of the witches in Suspiria, makes her return in Inferno but in a limited part. As Carol, an employee of the apartment building, she has little substance to do, and adding insult to injury Valli’s voice is dubbed by an American voice.

Sure, it’s not the best in the Argento collection and Suspiria will always remain my number one but Inferno (1980) is for the Argento fans only. I wouldn’t suggest it for the novice fan nor stress that one needs to see the trilogy in order.

The labyrinthine settings and the elaborate deaths are what make the film a winner.

Seven Beauties-1975

Seven Beauties-1975

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Shirley Stoler, Fernando Rey

Scott’s Review #1,364

Reviewed June 3, 2023

Grade: A

Italian Director Lina Wertmüller was the first female ever nominated for the coveted Best Director Oscar. She did not win the award but the nomination is a bold victory for women artists in 1975 and a testament to her visionary approach to filmmaking.

With Seven Beauties (1975) she tackles the painful subject of concentration camps during World War II with artistic merit and a powerful message of survival by her lead character, Pasqualino, brilliantly played by Giancarlo Giannini.

Through Pasqualino’s backstory, Wertmüller provides comic relief and a sizzling Italian style. This counterbalances the terrifying German elements with cultural and sometimes humorous sequences set in Italy. Pasqualino’s family hijinks are explored.

Back in 1930s Italy, Pasqualino is a struggling low-level Sicilian thug who accidentally kills a man who disgraced his unattractive and vulnerable sister Concettina (Elena Fiore). He escapes imprisonment by joining the military but goes AWOL when things get too severe.

Eventually, Pasqualino is captured and sent to a concentration camp where he vows to do anything to survive. He attempts to seduce an evil and obese female German camp commander (Shirley Stoler) but this comes at a deadly price.

I’ll argue that Stoler should have received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Her callous nature only deepens as her character is peeled back and Pasqualino’s hope that she has a glimmer of kindness in her is dashed. She is one of the best screen villains of all time.

Seven Beauties is an art film with gorgeous visuals especially potent in the concentration camp and surrounding forest. The greyness of the camp is perfectly opposite the pizazz of Italy.

As Pasqualino and comrade Francesco wander around the looming German forest the camera points upwards to the sky in a blurry and dizzying form.

At the start of the film, black and white footage of World War II encompasses the screen, and slivers of the tyrants Mussolini and Hitler are displayed.

If not for the macabre dark humor we see in Italy, Seven Beauties might be too much of a downer. Pasqualino’s seven sisters are unattractive and one is living the life of a struggling stripper and prostitute. He also manages to cleverly chop a body to bits and stuff the body parts into suitcases.

Back in Germany, the scenes between Pasqualino and the female commander are frightening. He is forced to provide sexual pleasures in exchange for his survival but when she callously orders him to select six mates to be executed her viciousness is apparent.

Giannini is a fabulous actor and heartbreakingly reveals Pasqualino’s vulnerabilities as the film plows forward. His good-natured innocence is lost forever and the man he winds up as is darker.

But the caveat is that the character is never purely good but rather layered in complexities. Always, Giannini emotes deep expressionism through his powerful green eyes.

Similarities between Seven Beauties and Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) or Fellini’s Roma (1972) are evident. Had I not known Wertmüller directed the film I would have thought Fellini had. This is more so because of the Italy sequences featuring a bevy of zany, homely characters which adds flavor and humor.

Fernando Rey, well-known for playing the villain in The French Connection (1971) appears as a doomed prisoner who ends up in a large tub of shit rather than suffer a forced execution.

The executions are sob-inducing as lines and lines of prisoners being callously shot and killed are tough to watch. But, the core of the film is about the viciousness of humanity and this must never be forgotten.

Wertmüller delivers a masterpiece that I’ve now seen only twice. I plan to watch this film again and again for the content to sink in more.

The comic elements of Seven Beauties (1975) never diminish or lighten the horror of the Nazi’s actions since they are not done in parallel. The back and forth between periods only add value and balance to a powerful subject matter.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director-Lina Wertmüller, Best Actor-Giancarlo Giannini, Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen

Mother of Tears-2007

Mother of Tears-2007

Director Dario Argento

Starring Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno

Scott’s Review #1,360

Reviewed May 13, 2023

Grade: B+

Mother of Tears (2007) is a film I have a great fondness for and I’ll never forget its debut in my life. It is the very first film my husband and I saw in a movie theater together. So, I’m pretty partial to the nostalgic feeling it emotes on a personal level.

Both fans of esteemed horror director Dario Argento, we cohabitated in the dusty art theater one rainy Saturday evening following a delicious Italian dinner on one of our first dates.

The atmosphere was nearly as perfect as an Argento film itself since he is known for operatic, visceral, and visual perfections.

The film is the concluding installment of Argento’s supernatural horror trilogy The Three Mothers, preceded by Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), and depicts the confrontation with the final “Mother” witch, known as Mater Lachrymarum.

Grisly deaths await several unlucky Italian citizens after an American archaeology student named Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) innocently releases a demonic witch from her ancient prison. A mysterious urn comes into her possession and when attempted to be restored at the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome, all hell breaks loose.

Sarah harbors a personal connection to the witch since her mother was once embroiled in a feud with her.

Making Mother of Tears a family affair and comfort for viewers of Argento’s work, daughter Asia plays the lead character while younger brother Claudio co-produces the picture along with Dario.

Religion is always a fun theme in horror, especially in the oft-targeted Roman Catholic church. Like The Exorcist did in 1973, and many other horror films followed over the years, the religion is mocked in the kindest of ways.

As an ode to previous works involving children, a child is massacred and more than one baby is sacrificed in the name of Mater Lachrymarum so be forewarned if this is a dealbreaker for some.

Who doesn’t enjoy a coven of witches flocking down on Rome screeching at passerby folks and wreaking havoc on the sacred city now overcrowded with demons?

For the bloodthirsty types who crave a healthy dose of bloodletting Mother of Tears lets the floodgates spill wide open. One poor woman is speared through her private area and upwards while another’s mouth and face are expanded until they pop. Several eyes are violently gouged.

You get the idea.

Recommended is to watch Suspiria and Inferno first for chronological ease but this is not a must and a stand-alone viewing will do just fine.

Nothing can match the sheer madness and visual mastery of 1977’s Suspiria and Mother of Tears is the weakest of the three films but this is not a gripe merely a comparison. They work well together and the final confrontation involving Sarah and Mater Lachrymarum’s fight over a red tunic is the highlight.

The dark texture of the filming mixed with glowing lights and red colors are easily noticeable. This aligns nicely with religious or occult characters like a monsignor, cardinal, and various witches.

The film, though American-made, feels Italian and is quite authentic. Further, it naturally sits well with films of Argento’s heyday, the 1970s, and 1980s. Most if not all actors appear to be Italian or European adding flavor and culture to the experience.

If one has traveled to Rome, many exterior shots of the ancient city appear adding to the enjoyment. Sarah ravages the streets and scurries through the vast train station in one powerful sequence. Since trains are the main mode of transportation in Italy viewers can transport themselves back to a previous trip.

To know Dario Argento is to love him. Mother of Tears (2007) may not measure up to his very best works but it is an entertaining and enthralling visit to the macabre world.

It may or may not win over new fans but it will satisfy existing fans of the director.

L’Avventura-1960

L’Avventura-1960

Director Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti

Scott’s Review #1,167

Reviewed July 30, 2021

Grade: A

L’Avventura (1960) is similar to the horror masterpiece Psycho (1960), released the same year, although they couldn’t be more opposite on the surface.

One is an American horror film by an esteemed British director and the other is an Italian art film. What could they possibly have in common?

Forgetting that the former is not a horror film, L’Avventura first introduces a character that the audience is certain to be the main character only to pull a switcheroo midstream and make other characters the central protagonists.

Think what Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane was in Psycho to John Garvin and Vera Miles, Sam Loomis, and Lila Crane.

Be that as it may, as an interesting if not completely odd comparison, L’Avventura is a brilliant film and not just for the story alone. Black and white cinematography of the grandest kind transplants the film viewer to a fabulous yet haunting island where the events occur.

Frequent shots of the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea and its roaring waves pepper the action.

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic of Italian cinema, two beautiful young women, Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna (Léa Massari) join Anna’s lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), on a boat trip to a remote volcanic island.

They plan to spend their time cruising, resting, and relaxing on the Mediterranean. The trio is all good-looking and resides on the outskirts of Rome. They join two wealthy couples and depart on their excursion,

When Anna suddenly goes missing on an island stop a search is launched. In the meantime, Sandro and Claudia become involved in a romance despite Anna’s disappearance, though the relationship suffers from the guilt and tension brought about by the looming mystery.

Their relationship is intriguing based on the roller coaster emotions they face. Their burgeoning romance and Anna’s disappearance overlap.

Assumed to be the focal point of the film Anna eventually serves as more of a ghost character and quickly disappears from the screen.

This threw me for a loop.

Events do not remain on the island but return to the Italian mainland where Sandro and Claudia continue with their guilt finally becoming convinced Anna might have returned!

The brilliant and ambitious thing about L’Avventura is that the film changes course many times.

On the surface, it appears to be a film about a missing girl and a friend’s attempts to locate her. But Antonioni delves into a film about emotions and the meaning of life making the audience go deeper along with the characters.

Eventually, Sandro and Claudia chase a ghost of their design and plod along unhappy and unfulfilled suffering paranoia.

L’Avventura is all about the characters and the cinematography and each immerses well with the other.

Many characters exchange glances with each other that the audience can read into. What was the relationship between Sandro and Claudia before the cruise? What is the back story of Anna and Sandro? And what’s become of Anna? Did she run off and drown or was she murdered?

The camerawork is stunning, each shot a lovely escapade into another world. Particularly, the yacht cruise and the island sequences are astounding. I love how the characters explore different sections of the island instead of dully standing on the shore or similar shots.

As the title says the point is both physical and cerebral adventure.

L’Avventura (1960) is a film that will make you think, ponder, escape, and discuss the true meaning. Isn’t that what great art cinema does?

Antonioni also made me consider comparisons to another great art film creator- the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

Macabre-1980

Macabre-1980

Director Lamberto Bava

Starring Bernice Stegers

Scott’s Review #1,165

Reviewed July 26, 2021

Grade: A-

With a pedigree for horror, director Lamberto Bava has a lot to live up to. He is the son of Mario Bava deemed the “Master of Italian Horror” for creepies like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) and worked alongside Dario Argento, another famous Italian horror director.

Lamberto certainly learned his craft exceptionally well and he created a terrific and gruesome horror film called Macabre (1980) which certainly lives up to its name.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing too much but the experience of watching his film will stay with the audience long after it ends.

Nightmares anyone?

Let’s just say that one won’t look at one’s libido and the human head in the same way ever again.

Sadly, Bava wouldn’t remain very long in the feature film industry. After assisting Argento with his films throughout the 1980s Bava would move to the television industry. But what a lasting impression he makes with Macabre.

The horrific tale mixes murder, madness, and perverse (or perverted) passion. A lonely New Orleans wife and mother, Jane Baker, played by Bernice Stegers, carries on a torrid affair without her family’s knowledge.

After sneaking around and causing her daughter Lucy’s (Veronica Zinny) suspicions to be aroused, a violent accident leaves her lover, Fred, dead.

Devastated, Jane does a stint in a mental institution. Supposedly cured, she leaves determined to pursue her forbidden desires and ends up moving in with her dead lover’s blind brother, Robert (Stanko Molnar).

But what secret or ghastly desires does she hold dear to her heart and what oddity resides in her refrigerator?

You’re probably wondering why a director with Italian roots as strong as Bava’s would choose the cajun and gumbo-infused city of New Orleans- I was too.

Why not choose a more gothic locale like Rome? The setting is even more jarring given the British and Italian actors cast in the film.

Rumor has it the events in the film happened in New Orleans but I’m not sure I buy that.

Be that as it may, something is unsettling about this weird setting. But somehow it works as measured against the bizarre nature of the story. It’s so out there that for some reason it affects.

The running time is just right at one hour and thirty minutes and with such a low budget any longer might have felt distracting or made the pace too much.

Stegers is fabulous in the central role. She is controlled yet neurotic, madly in love with her beau on the brink of instability. She is also a strong, feminist woman as she brazenly carries on with her affair unconcerned of the consequences though death isn’t exactly what she expects.

Regardless, Stegers does a fine job and carries the action throughout the duration.

It’s tough to measure at the time whether Bava is going for mid-level camp or complete over-the-top bizarro. He knows the tricks of the trade and avoids the popular slasher effects like gore and blood. This is to his credit.

Instead, he floods Macabre with juicy atmospheric elements and a perfect mood. This mood gets creepier as the plot develops reaching a crescendo at the conclusion when Richard, Lucy, Jane, and even the deceased Fred adjourn for a savory dinner where the events will never be seen coming.

Macabre (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece that I highly recommend for any fan of Italian-style horror and those desiring a ghoulish and titillating journey into the macabre.

How appropriate.

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director Luchino Visconti

Starring Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice.

The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score, the film provides beauty and impressionism.

The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, and published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but are assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy.

While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is.

Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful.

If Gustav had approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert.

Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion.

The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David- since we are in Italy.

But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while, it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city.

In 2020, with the vicious COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on a whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise, it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual.

In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterward walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo.

As Tadzio outreaches his arms toward the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly.

Dyeing his grey hair black whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made-up face is meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion.

The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Director Franco Brusati

Starring Nino Manfredi

Scott’s Review #996

Reviewed March 6, 2020

Grade: B

Bread and Chocolate (1974), known as Pane e cioccolata in Italian is a mixed dramatic and comedic offering by the director, Franco Brusati, a well-known Italian screenwriter and director.

The film is charming and tells of one man’s trials and tribulations trying to make it as a migrant worker in a foreign country- in this case neighboring Switzerland. He is conflicted by the opportunities presented and the catastrophic way his life is screwed up at every turn.

The film is meaningful and poignant but sometimes has no clear path. A commonality is the representation of differing cultures.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) is a hard-working Sicilian man who heads for Switzerland in search of a better life- the time is the 1960s or the 1970s when this was a common occurrence. Despite his best efforts to fit in with his neighbors, he never quite seems to make it, haplessly going from one situation to the next.

He befriends and is supported for a time by a Greek woman named Elena, who is a refugee and harbors secrets. He forages a career as a waiter and befriends a busboy. As his luck dwindles, he is reduced to finding shelter with a group of Neapolitans living in a chicken coop, with the same chickens they tend to to survive.

With bizarre gusto they frequently emulate the chickens, strangely parading around their quarters like animals.

The main character of Nino reminds me of the character that Roberto Benigni played in the 1997 gem, Life is Beautiful. In that film, Guido tries to shelter his son from the horrors of war. In Bread and Chocolate, Nino has a zest for life using humor to survive and get through daily situations, slowly realizing his dire straits.

Both characters are scrappy and daring; Nino humorously urinating on a tree or awkwardly finding a dead body in the woods.

The theme of the film is loaded with conflict over staying in Switzerland to find a better life or returning in shame to his homeland of Italy, assumed a failure. Nino constantly wrestles with this quandary and discusses this point with his family photos in his bedroom.

In two instances he nearly gets on a train headed back to Italy but changes his mind. The film does not do a great job explaining or showing what is so awful back in Italy.

Bread and Chocolate is difficult to categorize because it is neither a straight-ahead comedy nor pure drama. As the film progresses it loses some situational comedy moments in favor of exhibiting melancholia and sadness.

I am not sure this is a great decision as we wonder many times if we should laugh with Nino or feel bad for him. Perhaps both?

The film scores big when it focuses on comedy as evidenced by several laugh-out-loud restaurant scenes. Nino, clearly not knowing what he is doing, struggles to properly peel an orange to serve a guest. He emulates another waiter with hilarious results.

Later he offends a snobbish, sophisticated woman after she blames him for causing her to fall to the floor.

The strangest scene occurs when the chicken people spy on four gorgeous Swiss siblings bathing in a nearby river. Gorgeous and tranquil, they are the definition of stunning and lush.

Charmed by the idyllic vision of the group, Nino decides to dye his hair and pass himself off as a local. The images of the cackling and dirty Italian people, with their snickering and drooling set against the peaceful family, are both beautiful and odd.

The scene could almost be featured in an Ingmar Bergman art film.

Bread and Chocolate (1974) is a film about a man’s journey that can be classified as an adventure, drama, art film, or comedy, and sometimes crosses genres too much. The comedic antics draw rave reviews, but the film slips a bit when it goes into the dramatic territory and becomes middling and too preachy.

Actor Nino Manfredi breathes all the life he can into a film that is appealing, but not quite marvelous.

The Leopard-1963

The Leopard-1963

Director Luchino Visconti

Starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #991

Reviewed February 18, 2020

Grade: A

One of the great works in cinematic history, I preface this review by stating that I viewed the English dubbed version of the brilliant The Leopard (1963) starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.

This version is considerably shorter, at two hours and forty-one minutes than the Italian version, which is three hours and five minutes.

As grand as the former is, my hunch is that something is lost in translation put side by side with the latter. The English version has no subtitles and is available only on DVD, so the film is difficult to follow but is still rich in texture.

An interesting tidbit is that the film surgery was performed without director Luchino Visconti’s input – the director was unhappy with the editing and the dubbing. This point is valid since some of the voices are Italian and French, sounding too American and unauthentic.

Admittedly inferior, the English version is nonetheless extravagant and lovely by its own merits, though I am dying to see the original version, if available.

The time is during the 1860s as the tumultuous era affected the country of Italy and more specifically, Sicily. Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) is at a crossroads, torn between holding onto the glory he once knew and accepting the changing times, welcoming a more modern unity within the country.

He is surrounded by a new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) who has a gorgeous daughter, Angelica (Cardinale), who intends to marry Fabrizio’s French nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon).

The film dissects the changing times in Italy.

The visual treats that await the viewer are astounding and by far the best part of the film. The lovely and palatial estates are gorgeous with decorative sets, bright and zesty colors, and ravishing meals displayed during parties to make any audience member salivate with joy.

The costumes are state of the art, as each frame can easily be a painting on a canvas. A tip is to periodically pause the film and study and immerse oneself in its style.

Many film comparisons, both past and yet to come, can easily be made when thought about. An Italian Gone with the Wind (1939), if you will, with Angelica as Scarlett and Tancredi as Rhett (okay, the chemistry is not quite the same, but similarities do exist), and Concetta as the long-suffering Melanie, the characters can be compared.

The great ball, the costumes, and the ravaged country are more prominent comparisons.

Nine years after The Leopard, a little film entitled The Godfather (1972) would change the cinematic landscape forever.

Director, Frances Ford Coppola must have studied this film, as the plentiful scenes of the Italian landscape and the Italian culture are immersed in both films. Even snippets of the musical score mirror each other.

What a grand film to borrow and cultivate from!

Despite all the beautiful trimmings that make The Leopard a masterpiece, the film belongs to Lancaster, in the best role of his career. The hunk in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, as the Prince, he is aged to perfection, distinguished-looking with graying sideburns.

The film is an epic extravaganza and the actor leads the charge, carrying the film. He is a stoic man, but not without fault and emotion, wearing his heart on his sleeve, realizing that he must adapt to the changing times. We feel his quandary and embrace the character as a human being.

Attention-paying fans must be forewarned that the plot is basic and while difficult to follow because of the absence of sub-titles, at the same time there is not a highly complex story to follow.

The story is about how the Prince maneuvers his family through troubled (and changing) times to a more secure position. This is the overlying theme of the film.

Suffering from dubbing and quality control issues can do nothing to ruin a spectacular offering that is a cinematic gem and testament to the power of The Leopard’s (1963) staying power.

I eagerly await the day when the traditional Italian version can be located, and discovered, as this will assuredly be a treat to sink my teeth into.

Until then, the film is a historical epic that can be appreciated for the dynamics and importance it so richly deserves.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Color

8 1/2-1963

8 1/2-1963

Director Federico Fellini

Starring Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #973

Reviewed December 27, 2019

Grade: A-

For fans of acclaimed and experimental Italian film director, Federico Fellini, a straightforward plot is rarely the recipe of the day with his projects.

With 8 1/2 (1963) he creates a personal and autobiographical story of a movie director pressured into another project but lacking creative ideas and inspiration to fulfill the task.

We can all relate to this in one way or another.

The film is confusing, beautiful, elegant, and dreamlike, precisely what one would expect of a Fellini production. His film also hints at a more profound message and complexities.

The recommendation is to experience the film rather than analyze or worse yet, over-analyze it, simply letting it marinate over time and relish in the offerings.

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a famous Italian film director suffering from director’s block after he is tasked with, and attempts to direct, an epic science fiction film.

Experiencing marital difficulties, he decides to spend time at a luxurious spa where he has strange reoccurring visions of a beautiful woman (Claudia Cardinale), is visited by his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), and is berated by a temperamental film critic.

When Guido’s film crew arrives at his hotel in the hopes of starting production, he becomes overwhelmed by the mounting pressures and escapes into a world of memories. He visits his grandmother, dances with a prostitute, and relives his time at a strict Catholic school.

Attempts to add these memories to his new film are dismissed by the film critic. The rest of the film is a mish-mash of odd occurrences as Guido attempts to make his film.

Fans of Fellini’s other works will undoubtedly fall in love with 8 1/2, and since the film is about film this scores points in my book.

His other famous works like Roma (1972) and Amarcord (1973) are similarly semi-autobiographical but differ in that they are more straightforward stories- as much as can be said about a Fellini film.

Usually lacking much plot 8 1/2 resembles Juliet and the Spirits (1965) more than the others for comparison’s sake. Fantasy and reality are interspersed, making the film tough to follow.

It appears to be about a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown and is a complex and personal study. As Guido spirals out of control and teetering towards insanity, he also muses about his situation. These highs and lows told comically make 8 1/2 even more difficult to figure out and react to.

My previous suggestion to simply experience 8 1/2 achieves credibility as the film rolls along. Viewers may be unsure of what is happening, if not downright perplexed by the whole thing, but there is an energy that pulls one into its clutches with masterful sequences and potent embraces of life, love, and culture.

This must be attributed to the look and style of the film.

8 1/2 won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design (black-and-white) and is considered a highly respected and influential work of art by most film critics.

Appreciated mostly for its beautiful cinematography, it also delves into the meaning of life with a live-and-let-live approach.

Lovers of avant-garde works of interpretation and expressionism will be giddy with delight while experiencing ruminating thoughts following 8 1/2 (1963).

Having only seen the film once and embraced it wholly as a work of art, but frustrated by the lack of tangible meaning, my advice is to see the film a second, a third, or even a fourth time for a deeper appreciation and understanding.

I plan to heed my suggestion.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Director-Federico Fellini, Best Story, and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (won)

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director Georges Franju

Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon.

The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could be.

The film is nestled into a short one-hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences.

What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy.

The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists.

The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for, he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck.

But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young woman and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane.

Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise.

Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by a doctor, assistant, and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style.

Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in an almost tender fashion.

The film is not the 1980s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goers’ preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film.

As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends.

This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

The Bicycle Thief-1948

The Bicycle Thief-1948

Director Vittorio De Sica

Starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola

Scott’s Review #867

Reviewed February 16, 2019

Grade: A

The Bicycle Thief (1948), modified to the English title from the original Italian Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) is an important and cherished film containing a powerful message enshrined in a compelling story.

The film is fraught with emotion and focuses on a powerful relationship between a father and his son and a determination to retrieve what is rightfully theirs. Made post-World War II the film has a socialist theme and is made with a hallmark neorealist style centering around working-class people.

The film is an example of cinema being art and not merely entertainment.

The film deservedly was awarded a special Academy Award for “Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film” before the historic Best Foreign Language Film award existed.

This is a testament to the power and humanism the film envelopes as the sad and occasionally wonderful story unfolds. Professional actors and non-actors make the film a strong and authentic watch in a quick one-hour and twenty-nine-minute running time.

In the late 1940s, Rome Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) struggles to find decent work to support himself and his family. When an opportunity presents itself but requires a bicycle, Antonio’s wife Maria (Lianella Carell) selflessly sells family heirlooms to acquire his pawned bicycle.

Things are looking great for the family as Antonio begins his new job only to have his bicycle stolen by a thief on his first day as he sits atop a ladder helplessly witnessing the theft. Determined to track the thief down and retrieve his stolen bike he and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) traverse the city in desperation.

The Bicycle Thief is a simple story that enraptures with many different emotions. Anger at the thief, empathy for Antonio and Bruno, inspiration by the humanity of some characters, and rage at the actions of others.

Antonio strives to be a good role model for his son and a provider for Maria. By the end, he has become a more complicated character, resorting to dire means to solve his problems. Antonio is desperate, guilt-ridden, and ashamed, but is also a highly inspirational character.

Fans of the gorgeous and historic European city of Rome are in for a treat. The Bicycle Thief is peppered with enchanting shots of the famous city and focuses on the events of everyday people as they go to work and spend their days on a mission.

The lighting used by director Vittorio de Sica is bright and sunny portraying Rome as a hot and bustling epicenter. The atmosphere is foreboding as we know something dire will soon occur amid the warm and cheery metropolis.

The acting is at the center of The Bicycle Thief’s success with inspired performances by Maggiorani and Staiola as father and son.

Staiola is masterful as a young boy who needs a father figure and hangs on his father’s every move. His soulful and expressive eyes contain sadness and hope in many scenes as he yearns and prays for his father to be happy again and for himself to feel safe.

In comparison, Maggiorani possesses an ability to portray strength and angst interchangeably. His finest scene is pivotal as he realizes he has become no better than the thief he despises early in the film and is buried in shame.

The Bicycle Thief (1948) is a film powerful and memorable because of its simplicity and humanistic sensibilities. The plot is basic and explores one man’s quest for justice and the right to live his life and care for his family.

His journey is complex and fraught with tense moments making the film palpable and heart racing as his adventure unfolds before us.

Thanks to gorgeous cinematography and an ample dose of pathos those who watch this film will be in store for a treasure in powerful cinematic storytelling.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay

Fellini’s Roma-1972

Fellini’s Roma-1972

Director Federico Fellini

Starring Britta Barnes, Peter Gonzales

Scott’s Review #649

Reviewed June 5, 2017

Grade: A-

Fellini’s Roma (1973) is a trippy experience through Rome during two different periods

As with all Fellini films, the film is meant to be experienced rather than analyzed.

One must nestle into the life that Fellini offers on-screen- in this instance the fabulous city of Rome, Italy in both positives and negatives.

The experience was very good for me, as both a world of odd characters and of ancient Rome oozed from the screen appealingly and absurdly.

From a plot narrative- there is a rot one. Arguably the only character portrayed is Rome herself. The film takes place in both the 1930s as well as the 1970s and is said to be an autobiographical tale of director Fellini’s experiences growing up in Rome.

We see little Fellini as a youngster, experiencing the vast city for the first time, and as a teenager now living in the city. Interestingly, the film traverses from both sets of periods back and forth with really no rhyme or reason.

Throughout the film, we see both the beauty and the ugliness of Rome- the majestic Colosseum and the dirty entrails of the gloomy city. Scenes of seedy brothels, mainly in the 1930s, and a myriad of strange and scantily clad females prance before the cameras looking for a lucky score amid the droves of men lusting after them.

Another depicts a fashion show, of sorts, taking place at the Vatican, involving nuns and priests in bizarre costumes.

The 1930’s setting is my personal favorite. Gritty, cold, and harsh, the bleakness of Rome is depicted. Unsurprisingly, this has much to do with the historical period Since Mussolini was in power, and on the eve of World War II, the darkness was apparent.

In a frightening scene, bomb sirens wail while a woman shrieks in panic. The brothel scenes are downright creepy and the subsequent theatre scenes involving drunken, rowdy, young men leering and cursing at the entertainment, is a particular slice of a life sequence.

In contrast, the 1970s sequences are layered with more beautiful depictions of the city. Brighter colors are featured, and there appear to be either scientists or explorers digging into ancient ruins and finding gorgeous art that is subsequently ruined by the blowing air. We also see hippy types basking in the sunlight.

Again, much of this film is largely open to interpretation.

I adore Fellini’s Roma in terms of an expression of the city of Rome as an art form, but the film is highly unconventional- another plus for me.

Sure, I may have desired to learn more about the bevy of creepy and potentially interesting characters, but I finished the film with an appreciation of Rome, unlike none I have ever known.

A startling final scene, in which legendary Italian film star, Anna Magnani, appears scantily clad, implied to be a prostitute, was filmed shortly before her untimely death at the age of sixty-five.

As a film, Fellini’s Roma is a wonderful history lesson, but also a lesson in interpretation and film appreciation. Most filmgoers are accustomed to a beginning, middle, and end, as well as some semblance of a plot.

Roma contains none of that, but rather, is mind-opening and still fresh many years after its release, which is a true testament.

I Am Love-2009

I Am Love-2009

Director Luca Guadagnino

Starring Tilda Swinton

Scott’s Review #545

Reviewed December 11, 2016

Grade: A

Tilda Swinton shines in I Am Love,  an amazing Italian film from 2009 that I wish received wider recognition, but alas, some of the best films do not receive their due.

Swinton stars as a matriarch of a wealthy Italian family, who owns a successful business. To make this film very authentic, it was shot in and around Milan and contains a highly stylish and exquisite appearance.

It is a grand film with high-class set pieces and a great look. I do not hesitate to categorize it as an artistic, female version of The Godfather because it is that good.

It focuses on the family as a whole but more so on Swinton’s character, who is bored and unhappy with her life and yearns for passion and feeling.

One day she meets a friend of her sons and drama ensues.

The boy is only half her age, but they share a passion that awakens her from her doldrums. The conflict in the film is how the affair looks to society and affects the family business- not to mention detrimental to her marriage.

I Am Love (2009) is a great film that should be discovered by those looking for a gorgeous film with great drama.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Fellini Satyricon-1969

Fellini Satyricon-1969

Director Federico Fellini

Starring Martin Potter, Hiram Keller

Scott’s Review #530

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Reviewed November 30, 2016

Grade: A

Fellini Satyricon (1969) is a fascinating experience and is a great film, but only for the very broad-minded and patient viewer- it is more of an “experience” than watching a conventional start-to-finish type finish.

It is nothing of that nature.

I both loved the trip and was fascinated by the creativity and depth of it- dreamlike is a word that immediately springs to mind.

The story does not make perfect sense, nor does it need to. The fact that it is set some two thousand years ago is fantastic in itself as the sets are filled with decadent imagination.

The film is certainly not for everyone and is a fairy tale for adults.

It tells of a journey through Ancient Rome and is divided into nine chapters. A scholar (Encolpius) and his friend (Ascyltus) traverse the land in the hopes of winning the heart of a young boy (Giton).

They are both in love with him and the topics of bisexuality, public sex, slavery, and brothels are explored.

I love Fellini films because they are wild, dream-like, fantasy-like, with odd characters.

Is Fellini Satyricon strange? Absolutely. But that is to its credit- this film is highly imaginative, and wild, and will leave one pondering its beauty afterward.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Federico Fellini

Five Dolls For An August Moon-1970

Five Dolls For An August Moon-1970

Director Mario Bava

Starring William Berger, Howard Ross

Scott’s Review #393

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Reviewed April 9, 2016

Grade: B-

Five Dolls For An August Moon is a 1970 Italian horror film by horror maestro Mario Bava, a well-regarded director of the genre.

Being relatively a novice to his films, but knowing his name, I expected a bit more from the film than I was treated to.

From a critic’s consensus, Five Dolls For An August Moon is not considered to be one of his better films- not even close. I found some positive elements to the film, but ultimately it did not come together concisely or compellingly.

The dubbing from Italian to the English language is poor and I would have preferred more authenticity to watch in the native Italian language.

Containing a fascinating and mysterious premise, a group of gorgeous people gathers on a sunny, remote desert island- somewhere off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Owned by wealthy industrialist George Stark, the weekend is intended to be one of socializing, fun, and relaxation.

It appears to be summer(hence the title) and the vacationers exude sexuality and a sense of good style. The beach house is lavish and sophisticated and it is suggested that all are brilliant, or at least, riding on the coattails of those who are.

One of the guests is famed chemist, Professor Gerry Farrell, who has recently created a revolutionary formula, and it is quickly revealed that all of the guests are industrialists with plans to buy the formula from him at any price.

Incensed, Farrell refuses to budge and, suddenly, one by one, the guests are killed off in typical gruesome horror fashion.

I am a sucker for a good whodunit, and Five Dolls For An August Moon appears to be in Agatha Christie’s- And Then There Were None style of intrigue, but this aspect of the film proves to be the most trivial and uninteresting as the plot moves along.

The character’s motives were unclear (yes, I get they all wanted the secret formula), but the real necessity of having it besides, presumably money, which they all appeared to already have plenty of, was dull.

The ending of the film and the “big reveal”, while clever, was also overly complicated for this type of film.

The film was for its time (1970), very provocative in look and style, and that impresses. Featuring a groovy, psychedelic soundtrack, bright, trendy clothing, and a sunset, the film challenges the tried and true horror elements, especially foreign horror (darkness, rain, fog, gloom) and this makes the film work from a cinematic perspective.

One cannot help but watch this film and think of director Russ Myer as a heavy influence. The casting of good-looking Italian actors, both male and female- the females busty and gorgeous- the men stylish and cool, reminiscent of Myer male actors, is noteworthy.

Interestingly, another glaring example of how other countries’ progressive sexual viewpoints contrast with the more conservative United States is that many of the couples on the island are involved sexually with other people on the island, including a lesbian romance, highly unusual to show in 1970.

These shenanigans give Five Dolls For An August Moon a more creative, suave, and sexual intrigue.

A highly effective, and creepy, aspect of the film is the keeping of the corpses in a freezer with plastic bags over the victim’s heads- meat locker style. Eyes bulging, with the clear bags giving a ghastly view, I immediately thought of the still-to-come masterpiece, Black Christmas, and how this film might have been influenced by a similar scene of a victim wrapped in plastic with a gruesome facial expression.

This is good horror stuff.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970) is not a great film, but it does have some edgy elements, a cool look, and thanks to great direction from Mario Bava, does some influencing films to come.

A decent horror flick and a worthwhile investment for fans of Italian horror- Bava is a heavy hitter and, next to Dario Argento, is the master in Italian horror films.

Amarcord-1974

Amarcord-1974

Director Federico Fellini

Starring Bruno Zanin, Magali Noel

Top 100 Films #81

Scott’s Review #357

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, the winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar and Golden Globe in 1974, is a semi-autobiographical film based on the childhood of the famed director himself.

Set in the small Italian village of Borgo San Giuliano, the film features quite an array of weird and eccentric characters inhabiting the village.

The plot centers around young Titta, and his coming-of-age development as he blossoms into a young man- his sexual desires and fantasies are heavily explored in this zany film.

Since the time is the 1930s and Fascism, led by the tyrannical Mussolini, was rearing its ugly head, Amarcord is not all light-hearted fun and games, despite how it appears on the surface- there is a serious undertone to the entire film.

Still, the film lacks any sort of story that can be dissected very well, which both pleases and frustrates- the film is simply to be “experienced”. It can either leave your head spinning, scratching your head, or disliking the film.

That is not to say that I take issue or offense with Amarcord I adore the film, but it is not an easy watch. Scenes meander about in a dream-like fashion as we follow Titta through his sexual blossoming.

In one memorable scene, Titta has a titillating experience with a buxom older female who lives in the village. Some of the other characters we meet are giddy with peculiarities: a blind accordion player and a female nymphomaniac to name but a couple.

Titta and his family are featured heavily as they eat together, fight together, and live together. When one day the family treks to visit their Uncle Teo, who is confined to an insane asylum, they take him out for a day in the country, where he climbs a tree and refuses to come down.

A dwarf nun and two orderlies finally arrive and coax him down- he obediently returns to the asylum. It is a bizarre sequence, but one that sums up Amarcord perfectly.

Amarcord contains one wacky scene after another, but many of the scenes are not just to showcase outlandish behavior nor are created as fluff. Fellini has a distinct message to the film and several scenes mock Christianity or Mussolini’s crazy political ideas.

The film is larger than life but also encrusted with the fear of 1930’s Fascism and the fear that the Italians felt during this time.

The film is also sweet and Fellini successfully adds a nostalgic feel to it- everyone feels cozy in a large sprawling town with unique characters, shenanigans, and a celebratory theme, but seriousness lurks beneath.

Amarcord is a zest for life throughout a tumultuous time and Fellini successfully creates a hybrid of the two creating one fantastic film in the process.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Director-Federico Fellini

Teorema-1968

Teorema-1968

Director Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring Terence Stamp, Silvana Mangano

Scott’s Review #234

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Reviewed April 10, 2015

Grade: A-

Teorema is a 1968 Italian art film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, who later would go on to direct the dark and disturbing 1975 masterpiece, Salo- 120 Days of Sodom.

If one is looking for a concise, mainstream plot with a fixed, to-the-point, beginning and ending, one will be disappointed. Rather, Teorema is an exhibition in artistic style and interpretation and succeeds in mesmerizing this viewer in thought and contemplation.

A mysterious stranger, simply known as “the visitor”, suddenly arrives to stay with an affluent, Italian family in their sprawling estate. The family consists of a father, mother, son, daughter, and maid, all with issues of loneliness, boredom, fear, rage, or repression.

The handsome stranger successfully beds all members of the family and just as suddenly as he arrives, he then disappears from the household leaving the family members with different thoughts, feelings, and actions upon his departure.

The film is highly interpretive and every character can be analyzed.

All of the characters are seduced by the stranger and the family’s wealth can be studied. Is Teorema (which translates to the theorem in Italian) a commentary on the bourgeois society? The father, Paolo, owns a factory and appears to be in turmoil- is he a repressed homosexual?

The conclusion of the father’s story is very interesting as he turns his factory over to the workers, strips naked, and roars with anger and frustration.

Is the mother simply a wealthy, bored housewife or much more than that? This character might have been explored more thoroughly.

The maid, devoutly religious, becomes suicidal after her tryst with the stranger. The others confide in the stranger about how they feel about themselves and, at times, the film is like watching a therapy session as each character delves more into their personal feelings.

Only the maid is a bit different than the others, but could this be because she is of working-class and the others affluent?

The daughter, Odessa, approximately, sixteen years old, becomes depressed after her liaison. The frightened, weak son appears to have a crisis and is consoled by the stranger in a loving, tender fashion.

Interestingly, the film at the time was resoundingly denounced by the Vatican, which took offense at the controversial tone of the film and its focus on “obscenity”.

Could this be because of some people’s interpretation of “the visitor” as being a Christ-like figure? One must argue the difference between “obscenity” and “art” after viewing this groundbreaking and visionary film. I viewed Teorema as a thought-provoking experience and did not feel as if the film was going for shock value. The film is lightweight in this regard compared to the hauntingly brutal Salo, which followed years later.

Teorema delves into the psychological abyss and portrays an Italian family as more than wealthy- they are people with emotions, fears, desires, and complexities.

Not for mainstream audiences, but meant for lovers of interpretive film, it can be debated and discussed for ages to come.

The Conformist-1970

The Conformist-1970

Director Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli

Top 100 Films #28

Scott’s Review #212

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Reviewed January 10, 2015

Grade: A

The Conformist, directed by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci and based on the 1950s novel by Alberto Moravia, is a complex film that tells the story of one man’s complicated life throughout the time of Italian Fascism (the 1920s until 1943).

Due to a traumatic childhood event, he is troubled and strives to “conform” to a “normal”, traditional lifestyle despite his underlying wounds and desires, which he struggles to repress.

The character in question is Marcello Clerici, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who works for the secret police supporting the Fascist government.

Marcello yearns for a quiet life that everyone else seems to have. He is set up with a beautiful new wife and is ordered to assassinate his college professor who is a leader of an anti-Fascist party.

Throughout the story, Marcello is tormented, via flashbacks, by his troubled childhood and the film delivers a marvelous, creative use of camera angles, style, and design.

It is a dreamlike film that makes full use of childhood memories from the perspective of the protagonist.

The film is a character study in the highest regard yet is also beautiful to look at making it very multi-faceted. Marcello is troubled as evidenced by his backstory. In many ways he is weak, refusing to accept who he is or admit his deepest desires.

Mixed in with the complexity of his character is a unique character named Anna (Dominique Sanda), the college professor’s gorgeous blonde wife who appears to be bisexual, enticing both Marcello and his wife, Giulia, played by Stefania Sandrelli. Marcello, in particular, becomes transfixed and obsessed with Anna.

A truly heartbreaking moment arrives later in the film and is my favorite scene in The Conformist. As the assassination attempt is made on a lonely and secluded, yet picturesque country road, the result is murder, betrayal, and surprise.

When one character non-verbally speaks to another with mostly facial expressions and emotionally and pathetically pleads for their life through a car window it is as tragic as it is poetic.

The scene is wrought with drama and sadness.

Additionally, Marcello’s troubled childhood involving a homosexual experience involving a chauffeur named Lino resurfaces years later in an unlikely way and leads to the shocking conclusion of the film.

The very last frame of the film leaves the viewer pondering what is to become of Marcello next.

Marcello’s mother and father add mysterious layers to the film. His father is securely an inmate in a mental hospital while his mother is a boozy older woman who sleeps until noon.

While these characters are not explored as completely as they might have been, it does lead one to ponder why Marcello is the way that he is and if his parents have any bearing on his persona.

In a particularly fascinating scene, Anna seductively dances with Marcello’s wife at a crowded dancehall, they do the tango, as amidst her affair with Marcello, she is clearly in love with his wife, making the dynamic confusing yet at the same time fascinating to view.

The Conformist heavily influenced storied directors such as Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. A beautiful scene of leaves blowing in the wind almost mirrors a similar scene contained in Coppola’s The Godfather Part II.

A film that is as captivating as it is filled with influence, The Conformist is an interesting watch for both the style and the mystique that surrounds it.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Salo-1975

Salo-1975

Director Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring Paolo Bonacelli

Top 100 Films #32      Top 10 Disturbing Films #1    

Scott’s Review #183 

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Reviewed October 9, 2014

Grade: A

 Salo is a deeply disturbing, highly controversial, Italian art film from 1975 that is not for the squeamish nor the prudish. Many people will revile this film for its distastefulness and despise the film entirely- that is if they even give it a chance, which, unfortunately, many people will refuse to.

But beyond the filth, perversion, and hatefulness that are themes of Salo, lies a film that is a work of art and must be experienced by the most open-minded of cinema lovers.

The film is a dreamlike experience that centers on four wealthy Fascist Italian men of great importance and power, circa 1944, who decide to kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls- the youngsters must be the cream of the crop and flawless in appearance, only the most attractive will do- one girl missing a tooth is immediately cast aside as a reject.

Whether the girl flaunted her marred appearance is open to interpretation.

The youths are then taken to an enormous palace where they are stripped of all clothing and forced to endure four months of torture, sexual perversions, and humiliations at the whim of and for the entertainment of their captors.

Finally, at the end of their terms, most are tortured to death by way of scalping, removal of tongues, or having their sexual organs burned off.

Also living in the palace are four aging prostitutes who enthrall the men, along with the reluctant prisoners, with tales of kinky and perverted sexual encounters from their younger days mostly involving anal sex.

The film is divided into four sections based on Dante’s Divine comedy: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood.

In one sadistically disturbing scene, one of the young girls is forced to eat human excrement by one of her wealthy captors.

In another, during the Circle of Shit, everyone dines on a meal consisting of human excrement where lewd sex occurs.

One of the female prisoners is tricked into eating food laced with nails- a contest to determine who has the best buttocks results in the winner being brutally murdered.

Everyone in the film is bisexual and there are repeated scenes of extreme, almost pornographic, violent sex scenes.

On a side note, most of the youngsters (non-actors) reported having a ball while filming Salo and knew not what the film was really about, so the feeling on the set was light-hearted, nothing like the finished product.

While deeply disturbing, Salo is a film that some, or many, will simply not get or look beyond the obvious for a deeper message. It is a masterpiece in its ugliness, rawness, and political statements and is quite artistic once one gets past the brutality and rawness of the film.

Salo contains much political symbolism- the excrement serves as the filth of Nazi Germany and authoritarian figures throughout Europe such as Hitler and Mussolini, the abuse of power that was rampant during the time of the film (World War II era), and the entire film is about the abuse that powerful people (the wealthy fascists equate to powerful Germans) inflicted on the weak (the innocent boys and girls mirror the Jews and the weak).

Is Salo a disturbing, grotesque film? It is. Is it mindless torture for the sake of torture like movies as extreme as Saw and Hostel? It is not. It is an art film, not a horror film.

Banned in many countries for decades due to the extreme content of rape, murder, and torture of individuals thought to be under the age of eighteen, it remains widely banned to this day in several countries.

Many filmmakers, actors, and historians struggle to maintain the artistic merit of the film.

To fully get Salo, one must delve into the mind of the filmmakers and recognize that it is a statement film, filled with symbolism that challenges and questions the politics of its time.

Director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was brutally murdered by a male prostitute shortly before the film’s release.

Salo (1975) is one of the most disturbing films I have ever viewed.

Opera-1987

Opera-1987

Director Dario Argento

Starring Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson

Scott’s Review #104

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Reviewed July 11, 2014

Grade: B+

Opera is a 1987 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento.

The story revolves around a theatrical production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” as the understudy takes on the lead role of Lady Macbeth after the star is hit by a car, and strange and horrific events begin to occur.

The film contains traditional Argento elements- stylistic, extreme close-ups, and weird camera angles.

Members of the cast are systematically murdered as the killer forces the film’s heroine to watch- aided by a device which, if she blinks, sharp nails will go through her eyes.

The ending is killer- no pun intended. I love surprise endings in horror films and this one was dynamite.

My main criticism of the film is the horrendous dubbing, which distracted me a great deal. It has a muffled, hard-to-hear quality to it and no subtitles.

I’d rather it have been available in Italian with English subtitles. The film needs to be upgraded to Blu-ray ASAP.

Another odd aspect of the film is the mixture of operatic music with heavy metal music with each kill. It did not seem to fit the film at all.

Not Argento’s best- Suspiria (1977) and Deep Red (1975) have that honor, but a very good, enjoyable cinematic horror film.

Swept Away-1974

Swept Away-1974

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato

Scott’s Review #72

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Reviewed June 27, 2014

Grade: B+

Swept Away (1974) is an Italian version of the film remade starring Madonna in 2004.

A wealthy, spoiled woman is stranded on a deserted island with her male servant.

The 1974 film is superb and, at times, deeply disturbing, as scenes of humiliation are almost too much to watch.

The theme is about the class system- the haves and the have-nots and what happens when roles are reversed and individuals are stripped of titles is interesting, shocking, and, at times, troubling.

I was stunned, yet mesmerized, by a very animalistic scene in which a man beats a woman. At first, the man is the sympathetic one and the woman is despised, then the roles are shockingly reversed.

Amazingly, the film was directed by a woman, Lina Wertmüller, a brave, underappreciated German director.

When, inevitably, the pair are rescued and return to normalcy, the plot takes a very dynamic turn.

The Great Beauty-2013

The Great Beauty-2013

Director Paolo Sorrentino

Starring Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone

Scott’s Review #16

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

The Great Beauty is an Italian film and winner of the 2013 Best Foreign Language Oscar and, in my opinion, well deserved.

The film is hardly conventional- it is thoughtful, character-driven, and quite Fellini-influenced.

It takes some time to get into- the first thirty minutes are mostly people dancing and partying wildly.

Set in present-day Rome, it tells the story of a successful sixty-five-year-old journalist who reflects on his life, past and present.

The themes of loss and loneliness are explored, and while cynical, are not a downer.

Quite the contrary, as one party after another, is thrown and the nightlife and excesses of Rome are the centerpieces.

A main aspect of The Great Beauty is that all the money and success in the world do not measure happiness something that many people forget.

The main character loses people close to him and many of his wealthy friends are bored and alone. This film is about life and its complexities.

It left me thinking long after the credits rolled and is a huge testament to its power. Rarely, a film like this comes along any longer.

I felt like I was watching a masterpiece.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film