Italian film

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The history of Italian cinema began just months after the Lumière brothers discovered the medium when Pope Leo XIII. was filmed for a few seconds while blessing a camera.

Since the rise of Italian cinema, many Italian films have received prestigious international awards: 14 Oscars for the best foreign film, 12 Golden Palms , 11 Golden Lions and 7 Golden Bears have gone to Italian productions.

Italian feature film production
year number
1975 230
1985 89
1995 75
2002 130
2005 98

Early years

contemporary movie poster by Cabiria

The Italian film industry took shape between 1903 and 1908, led by three main companies - the Roman " Cines " and the two Turin film companies " Ambrosio " and " Itala ". Other companies would soon follow in Milan and Naples . In a short period of time, these early companies achieved remarkable production quality and were soon selling films outside of Italy .

One of the first Italian filoni ( sub-genre ) was the period film : the first work in this genre was Filoteo Alberini's La presa di Roma ( The Conquest of Rome, September 20, 1870 ), filmed in 1905. Other films were about famous historical figures such as Nero , Messalina , Spartacus , Julius Caesar and Cleopatra . Arturo Ambrosio's Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei ( The Last Days of Pompeii , 1908 ) became famous so quickly that Mario Caserini made a new film in 1913 . In the same year, Enrico Guazzoni directed the highly acclaimed production Marcantonio e Cleopatra ( Antonius and Cleopatra , 1913). In 1914 Giovanni Pastrones monumental film Cabiria became a worldwide success, which revolutionized film production with the new dramatic element of the tracking shot. In Cabiria the power man Maciste was introduced as a character, embodied until the mid-1920s by the former dock worker Bartolomeo Pagano in the new genre of adventure films . Towards the middle to the end of the 1920s, Italy also introduced film quotas for foreign productions - in view of the flood of Hollywood films that troubled the entire European film industry at the time. Italy, for example, issued a quota of 1:10, which meant that ten foreign films could be imported for every Italian film produced.

The actresses Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini were the first Italian "film divas" (film stars) and specialized in passionate tragedies. Francesca Bertini became the first movie star, as well as the first actress to be seen briefly naked in a feature film.

Another filoni was characterized by social issues, often based on contemporary literature. It was stylistically assigned to Verism . In 1916 , the film Cenere ( Ashes , 1916 ) was based on the book of the same name by Grazia Deledda and was interpreted by the famous theater actress Eleonora Duse , the lover of the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio .

Introduction of the sound

The introduction of the sound film did not at first improve the quality of Italian film, also because of the economic problems caused by the First World War . Only later did the film industry succeed in regaining a certain quality, above all through innovative films by Alessandro Blasetti , Mario Camerini and his cousin Augusto Genina .

Blasetti began his long career with an avant-garde project ( Sole , 1928 ) and in the following years directed the comedy Nero (a sharp satire about Mussolini , in which the Italian dictator allegedly granted the censorship clearance himself).

Another thriving genre was Telefoni Bianchi films (white telephones), so named because of the appearance of these pieces of equipment in stripes played by the upper class. The "Telefoni Bianchi" genre showed the high society with a hefty dose of moral criticism and reflections on the culture of the time. These films helped many later stars like Vittorio De Sica and Alida Valli to start their careers.


Cinecittà studios

In the meantime, fascism had created a political platform for popular entertainment. With Mussolini's full approval, a film industry of a new dimension has now been built. An area in the south-east of Rome was selected to build a city ex novo exclusively for the cinema: Cinecittà . The city was founded to provide everything that was necessary for filmmaking: theater, technical services and even a cinematography school for young talent. To this day, many films are shot entirely in the Cinecittà . At the same time, Vittorio Mussolini , the dictator's son, founded a national production company and organized the collaboration of the most talented writers, directors and actors (including some political opponents); this enabled a close communication network to be established among these film artists, from which some famous friendships resulted and which also stimulated cultural exchange; see. Roberto Rossellini , Federico Fellini a . a.


Italian cinema had to pay the dictator a small price; As the Second World War approached , much of the work was produced for propaganda purposes, as was the case in many countries. Nevertheless, in 1942 Blasetti produced the film Quattro Passi Tra le Nuvole ( Four Steps in the Clouds ), which tells the story of a humble employee - this work is considered by many to be the first neorealist work.

Italian neorealism established itself soon after the end of the war, with unforgettable works such as the trilogy by Roberto Rossellini and with extraordinary actors such as Anna Magnani . The difficult economic and moral conditions in Italy and the changes in the general mentality in everyday life were topics. Because the Cinecittà was occupied by refugees, films were made outside, on the devastated streets of a defeated Italy. This film genre soon became an important political tool as well, although in most cases directors managed to maintain some distance between art and politics.

Poetry and the cruelty of life were harmoniously combined in the works that Vittorio De Sica wrote and produced together with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini : among them the shoe shiners ( Sciuscià, 1946 ), bicycle thieves ( Ladri di Biciclette, 1948 ) and The Miracle of Milan ( Miracolo a Milano, 1951 ). The sad, bitter work Umberto D. ( 1952 ) is the touching story of a poor old man with his little dog, whom life forces to beg for alms against his dignity in a ruthless society, possibly De Sica's masterpiece and one of the most important works of Italian cinema. Covered with severe polemics on the part of the government, which wanted to censor the film as "anti-national", the work was not a commercial success and since then it has only been shown a few times on Italian television. Still, it's probably the fiercest attack on the new economy's guidelines, new mentality, new values, while the film allows for a conservative and progressive view of things at the same time.

Pink neorealism and comedy

It has been claimed that after Vittoria De Sica's Umberto D. film, nothing could be added to neorealism. For this or other reasons, classic Italian neorealism was effectively ended with this film. The following works moved in the direction of brighter atmospheres, possibly related to the improved conditions of the country, the new genre is called "Pink Neorealism". This filone also allowed better “endowed” actresses to become real celebrities: the stimulating portrayals of Sophia Loren , Gina Lollobrigida , Silvana Pampanini , Lucia Bosè , along with other beauties such as: Eleonora Rossi Drago , Silvana Mangano , Claudia Cardinale and Stefania Sandrelli inspired the imaginations of the Italians shortly before the so-called "boom" of the sixties. Soon the "pink neorealism" was replaced by the " Commedia all'italiana " (Italian comedy), a unique genre, which told about important social issues in a very humorous way, instead of very seriously as before.

At that time the phenomenon Totò , a Neapolitan actor who played the central Italian comedian, became famous. His films (often with Peppino De Filippo and almost always with Mario Castellani ) expressed a kind of neorealist satire, with the means of a dope comedian, as well as with the art of the great dramatic actor he was, as Pier Paolo Pasolini would have portrayed, out. Totò was a real "film machine" that produced dozens of titles a year. Its repertoire was repeated many times. His personal story (a prince born in the worst part of Naples ), his unique twisted face, his special facial expressions and his gestures, merged into an inimitable personality that became one of the most popular in all of Italy.

The beginning of Italian comedy is generally marked with Mario Monicelli's I soliti ignoti ( Thieves have a hard time , 1958). The name " Commedia all'italiana " is derived from the title Pietro Germis Divorzio all'italiana ( divorce in Italian , 1961). For a long time this definition has been used with derogatory intent. Vittorio Gassman , Marcello Mastroianni , Ugo Tognazzi , Alberto Sordi , Claudia Cardinale , Monica Vitti and Nino Manfredi were among the stars of these films.

Monicelli's works include La grande guerra , I compagni , L'armata Brancaleone , Vogliamo I colonnelli , Romanzo popolare and Amici miei .

1961 produced Dino Risi Una vita difficile ( Life is hard ), the year after Il Sorpasso , now a cult film, subsequent I mostri ( Monsters , too: 15 of Rome, 1963), In nome del popolo italiano ( Evening without an alibi, 1971) and Profumo di Donna ( The fragrance of women, 1974).

The spaghetti western

At the same time another genre began to have great success, not only in Italy, the spaghetti westerns . These films differed from traditional westerns not only in that they were filmed on low budgets in Italy, but also in their unique, clean cinematography. The most important and popular spaghetti westerns were those of Sergio Leone , whose dollar trilogy consists of: For a Fistful of Dollars , For a Few Dollars More and Two Glorious Scoundrels . Clint Eastwood can be seen as an actor in all 3 parts, and Ennio Morricone's score became world famous.

The spaghetti western is also a film genre that combined the traditional western ambience with the comical tradition of the " Commedia all'italiana ". These films include The Devil's Right and Left Hand and Four Fists for a Hallelujah , where Bud Spencer and Terence Hill , the stage names of Carlo Pedersoli and Mario Girotti, became world famous.


From the half of the 1970s, the Italian police film was made and replaced the spaghetti western. The films were often made by actors and directors who had previously shot spaghetti westerns. The films by Enzo G. Castellari, such as the film Dead Witnesses Don't Sing , or the films by Umberto Lenzi such as The Berserker or The Viper are considered exemplary . As the parade commissioner of the Italian police film, Maurizio Merli achieved fame. Sergio Grieco's film Der Tollwütige with Helmut Berger in the leading role is also considered a classic . The last film in the genre is Lucio Fulcis' The Syndicate of Horror . Hardly any such films were made after 1980.

The Italian horror film: Gothic, Gore, Sex and Exploitation

With films such as Mario Bava's The Hour When Dracula Comes , an independent Italian horror film developed from the early 1960s, which was also successful on the international market. From the beginning, these films primarily linked sexuality and violence, which was often shown in the explicit representation of bodily mutilation, the gore or splatter . The Italian horror film, whose films are mostly classified as exploitation films , remained successful after its beginnings in the filming of classic horror scenarios of the gothic novel until the 1980s. He achieved this primarily through the constant adoption of concepts from successful American horror films, each of which resulted in a number of Italian follow-up films. So followed Ilsa a wave of "Naziploitationfilmen" as SS Experiment Camp , Gestapos last orgy or general women's prison films ; The Last House on the Left has been impersonated in a number of Rape and Revenge films; the success of Dawn of the Dead led to a number of zombie films ; and other box office hits like The Omen were remade in individual films.

The works of Lucio Fulci deserve special mention as important Italian horror films . Films like Beyond the Beyond , A Zombie Hung on a Bell Rope or Woodoo - The Zombies' Dread Island were considered commercial successes and are still considered genre cult films to this day. Dario Argento's films, such as Tenebrae, followed the tradition of the so-called Giallo and are also highly valued.

However, the Italian horror film also spawned original film genres. For example, the Italian cannibal film was inspired by the Mondo film (another Italian genre, the films of which are occasionally classified as horror films) in the 1970s . The films of Nunsploitation reached their climax in Italy and the Gialli thrillers, also assigned to the horror film, come from Italy.

Due to their explicit representation of violence and later also through the use of pornographic staging of sexuality, some films of the Italian horror film were released cut by a few scenes when they were released in cinemas in some countries. Especially in the video evaluation of the 1980s, which was preceded by the politicization of the subject of "violent videos" and their influence on young people in the western world, many of these films were indexed and for years were only very shortened in Germany and not even available in stores.

Crisis in the 1980s

Italian cinema went through a long period of crisis between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s. During this time, the Italian "art film" was increasingly successful in separating itself from the mainstream of Italian cinema. Among the artistically best films of this era were La città delle donne ( City of Women ) by Federico Fellini , L'albero degli zoccoli ( The Wooden Shoe Tree ) by Ermanno Olmi , winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes International Film Festival, and Bianca by Nanni Moretti . Although not entirely Italian, one can not ignore Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor , which is the winner of 9 Oscars .

At the same time, Italian trash films achieved great success with the Italian public. Comedies with little artistic value achieved their popularity by mainly addressing Italian social taboos, including in the sexual area. Some actors, including Lino Banfi , Diego Abatantuono , Alvaro Vitali , Gloria Guida, and Edwige Fenech, owe their popularity largely to these films.

The films with Paolo Villaggio as a ragged Fantozzi, a strange personality, are also counted among the trash films. This character had a great impact on Italian society, even to such a degree that the adjective fantozziano was entered in the lexicon. Of the many films of Fantozzi's misadventures, the most notable were Fantozzi and Il secondo tragico Fantozzi .

1990s to today

Market share of Italian films
in cinema admissions in Italy
year Total cinema visits
, in million
Italian films market share
2004 116.3 21.6%
2005 105.6 25.7%
2006 106.1 25.8%
2007 116.4 32.0%
2008 111.6 29.3%

A new generation of directors brought Italian cinema back to a healthy level since the late 1980s. The cornerstone of this renaissance of Italian cinema is Cinema Paradiso , for which Giuseppe Tornatore received the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1990 . This victory was repeated two years later by another, Gabriele Salvatores Mediterraneo . From now on, the Italian cinema went uphill again. In the 1990s Italy was nominated six times for the international Oscar and in 1999 won it for the third time in this category. This year Roberto Benigni received two Academy Awards for Best Director of a Foreign Language Film and Best Actor in Life is Beautiful . In total, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and received numerous international awards ( BAFTA Award , European Film Prize , Goya , César ). Italy is the most successful nation in this category as a thirteen-time winner of the international oscar. Italy also has a national film award, the David di Donatello .


  • Peter E. Bondanella, Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present . Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd., 3rd updated edition, 2001, ISBN 0-8264-1247-5
  • Zibaldone No. 37: Film in Italy . Tübingen, Stauffenburg Verlag, 2004, ISBN 3-86057-989-4
  • Dagmar Reichardt and Alberto Bianchi (eds.): Letteratura e cinema , ed. and with a foreword by Dagmar Reichardt and Alberto Bianchi, Firenze: Franco Cesati Editore, (Civiltà italiana. Terza serie, no. 5), 2014, ISBN 978-88-7667-501-0

Web links

Commons : Italian film  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. World Film Production Report (excerpt) ( Memento from August 8, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), Screen Digest, June 2006, pp. 205–207, accessed on October 3, 2015.
  2. L'Estrange Fawcett: The World of Film. Amalthea-Verlag, Zurich, Leipzig, Vienna 1928, p. 150 (translated by C. Zell, supplemented by S. Walter Fischer)
  3. Österreichisches Filminstitut : Press release ( Memento of the original from March 21, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. the European Audiovisual Observatory (OBS) , Council of Europe Strasbourg, 9 February 2009 (accessed 17 February 2009); Figures for Italy according to Centro Studi Cinecittà Holding / Cinetel  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /