Showing posts with label Alessandro Blasetti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alessandro Blasetti. Show all posts

3 May 2023

Gino Cervi - actor

Star best known for Don Camillo and Maigret

Gino Cervi in his role as Peppone, the Communist mayor, in the first of the Don Camillo film series
Gino Cervi in his role as Peppone, the Communist
mayor, in the first of the Don Camillo film series
The actor Gino Cervi, a star of cinema and television screens in Italy for more than four decades as well as an accomplished stage performer, was born on this day in 1901 in Bologna.

Although his movie credits run to more than 120, he is probably best known for his portrayal of the Communist mayor Peppone in the Don Camillo films of the 1950s and ‘60s, and for playing Chief Inspector Maigret in the Italian TV series of the ‘60s and ‘70s based on the crime novels of Georges Simenon.

Cervi was the father of Italian film producer Tonino Cervi and the grandfather of actress Valentina Cervi.

Born Luigi Cervi in the historic Santo Stefano district of Bologna, Gino’s interest in acting had its roots in his journalist father Antonio’s job as theatre critic for Il Resto del Carlino, the city’s daily newspaper.

As a boy, he persuaded his father to take him to the theatre, soon developing an ambition to be a stage actor, which is where his talents first became known.

After his stage debut in 1924 - sadly, too late to be witnessed by his father, who died in 1923 - Cervi was invited the following year to join the company of the Teatro d’Arte di Roma, where the artistic director was the playwright, poet and future Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello, working with actors of the quality of Lamberto Picasso, Ruggero Ruggeri and Marta Abba.

The writer Luigi Pirandello saw Cervi's acting talent
The writer Luigi Pirandello saw
Cervi's acting talent
After a decade in which his reputation grew year on year, he was invited to be lead actor at the Tofano-Maltagliati company, becoming an accomplished and lauded interpreter of the works of Goldoni, Sophocles, Dostoevsky and Shakespeare.  In 1938, jointly with with Andreina Pagnani, Paolo Stoppa and Rina Morelli, Cervi formed the company of the Teatro Eliseo in Rome, taking over as director in 1939.

By then he had already made his film debut but it was not until he formed a working relationship with Alessandro Blasetti, the director sometimes described as the father of modern Italian cinema, that his screen career really took off.

Blasetti directed him in a series of successful movies including Ettore Fieramosca (1938), Un'avventura di Salvator Rosa (1939) and La corona di ferro (1941), followed by 4 passi fra le nuvole (1942), the film considered to be the precursor of the neorealism movement that dominated Italian cinema for a period in the late 1940s and early ‘50s.

Yet Cervi’s star was to climb still higher in the 1950s, when he was chosen for the role of Peppone, the Communist mayor of a fictional town in northern Italy invented by writer Giovanni Guareschi, who is constantly at odds with the town’s rather hot-headed parish priest, Don Camillo.

The two characters made their screen debut in Le Petit Monde de don Camillo - The Little World of Don Camillo - in 1952, bringing fame both to Cervi and to Fernandel, the French comic actor cast as the priest. 

The movie, an Italian-French co-production directed by the French director Julien Duvivier, was the highest-grossing film of all-time in both Italy and France, attracting 13.2 million cinema admissions in Italy and 12.8 million in France. 

Cervi and Fernandel became firm friends and their on-screen relationship was central to the success of both the original feature and its four sequels between 1953 and 1965. A fifth was started in 1970 but was left unfinished because Fernandel was in failing health.

Cervi was oustanding in the role of Commissario Maigret on TV
Cervi was oustanding in the role of
Commissario Maigret on TV
For Cervi, a further chapter of success came in the shape of his portrayal of the French detective Jules Maigret, created by Georges Simenon, in an Italian series commissioned for national broadcaster Rai by Andrea Camilleri, then working in television as a producer, who would later create his own characterful police detective, Salvatore Montalbano.

Le inchieste del commissario Maigret - The Investigations of Commissioner Maigret - had four series over the course of eight years, comprising a total of 35 episodes. There was also a spin-off movie, Maigret a Pigalle, which was produced by Tonino Cervi.

Again, Cervi’s interpretation of the character garnered considerable critical acclaim, even from Simenon himself.

Cervi was married for much of his adult life to Angela Rosa Gardini - known as Ninì - a young actress he met in 1928 and married soon afterwards. In later life, they divorced and he married Erika Mayer.

Once a committed supporter of the Fascist party, he took part in the March on Rome in 1922, but would later denounce Mussolini’s regime. He switched his allegiance to the Christian Democrats after World War Two and later joined the Italian Liberal Party, for whom he served as a councillor in Lazio.

Although he retained an affection for Casalbuttano ed Uniti, a town near Cremona in Lombardy where his father had a house, Cervi spent his final days on the Tuscan coast at Punta Ala, a tiny coastal village on a headland opposite the island of Elba, where he died in 1974 at the age of 72, not long after he had retired from the stage.

He is buried alongside his first wife and their son, Tonino, who died in 2002, at the Flaminio cemetery in Rome.

The Piazza Santo Stefano in Bologna, looking towards the church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Piazza Santo Stefano in Bologna, looking
towards the church of the Holy Sepulchre 
Travel tip:

The centrepiece of the Santo Stefano district of central Bologna, in which Gino Cervi’s family lived, is the Basilica di Santo Stefano, unusual in that it is actually a complex of seven religious buildings from different eras, clustered around Piazza Santo Stefano. It is known locally as the Sette Chiese - the Seven Churches - as a result. The original building, designed to resemble the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, was built according to tradition by Saint Petronius in the fifth century, when he was a bishop of Bologna, over the site of a pagan temple to Isis.  The other buildings include the Lombard church of the Crucifix, the church of the Calvario, the church of Saint Vitale and Saint Agricola - the oldest part of the complex, dating back to the fourth century - and the Church of the Trinity, which was restructured between the 12th and 13th centuries.

The bronze statue of Peppone in front of Brescello town hall
The bronze statue of Peppone
in front of Brescello town hall
Travel tip:

The town of Brescello on the south shore of the Po river, a little over 20km (12 miles) northeast of Parma in Emilia-Romagna, has become a tourist attraction since being chosen as the location for the Don Camillo films in which Gino Cervi starred. The town, which has its origins in the Roman era, has a museum dedicated to the characters of Don Camillo and Peppone, which can be found in Via Edmondo de Amicis, a few steps from Chiesa di Santa Maria Nascente, the town’s main church, which overlooks Piazza Matteotti, the central square in which there are bronze statues of Don Camillo (in front of the church) and Peppone (by the door of the town hall). The statues were created by Andrea Zangani, a sculptor from the nearby province of Mantova, to mark the 50th anniversary in 2001 of the first Don Camillo film. 

Also on this day:

1461: The birth of Renaissance cardinal Raffaele Riario

1469: The birth of writer and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli

1764: The death of philosopher and art collector Francesco Algarotti

1815: The Battle of Tolentino


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3 July 2017

Alessandro Blasetti - film director

Reputation tarnished by links with Mussolini


Alessandro Blasetti was one of the first directors to use the techniques of neorealism in his films
Alessandro Blasetti was one of the first directors
to use the techniques of neorealism in his films
Alessandro Blasetti, the film director sometimes referred to as ‘the father of Italian cinema’ for the part he played in reviving the film industry in Italy in the late 1920s and 30s, was born on this day in 1900 in Rome.

In his directing style, Blasetti was seen as ahead of his time, even in his early days.  His films were often shot on location, used many non-professional actors and had the characteristics of the neorealism that would make Italian cinema famous in the post-War years.

Yet he will forever be seen by some critics as an apologist for Fascism, a charge which stems mainly from his support for at least part of the ideology of Benito Mussolini, which led to a number of his films being interpreted as Fascist propaganda, although the evidence in some cases was rather thin.

The son of an oboe professor at Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Blasetti graduated in law from the Sapienza University of Rome.   Married in 1923, his first job was as a bank clerk but after a year he began to work as a journalist and wrote the first film column to appear in an Italian national newspaper.

He used his position to campaign for a revival of film production in Italy, which at that time had largely ground to a halt, despite Rome having been a major hub of the silent movie industry before the First World War.

Adriana Benetti and Gino Cervi in a scene from Blasetti's 1942 film Quattro pasi fra le nuvole
Adriana Benetti and Gino Cervi in a scene from
Blasetti's 1942 film Quattro pasi fra le nuvole 
Blasetti helped begin the resurgence with his first movie, Sole – Sun – in 1929, with a storyline set against the real-life draining of the Pontine Marshes, south of Rome, a project organised by Mussolini.

Mussolini applauded the end result, declaring it to be ‘the dawn of the Fascist film’. Financed through a co-operative, it was not a commercial success yet it was significant in that Mussolini saw film as a way of spreading his message and would later invest much state funding in the Italian film industry.

Blasetti’s early neorealism was clear in 1860, a film made in 1934 about Garibaldi’s campaign to unite Italy as seen through the eyes of two peasants, again with much location filming and imbued with the same kind of visual starkness that would be associated with Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and others in the post-War years.

It can be argued that several of Blasetti’s 1930s films are critical of the Fascist regimes. Vecchio guardia - The Old Guard - recounts Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, which led to his ascension to power. Ironically, it was criticised by some in the Fascist government for having too few scenes of public enthusiasm for Il Duce.

Blasetti pictured in 1965
Blasetti pictured in 1965
Blasetti, however, did not discourage Mussolini’s interest in his work and took every opportunity to lobby for state funding and support. One outcome was the construction of the large, state-of-the-art Cinecittà studios in Rome, which would give Italian filmmakers the resources to make a real impact.

A marked shift to neorealism came with Quattro pasi fra le nuvole – Four Steps in the Clouds – his 1942 story of a married salesman who agrees to save the honour of a pregnant girl he meets on a train by presenting himself to her family as her husband.

As well as his films, Blasetti’s notable contribution to Italian cinema was as founder of the school that was to become the Centro Sperimentale, Rome’s noted film study centre archive.  He died in Rome in 1987.

Coastal lakes or lagoons typify the Pontine Marshes
Coastal lakes or lagoons typify the Pontine Marshes
Travel tip:

The Pontine Marshes is a reclaimed area of land south of Rome, bordered roughly by the Alban Hills, the Lepini Mountains, and the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It was a marshy and malarial area that several emperors and popes tried unsuccessfully to drain and until the early part of the 20th century it was inhabited by just a handful of shepherds. However, in 1928 the Fascist government drained the marshes, cleared the vegetation and built new towns, notably Littoria (now Latina) in 1932, Sabaudia in 1934, Pontinis in 1935, Aprilia in 1937, and Pomezia in 1939. By the Second World War the only untouched area was the Monte Circeo National Park. The area is now the most productive agricultural region in in Italy.

Travel tip:

The Centro sperimentale di cinematografia – the Italian national film school - was established in 1935. The oldest film school in Western Europe, it is still financed by the Italian government. It is located near Cinecittà, about 10km (6 miles) south-east of the centre of Rome along Via Tuscolana.