Showing posts with label Ciociaria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ciociaria. Show all posts

22 March 2018

Nino Manfredi - actor and director

Totò fan became maestro of commedia all’italiana

Nino Manfredi made more than 100 films in the course of his career
Nino Manfredi made more than 100 films
in the course of his career
The actor and director Saturnino ‘Nino’ Manfredi, who would become known as the last great actor of the commedia all’italiana genre, was born on this day in 1921 in Castro dei Volsci, near Frosinone in Lazio.

Manfredi made more than 100 movies, often playing marginalised working-class figures in the bittersweet comedies that characterised the genre, which frequently tackled important social issues and poked irreverent fun at some of the more absurd aspects of Italian life, in particular the suffocating influence of the church.

He was a favourite of directors such as Dino Risi, Luigi Comencini, Ettore Scola and Franco Brusati, who directed him in the award-winning Pane and cioccolata (Bread and Chocolate), which evoked the tragicomic existence of immigrant workers and was considered one of his finest performances.

It helped him fulfil his dream of following in the footsteps of his boyhood idol Totò, the Neapolitan comic actor whose eccentric characters took enormous liberties in mocking Italian institutions, and to be spoken off in the company of Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi as a true maestro of commedia all’italiana.

Manfredi had a tough time in his childhood. Born into a farming family in the Ciociaria region south of Rome, he was uprooted to live in the capital at a young age after his father, a public safety officer, won a promotion.

Manfredi in a comedy called, in English, Fiasco in Milan,  which also starred Vittorio Gassman and Claudia Cardinale
Manfredi in a comedy called, in English, Fiasco in Milan,
 which also starred Vittorio Gassman and Claudia Cardinale
Brought up in the San Giovanni neighbourhood south of the Colosseum, he had a happy time with his brother, Dante, until he developed a strain of pleurisy in 1937 that was so serious he was admitted to hospital and given only a few weeks to live.  He survived but spent several years in the care of a sanatorium and would suffer health problems throughout his life.

It was while in the sanatorium that he began performing with a musical group and set his heart on a career on the stage, much to the dismay of his father, who wanted him to be a lawyer.  He became fascinated with the cinema and when he left hospital he enrolled himself at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, although he acceded to his father’s wishes and studied law at the same time.

In the event, he passed his exams in both, despite the difficulties imposed by Italy being at war. In fact, he and Dante spent many months hiding in the mountains in Ciociaria to avoid conscription.

Making his way in theatre, Manfredi appeared in serious dramas and musicals, including a spell in a company in Milan in which he appeared in plays by Pirandello, Chekhov, Ibsen and Shakespeare until he tired of the lack of laughter, bursting as he was to perform comedy.

Manfredi played the puppet-maker Geppetto in Luigi Comencini's acclaimed TV version of Pinocchio
Manfredi played the puppet-maker Geppetto in Luigi
Comencini's acclaimed TV version of Pinocchio
He made his screen debut in 1949 and landed his first major part in 1955, starring with Alberto Sordi in Lo scapolo (The Batchelor), directed by Antonio Pietrangeli.  His big break came after a revue company he formed were invited to host a RAI television show, Canzonissima.

The exposure this brought accelerated his movie career and from the second half of the 1960s he became an established star of commedia all’italiana. He directed for the first time in 1971 with the acclaimed Between Miracles (Per grazia ricevuta in Italian) which controversially explored a young man’s torment when sexual desires and the sacrifices of faith collide.

Manfredi continued to make films even after a minor stroke in 1993 left him with cognitive difficulties, his last role coming in 2002 in La luz prodigiosa, also known as The End of a Mystery, a film set in Spain that imagined that Federico Lorca, a poet murdered by Franco’s thugs, had survived.

The following year, Manfredi suffered two major strokes and died in 2004, aged 83.  Married in 1955 to Erminia Ferrari, a model, he left a son, Luca and two daughters, Roberta and Giovanna, two of whom followed him into the entertainment business.

Castro dei Volsci sits on a hillside in Ciociaria
Castro dei Volsci sits on a hillside in Ciociaria
Travel tip:

Castro dei Volsci, which is situated some 25km (16 miles) southeast of Frosinone and about 105km (65 miles) from Rome, is a small town of less than 5,000 inhabitants that has been described as capturing the charm of Ciociaria. It has a hillside setting, with a network of steep, cobbled medieval streets and breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside of rolling hills and richly verdant valleys.

The San Giovanni neighbourhood is the area around Porta San Giovanni, south of the centre of Rome
The San Giovanni neighbourhood is the area around
Porta San Giovanni, south of the centre of Rome
Travel tip:

San Giovanni is a neighbourhood of Rome southeast of the city centre, straddling the Via Appia Nuova, en route to the town of Frascati and the Castelli Romani. A combination of modern thoroughfares and the architectural features of the Renaissance, it is considered an authentically Roman neighbourhood and one that is becoming popular with visitors looking for an affordable part if the city in which to stay, without being too far from the main sights.

28 September 2017

Marcello Mastroianni – actor

Film star who immortalised the Trevi Fountain

Marcello Mastroianni was an icon of Italian cinema for more than 45 years
Marcello Mastroianni was an star of
Italian cinema for more than 45 years
Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni, who grew up to star in some of the most iconic Italian films of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1924 in Fontana Liri, in the province of Frosinone in Lazio.

He was the son of Ida Irolle and Ottone Mastroianni, who ran a carpentry shop. His uncle, Umberto Mastroianni, was a sculptor.

At the age of 14, Marcello Mastroianni made his screen debut as an extra in a 1939 film called Marionette.

His career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he was interned in a German prison camp until he managed to escape and go into hiding in Venice.

He made several minor film appearances after the war until he landed his first big role in Atto d’accusa, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo, in 1951.

Ten years later, Mastroianni had become an international celebrity, having starred in Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita opposite Anita Ekberg. He played a disillusioned tabloid journalist who spends his days and nights exploring Rome’s high society. The film is most famous for the scene in which Ekberg's character, Sylvia, wades into the Trevi Fountain.

Mastroianni followed this with a starring role in Fellini’s   - Otto e mezzo - in which he played a film director who suffers from creative block while making a movie.

Mastroianni's famous Trevi Fountain scene with Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini's La dolce vita
Mastroianni's famous Trevi Fountain scene with Anita
Ekberg in Federico Fellini's La dolce vita
He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, for Pietro Germi's Divorce, Italian-style, Ettore Scola's A Special Day and Dark Eyes, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov. He is one of only three actors to have twice been awarded the Best Actor award at the Cannes film festival.

A Special Day was one of 11 films in which he starred opposite Sophia Loren, his on-screen partnership with whom was a feature of Italian cinema in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Mastroianni married Flora Carabella in 1950 and they had a daughter, Barbara. After they separated, he had a relationship with the actress Faye Dunaway. He later lived with French actress Catherine Deneuve and they had a daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.

Mastroianni in Divorce, Italian-style
Mastroianni in Divorce, Italian-style
He was rumoured to have had affairs with other actresses until, in 1976, he became involved with Anna Maria Tato, an author and film maker.

Mastroianni died from pancreatic cancer in 1996 at the age of 72. Both of his daughters, as well as Deneuve and Tato, were at his bedside.

The Trevi Fountain was turned off and draped in black as a tribute to him.

Travel tip:

Fontana Liri, where Marcello Mastroianni was born, is a small village in the Apennines, about 90km (56 miles) southeast of Rome and about 15km (9 miles) east of Frosinone. It falls within the remote hilly part of Lazio known as the Ciociaria, which is south of Rome and north of Naples and is named after the ciocie, sandals, traditionally worn by local people.

The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome
The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome
Travel tip:

The Trevi Fountain in Rome, where Marcello Mastroianni paddled with Anita Ekberg in La dolce vita, was symbolically turned off and draped in black as a tribute to the actor after he died. The fountain was officially opened by Pope Clement XIII in 1762. Standing at more than 26m (85 feet) high and 49m (161 feet) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and probably the most famous fountain in the world. It was designed by a Roman architect, Nicola Salvi, but he died when it was only half finished. Made from Travertine stone quarried in Tivoli near Rome, the fountain was completed by Giuseppe Pannini, with Oceanus (god of all water), designed by Pietro Bracci, set in the central niche. Coins are traditionally thrown into the fountain by visitors, using the right hand over the left shoulder. It is estimated about 3000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day, money which is used to subsidise a supermarket for the poor in Rome.

7 September 2017

Kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

When the Pope was slapped down by a disgruntled landowner

Boniface VIII had a long-running conflict with Philip IV of France
Boniface VIII had a long-running
conflict with Philip IV of France
An army, representing King Philip IV of France and the anti-papal Colonna family, entered Anagni in Lazio and captured Pope Boniface VIII inside his own palace on this day in 1303.

The Pope was kept in custody for three days and was physically ill-treated by his captors until the local people rose up against the invaders and rescued him.

Boniface VIII returned to Rome, but he was physically and mentally broken after his ordeal and died a month later.

The Pope had been born Benedetto Caetani in Anagni in 1230. He became Pope Boniface VIII in 1294 after his predecessor abdicated. He organised the first Catholic Jubilee Year to take place in Rome in 1300 and founded Sapienza University in the city in 1303, the year of his death.

But Boniface VIII is mainly remembered for his conflicts with Philip IV of France. In 1296 Boniface VIII issued the bull Clericis Laicos which forbade under the sanction of automatic excommunication any imposition of taxes on the clergy without express licence by the Pope. Then in 1302 he issued a bull proclaiming the primacy of the Pope and insisting on the submission of the temporal to the spiritual power.

The 'Anagni slap' as depicted by French  artist Alphonse de Neuville
The 'Anagni slap' as depicted by French
 artist Alphonse de Neuville
Philip IV countered this with an order forbidding all exports of money and valuables from France to the Papal States along with the expulsion of foreign merchants.

The squabble escalated until Boniface VIII excommunicated the King of France and released a decree stating that every human creature was subject to the Roman pontiff.

He sent mercenaries to destroy other people’s castles and declared the anti-papal Colonna family’s property forfeited. He then shared their land out among his own family members.

An army representing the powerful Colonna family and accompanied by Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip IV’s minister, marched into Anagni where the Pope was spending the summer at his palace. They kidnapped the Pope and demanded that he abdicate.

When he refused he was allegedly slapped by Sciarra Colonna, which famously became known as the 'Anagni slap' - lo schiaffo di Anagni. The Colonna family wanted to kill the Pope but de Nogaret wanted to take him to France to try him for his crimes in front of a General Council.

According to many accounts Boniface VIII was subjected to ill-treatment over a period of three days until he was rescued by local people. He survived the attack only to die a month later after he had returned to Rome.

The writer Dante Alighieri had been personally exiled by the Pope for supporting the limitation of papal powers, so when he wrote his Divine Comedy he had his revenge by placing Boniface VIII in hell.

Boniface's papal palace in Anagni
Boniface's papal palace in Anagni
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio. It is south east of Rome in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear, named ciocie, favoured for many years by people living in the area. Boniface VIII was the fourth Pope produced by Anagni but after his death the power of the town declined and the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII, where he received the Anagni slap, is near the Cathedral.  Close by there is a restaurant named Lo Schiaffo.

Part of the Giotto fresco commemorating the Jubilee
Part of the Giotto fresco
 commemorating the Jubilee
Travel tip:

The Papal Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome houses a small portion of a fresco cycle painted by Giotto for the Jubilee of 1300, called by Pope Boniface VIII after he was elected to the Papacy.

7 July 2017

Vittorio De Sica - film director

Oscar-winning maestro behind 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica was one of the major figures of Italian neorealism
Vittorio De Sica was one of the major figures
of Italian neorealism
Vittorio De Sica, the director whose 1948 film Bicycle Thieves is regarded still as one of the greatest movies of all time, was born on this day in 1901 in Sora in Lazio.

Bicycle Thieves, a story set in the poverty of post-War Rome, was a masterpiece of Italian neorealism, the genre of which the major figures, in addition to De Sica, were Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Giuseppe de Santis and, to a smaller degree, Federico Fellini.

The movie was one of four that landed Academy Awards for De Sica. Another of his great neo-realist movies, Shoeshine (1948), won an honorary Oscar, while Bicycle Thieves won a special award as an outstanding foreign language film in the days before the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced.

De Sica would later win Oscars in that section for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) – a comedy starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni – and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). 

His Marriage Italian Style (1964), also starring Loren and Mastroianni, also earned a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film and for Loren as Best Actress. Loren did win Best Actress for her role in his 1961 movie La Ciociara, which was released outside Italy as Two Women.

Lamberto Maggiorani (left) and Enzo Staiola played
father and son in De Sica's acclaimed Bicycle Thieves
Born in Sora, which lies between Rome and Naples in the area known as Ciociaria, De Sica essentially grew up in Naples, to which his father, Umberto, who worked as a bank clerk with Banca d’Italia, was transferred in 1905.

During the First World War, De Sica had his first taste of the entertainment business when he joined a musical group that performed in military hospitals in Naples. He is said to have had an excellent singing voice.

He began acting in the 1920s and became something of a matinee idol on the stage. This was to lead to movie roles, mainly in light comedies. De Sica was box office for a while, chosen to star opposite female headliners such as Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

When he turned to directing, he began with movies in a similarly frothy vein. So he took audiences and the critics by surprise with his fourth film, The Children Are Watching Us, released in 1944. An extraordinarily sensitive story about a child whose mother elopes with another man, leaving his father distraught, the film was the first product of De Sica’s collaboration with the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini.

Zavattini, a former law student, began to write screenplays when his employer, Angelo Rizzoli, moved from publishing books and magazines into producing films.  He and De Sica would work together on Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan (1951), which won a Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and Umberto D (1952).

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the  third of De Sica's four Academy Awards
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the
third of De Sica's four Academy Awards
Umberto D, a bleak study of the problems of old age, was a box-office flop, so much so that film historians saw it as the beginning of the end for neo-realism. Indeed, it prompted De Sica to return to lighter work.

Nonetheless, he continued to collect awards and after some commentators had written him off as past his peak he sprang another surprise with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, based on a novel by Giorgio Bassani about the plight of Jews in Italy under Fascism, which won him another Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

A compulsive gambler, De Sica often lost large sums of money and accepted work he might otherwise have turned down in order to settle debts.  He was married twice, first to the actress Giuditta Rissone, who bore him a daughter, and later to the Spanish actress Maria Mercader, with whom he had two sons.

His personal life was complicated, however. He made a pact with his first wife to maintain the pretence of marriage while their daughter was growing up and at Christmas would turn the clocks back two hours in his second wife’s house so he could celebrate with both families, one after the other.

De Sica was a member of the Italian Communist Party, and it was the cause of some discomfort to him that his relationship with Maria Mercader created an unwelcome link with Ramon Mercader, her brother, who was a Spanish communist but at the same time an agent for the Soviet secret police, on whose behalf he carried out the assassination of the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.

Sora sits alongside the Liri river against the backdrop of the Apennine mountains
Sora sits alongside the Liri river against the backdrop
of the Apennine mountains
Travel tip:

Built on a plain alongside the Liri river, in the shadow of the Monti Ernici range in the Apennines, the town of Sora can be found about 25km east of Frosinone in Lazio, about 120m  south-east of Rome and 140km north of Naples, close to the border with Abruzzo. A settlement since the fourth century BC, when it was occupied by the Volsci tribe, it has been at various times under the rule of Rome and Naples.  It lies at the heart of the Ciociaria, an area renowned for its cuisine and colourful and elaborate peasant costumes. Today its economy is a mix of industry and agriculture. It is a pleasant town with some pretty squares, including Piazza Santa Restituta, which sits in front of the church of the same name, just off Lungoliri Mazzini. On rocks above the town there are the remains of a walled fortification that dates back to the Volsci period.

The Toledo Metro station in Naples
The Toledo Metro station in Naples
Travel tip:

The Banca d’Italia building in Naples is in a fairly nondescript street linking Via Medina with Via Toledo, not on the tourist trail. Yet within a few metres is one of the city’s more unlikely must-see places, the Metro station Toledo. It is one of a number of so-called ‘art stations’ on the line linking Piazza Garibaldi and Piscinola. Toledo is famous for its breathtaking escalator descent through a vast mosaic by the Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca known as the Crater de Luz – the crater of light – which creates the impression of daylight streaming into a volcanic crater.

4 December 2016

Pope Adrian IV

The warlike conduct of England’s one and only pontiff

A cameo of Pope Adrian IV at the  Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris
A cameo of Pope Adrian IV at the
Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris
The only Englishman to have ever sat on the papal throne, Nicholas Breakspear, became Pope on this day in 1154 in Rome.

Breakspear, who was from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, had previously been created Cardinal Bishop of Albano by Pope Eugene III.

After his election as Pope, Breakspear took the name of Adrian IV (also known as Hadrian IV) and immediately set about dealing with the anti-papal faction in Rome.

After Frederick Barbarossa, Duke of Swabia, caught and hanged the leader of the faction, a man known as Arnold of Brescia, Adrian crowned Frederick as Holy Roman Emperor in 1155 to reward him.

He then formed an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel Comnenus, against the Normans in Sicily.

Adrian raised mercenary troops in Campania to fight alongside the Byzantine forces and the alliance was immediately successful, with many cities giving in, either because of the threat of force or the promise of gold.

Frederick I as portrayed in a document in the Vatican library dated 1188
Frederick I as portrayed in a document in
the Vatican library dated 1188
But the Normans launched a counter attack by land and sea and many of the mercenaries deserted leaving the Byzantine troops outnumbered and forced to return home.

Adrian is also believed to have urged King Henry II of England to invade Ireland and bring the church under Roman control. It was claimed that Henry’s mother, the Empress Mathilda, protested about it and so the proposed invasion was postponed.

Then a letter Adrian sent to Frederick I was misinterpreted by one of the Emperor’s officials causing a breach between the two leaders. Adrian was just about to excommunicate the Holy Roman Emperor when he died at Anagni near Rome in 1159, reputedly from choking on a fly in his wine, but it has also been suggested he was possibly suffering from a quinsy, a complication of tonsilitis.

Travel tip:

The Diocese of Albano, where Adrian IV was Cardinal Bishop between 1149 and 1154, includes several towns in the Castelli Romano area of Lazio. It was founded in the fourth century after a Basilica had been built at Albano Laziale, 25 kilometres from Rome. Albano is now one of the most important municipalities of the Castelli Romani. It is close to Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope’s present day summer residence was built in the 17th century for  Pope Urban VIII.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria in Agnani
The Cathedral of Santa Maria in Agnani
Travel tip:

Agnani, where Adrian IV died, is an ancient town, southeast of Rome in an area of Italy known as the Ciociaria, which takes its name from the type of footwear, cioce, once worn by the local people. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Agnani became one of the favourite residences of the Popes, who considered it safer and healthier than Rome. One of the main sights is the Cathedral of Santa Maria, built in Romanesque style between 1071 and 1105.

More reading:

St Clare of Assisi - the count's daughter inspired by hearing Francis of Assisi preach

Pope John Paul II - first non-Italian pope for 455 years

The 33-day reign of the 'smiling pope'

Also on this day:

1798: Death of the scientist whose name added a new word to the language

(Picture credits: Agnani Cathedral by Livioandronico2013 via Wikimedia Commons)