Showing posts with label David di Donatello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David di Donatello. Show all posts

20 September 2023

Asia Argento - actress and director

Twice winner of Italian ‘Oscar’ with turbulent private life

Asia Argento pictured with her father, the celebrated horror film director, Dario Argento, at Cannes in 2012
Asia Argento pictured with her father, the celebrated
horror film director, Dario Argento, at Cannes in 2012
The actress and director Asia Argento, whose father is the influential horror movie director Dario Argento, was born on this day in 1975 in Rome.

Argento’s mother was the actress Daria Nicolodi, granddaughter of the composer Alfredo Casella. She appeared in her first movie at the age of nine and turned out to have such a talent for acting she had won two David di Donatello best actress awards - the Italian equivalent of an Oscar - by the time she was 21.

As well as appearing in around 50 movies, some of which she also wrote and directed, and a number of television productions, Argento’s artistic talents have ranged to writing short stories and novels and recording solo albums as a singer.

Her private life has been somewhat turbulent. Married for five years to the director Michele Civetta, she was previously in a long-term relationship with the Italian rock musician Morgan, and later became romantically involved with the celebrity chef and documentary maker Anthony Bourdain, who took his own life at the age of 61.

Argento was a key figure in the film industry's #MeToo movement
Argento was a key figure in the
film industry's #MeToo movement
After alleging in 2017 that she had been raped by the since-jailed producer Harvey Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival at the age of 21, Argento became a central figure in the #MeToo movement.

In 2018 she found herself at the heart of another sexual scandal, this time as the alleged perpetrator, when the New York Times reported claims from Jimmy Bennett, who had worked with Argento as a child actor, that he had been assaulted by her in a hotel room in California at the age of 17, below that state’s age of consent. Argento denied the allegation, although later reached a financial settlement with Bennett.

Argento’s first name appears in the records of the Rome register office as Aria after “Asia” was deemed inappropriate by officials at the time, although she has never been known as anything else. She claimed she took up acting in an attempt to grab her father’s attention during a childhood in which she said he was often absent because of work.

It worked. Two of her first three parts were in films produced by her father, who then directed her in a starring role in his 1993 horror-mystery Trauma.

Within a year, Argento had landed the first of her David di Donatello awards as best actress for her portrayal of a paraplegic in Perdiamoci di vista - roughly translated as 'Let’s Not Keep in Touch' - a bittersweet comedy directed by Carlo Verdone, who also co-stars.

Three years later, a second David di Donatello for best actress came her way after she starred in American director Peter del Monte’s drama Compagna di Viaggio - Travelling Companion - as a waitress who is asked by a friend to shadow her father, who has memory problems.

Argento has combined her  acting career with music
Argento has combined her 
acting career with music
In 2000, Argento moved into directing with Scarlet Diva, which she also wrote and her father co-produced. The film was well received by the critics. She directed Bennett, who was seven at the time, in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things four years later, herself playing a drug-addicted prostitute single mother, with Bennett cast as her son.

She won a Nastro d’Argento award - the prestigious award made by Italian film journalists - for the 2014 production, Incompresa - Misunderstood - which she directed and co-wrote.

A fluent English speaker, she became known to wider cinema audiences through starring in the 2002 Hollywood blockbuster, xXx, directed by Rob Cohen, in which she played an undercover spy, appearing alongside Vin Diesel and Samuel L Jackson, and landed a number of Hollywood roles as a consequence, before returning to the European cinema scene.

Alongside her film career, she is heavily involved with music. A singer with a deep, intense voice, she collaborated with a number of musicians in different genres, from traditional ballads to experimental new wave and techno rock. So far, she has released eight singles and two studio albums as well as appearing as a guest performer with other artists.

Her many TV appearances include participation in the 11th edition of Ballando con le Stelle - the Italian equivalent of America’s Dancing with the Stars and the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing - in which she was eliminated in week eight.

Argento published an autobiography, Anatomia di un cuore selvaggio (Anatomy of a Wild Heart), in 2021. She has two children, a daughter from her relationship with Morgan and a son by Michele Civetta, with whom she reportedly lives in the Vigna Clara neighbourhood to the north of Rome’s city centre.

In 2022, after taking a step back from films for a number of years, Argento made a comeback, again directed by her father, in Dark Glasses, a dark thriller in which she plays the guardian of a blind woman being hunted by a psychotic killer.

Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso store in Rome also houses his Museum of Horror
Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso store in Rome
also houses his Museum of Horror
Travel tip:

Dario Argento’s standing among horror movie fans is such that, in 1989, he opened a memorabilia shop in Via dei Gracchi, a short distance from the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo in the heart of Rome. Named Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) after the title of one of Argento’s most popular films, which starred David Hemmings and Argento’s wife, Daria Nicolodi, it is a small premises crammed to the rafters with rubber masks, costumes, props, posters and model figures. It is also the home of Argento’s Museum of Horror, a red-painted basement accessed via a door next to the till, containing model reconstructions of famously gory scenes from his extensive back catalogue.

The historic Ponte Milvio is one of the Rome attractions accessible on foot from Vigna Clara
The historic Ponte Milvio is one of the Rome
attractions accessible on foot from Vigna Clara
Travel tip:

Vigna Clara, where Asia Argento has a home, is a pleasant neighbourhood to the north of the historical centre of Rome, reached by crossing the Tiber via the Ponte Flaminio and proceeding north about 1.5km (1 mile). It has a lively commercial centre with good amenities and several public parks, while the residential streets comprise elegant buildings and upmarket villas. It offers access on foot to tourist attractions such as the historic Ponte Milvio, the Stadio Olimpico and the Auditorium Parco della Musica.  It is a 15-minute train ride from the Vatican, while the main city centre attractions are about 40 minutes away by train and metro.  The neighbourhood's church of Santa Chiara a Vigna Clara, designed by Alberto Ressa and opened in 1962, is unusual for having a circular layout.

Also on this day:

1378: Election of Pope Clement VII

1870: Rome’s walls breached in final act of unification

1934: The birth of actress Sophia Loren


24 July 2022

Ermanno Olmi - film director

Won most prestigious awards at Cannes and Venice festivals

Ermanno Olmi's films won some of  cinema's most prestigious awards
Ermanno Olmi's films won some of 
cinema's most prestigious awards 
The film director Ermanno Olmi, who won both the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Venice Film Festival’s equivalent Golden Lion with two of his most memorable films, was born on this day in 1931 in the Lombardy city of Bergamo.

His 1978 film L'albero degli zoccoli - The Tree of Wooden Clogs - a story about Lombard peasant life in the 19th century that had echoes of postwar neorealism in the way it was shot, won the Palme d’Or - one of the most prestigious of film awards - at the Cannes Film Festival of the same year.

A decade later, Olmi won the Golden Lion, the top award at the Venice Film Festival, with La leggenda del santo bevitore - The Legend of the Holy Drinker - a story adapted from a novella by the Austrian author Joseph Roth about a homeless drunk in Paris, who is handed a 200-francs lifeline by a complete stranger and vows to find a way to pay it back as a donation to a local church.

He also won three David di Donatello awards  - the Italian equivalent of the Oscars - as Best Director, for Il posto - The Job - his first full length feature film, in 1962, for The Legend of the Holy Drinker, and for Il mestiere delle armi - The Profession of Arms - in 2002.

Born in the Malpensata district of Bergamo, near the railway station, Olmi grew up in Treviglio, a town in Bergamo province about 40km (25 miles) east of Milan. His mother worked in a cotton mill. His father, a railway worker and a staunch anti-Fascist, was killed during World War Two.

As a young man, Olmi enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Milan to take acting lessons, at the same time taking a job as a messenger at the electric company, Edison-Volta, where his mother also found work.

The original poster for the film seen as Olmi's masterpiece
The original poster for the
film seen as Olmi's masterpiece
The company entrusted Olmi with organising leisure activities and entertainment for employees. By now, the film industry was becoming the focus of his ambitions and he persuaded Edison-Volta to sponsor him to make documentaries promoting the company, which he saw as an opportunity to develop his skills behind the camera.

Edison-Volta were impressed with Olmi’s work, in particular his 1959 mini-feature film, Il tempo si è fermato - Time Stood Still, a story about a friendship between a student and the guardian of an isolated hydro-electric dam high in the mountains, which he filmed at the Sabbione Dam in Val Formazza, an Alpine valley in Piedmont, close to the Swiss border.

Subsequently, they agreed to support his first full-length feature, Il posto (1961), a semi-autobiographical and gently humorous story about the aspirations of two young men from rural areas whose first jobs are with big firms in Milan in the postwar years. In the tradition of Roberto Rossellini, the neorealist director whom he particularly admired, Olmi cast non-professional actors in many of the roles, one of whom, Loredana Detto, he would later marry. 

The success of Il posto, in terms of both critical acclaim and the doors opened by winning a David di Donatello and the critics’ prize at the Venice Film Festival, enabled Olmi to devote himself to film-making. His next few films, including a biographical feature about Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the Bergamo cardinal who became Pope John XXIII, enjoyed relatively modest success, but in 1978 came the movie regarded by many critics as his masterpiece.

Inspired by the stories he was told by his grandmother about the peasant community in rural Lombardy, L’albero degli zoccoli revolves around the lives of four peasant farming families earning a meagre living on land owned by the same landlord. 

Olmi followed in the tradition of the neorealist era in using non-professional actors
Olmi followed in the tradition of the
neorealist era in using non-professional actors
Set against the turbulent political background of late 19th century Italy, its focus is the plight of one of the families who want to give their son the opportunity to better himself and cut down a tree so that the father of their household can make wooden clogs for him to wear on his long daily walk to school. The fragility of their existence is then underlined when the landlord is so incensed he throws them off their land, with the other families looking on in dismay.

As well as winning the Palme d’Or, the movie won critical acclaim in Europe, Britain and the United States, where the actor Al Pacino many years later described it as his favourite film and where the New York Times in 2003 listed The Tree of Wooden Clogs in a feature entitled The Best 1,000 Movies Ever.

Il mestiere delle armi focuses on a battle between a Papal Army led by Giovanni de’ Medici and the army of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in 1526, highlighting the harsh conditions and ultimate lack of glory in warfare.  It was shot in Bulgaria and featured several Bulgarian actors.

In the late 1960s, Olmi and his wife moved to a home he had built at Asiago, in the mountains above Vicenza. It was a story he was told by the residents of Asiago that inspired him to make I recuperanti (The Scavengers), his 1970 film about how the deprivations of World War Two forced local people to dig for scrap metal buried in the ground to sell for cash. 

Olmi spent the rest of his life in Asiago, where he died in 2018 after struggling for a number of years with the degenerative neurological condition Guillain-Barré syndrome. Fabio Olmi, one of Ermanno and Loredana's three children, also works in the world of cinema as a director of photography.

The Basilica of San Martino in the city of Treviglio
The Basilica of San Martino
in the city of Treviglio
Travel tip:

The small city of Treviglio in Lombardy can be found about 20km (13 miles) south of Bergamo and 40km (25 miles) northeast of Milan, in an area known as Bassa Bergamasca. Treviglio, the second most populous city in Bergamo province with 30,000 inhabitants, developed from a fortified town in the early Middle Ages and, having been at times controlled by the French and the Spanish. It became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.  Its most visited attraction is the Basilica of San Martino, originally built in 1008 and reconstructed in 1482, with a Baroque façade from 1740, which is in Piazza Manara. In 1915, the town was chosen by Italy’s future dictator Benito Mussoloni for his civil marriage to the long-suffering Rachele Guidi. 

The alpine landscape around the town of Asiago in the northern Veneto region
The alpine landscape around the town of
Asiago in the northern Veneto region
Travel tip:

Asiago, where Olmi lived from the late 1960s onwards, is in the province of Vicenza in the Veneto, halfway between Vicenza to the south and Trento, the capital of Trentino-Alto-Adige, to the west. It is now a major ski resort and famous for producing Asiago cheese. It is situated on a high plateau known as the Altopiano di Asiago - the Asiago upland - in an area that has been favoured by emigrants from Germany for more than 1,000 years. The widely spoken local dialect, known as Cimbro, is very similar to German. The landscape over the years has been dotted with fortresses. The Interrotto in Camporovere, in the centre of the town, is a barracks-fortress whose construction goes back to the middle of the 1800s.  The area also has many reminders of the Battle of Asiago, a major confrontation of Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces in World War One that resulted in more than 25,000 deaths.

Also on this day:

1759: The birth of Victor Emanuel I of Sardinia

1843: The birth of painter Eugene de Blaas

1921: The birth of tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano


27 May 2018

Giuseppe Tornatore - writer and director

Oscar winner for Cinema Paradiso

Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films in his native Sicily
Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films
in his native Sicily
The screenwriter and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the creator of the Oscar-winning classic movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1956 in Bagheria, a small town a few kilometres along the coast from the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in Italy, Tornatore’s best-known work won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards following its release in 1988.

The movie, written by Tornatore, tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director based in Rome who returns to his native Sicily after hearing of the death of the man who kindled his love of the cinema, the projectionist at the picture house in his local village, who became a father figure to him after his own father was killed on wartime national service.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks to Salvatore’s life as a child in the immediate post-war years and there is a memorable performance by Salvatore Cascio as the director’s six-year-old self, when he was known as Toto, as he develops an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist, played by the French actor Philippe Noiret.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack by the composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting theme captures the beautiful poignancy of the movie.

Morricone worked with Tornatore on many of his films, including two other magically crafted works in Baarìa, set in his home town of Bagheria, and Malèna, which has the model and actress Monica Bellucci in the title role, another Sicilian story of a 12-year-old boy’s obsessive love for a beautiful young woman.

Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most
famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Tornatore initially worked as a photographer, seeing his efforts published in various photographic magazines. By the age of 16, he staged had staged two plays, by Luigi Pirandello and Eduardo De Filippo, and then began making documentary films for TV, beginning a long association with Rai in his early 20s.

In 1986 he made his debut in feature films with Il camorrista, starring the American actor Ben Gazzara, taken from a book by Giuseppe Marrazzo about a petty criminal in Naples, Raffaele Cutolo, who uses a spell in the Poggioreale prison to form the mafia organisation Nuova Camorra Organizzata, which would go on to become one of the most powerful criminal groups in Italy.  The movie earned him a Silver Ribbon as best new director from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Cinema Paradiso was only his second film, confirming the arrival of a new talent to rival some of the greats of the post-War era of Italian cinema, although the movie was almost written off as a flop.  When it was released in Italy in 1988, it did little to excite Italian audiences and takings were poor.

Yet the manager of a small cinema in Sicily, who had warmed to its theme, kept it on, inviting cinema-goers to watch it for nothing and then pay at the end if they liked it.  The offer was taken up in increasing numbers and gradually the film acquired almost a cult following. It won the Grand Jury Special Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which gave it the springboard that would eventually lead to the Oscars the following year.

Tornatore’s body of work is not huge, amounting to only a dozen feature films in more than 30 years. The love of his native Sicily is a recurring theme and inevitably his movies are beautifully crafted.

In addition to the Oscar and Golden Globe for Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore has won four Best Director awards at the David di Donatellos - the premier awards ceremony in Italy - for L’uomo delle stelle (The Star Maker, 1986), La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano (The Legend of 1900, 1998), La sconoscuita (The Unknown Woman, 2006) and his English language film The Best Offer (2013).

The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic
Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
Travel tip:

Just 15km from Palermo in a southeast direction along the coast, Bagheria, which occupies an elevated position a short distance from the sea, has an atmosphere of a traditional Sicilian town and as well as featuring both in Cinema Paradiso and Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - it was also used for some scenes in The Godfather Part III. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.

The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for open-air concerts in the summer months
The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for
open-air concerts in the summer months
Travel tip:

Very much mimicking the Oscars, the David di Donatello awards were conceived in 1955 as a way to recognise the best of Italian cinema and promote the movie industry. Like the Oscars, the award itself is a gold-plated statuette, in this case a replica of the statue of David sculpted by Donatello, probably in around 1430-40, and currently housed in the Bargello museum in Florence. Between 1957 and 1980, the awards were presented at the open air Greek Teatre in Taormina.

Also on this day:

1508: The death of Lucrezia Crivelli, the 'mystery' woman of a Da Vinci painting

1944: The birth of Bruno Vespa, the face of Italy's long-running late night politics show Porta a Porta