Showing posts with label Dino Risi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dino Risi. Show all posts

21 December 2018

Moira Orfei - circus owner and actress

‘Queen of the Big Top’ became cultural icon

Moira Orfei rarely strayed from her trademark look, with  heavy make-up and a turban-style hairdo
Moira Orfei rarely strayed from her trademark look, with
heavy make-up and a turban-style hairdo 
Moira Orfei, an entertainer regarded as the Queen of the Italian circus and an actress who starred in more than 40 films, was born on this day in 1931 in Codroipo, a town in Friuli-Venezia Giulia about 25km (16 miles) southwest of Udine.

She had a trademark look that became so recognisable that advertising posters for the Moira Orfei Circus, which she founded in 1961 with her new husband, the circus acrobat and animal trainer Walter Nones, carried simply her face and the name 'Moira'.

As a young woman, she was a strikingly glamorous Hollywood-style beauty but in later years she took to wearing heavy make-up, dark eye-liner and bright lipstick, topped off with her bouffant hair gathered up in a way that resembled a turban.  Her camped-up appearance made her an unlikely icon for Italy’s gay community.

Born Miranda Orfei, she spent her whole life in the circus. Her father, Riccardo, was a bareback horse rider and sometime clown; her mother, part of the Arata circus dynasty, gave birth to her in the family’s living trailer.  Growing up, she performed as a horse rider, acrobat and trapeze artist.

Posters for Circo Moira Orfei always featured her face and first name
Posters for Circo Moira Orfei always
featured her face and first name
Her film career began the year before she was married, with minor roles in a couple of action movies based loosely on historical themes. Dino De Laurentiis, the producer of one of them, suggested she changed her name from Miranda to Moira, after which the director Mario Costa gave her a bigger part in a swashbuckling adventure movie, Queen of the Pirates.

The so-called sword-and-sandal genre, very popular in Italy at the time, remained her speciality until she was given parts in a couple of comedies written for the great Italian comic actor, Totò.

Thereafter, although the adventure epic remained her staple, her acting talent was recognised in several movies that fell into the commedia all’Italiana genre.

She was in a cast headed by Marcello Mastroianni and Virna Lisi in Mario Monicelli’s Casanova ‘70 (in which her cousin, Liana Orfei, appeared as a lion tamer), played alongside Virna Lisi again in Pietro Germi’s Signore e Signori, with Nino Manfredi and Ugo Tognazzi in Dino Risi’s Straziami ma di baci saziami (Torture Me But Kill Me with Kisses), and with Vittorio Gassman in the Dino Risi classic Profumo di donna (Scent of a Woman).

Meanwhile, Circo Moira Orfei went from strength to strength. With Nones presenting obedient lions or tigers, she presented the circus’s performing elephants.

As a young actress, Orfei was a star of many sword-and-sandal adventure movies
As a young actress, Orfei was a star of
many sword-and-sandal adventure movies
Her animal acts gained silver and gold awards at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 1987, 1989 and 2004 and she became known in the circus world as Moira of the Elephants.

In 1969, she and Nones launched Circo sul Ghiaccio - Circus on Ice - a monumental production which combined a circus ring and a skating rink. A highly elaborate show featured frequent set and costume changes and an international cast of circus and stars.

Circus on Ice toured in a huge big top, the largest seen in Italy. Moving from place to place involved 10 tractors, 34 articulated buses, two special trains and more than 100 caravans.

Orfei retired from performing in the late 1990s, although she continued to supervise every detail of the business.  She suffered some setbacks, including a serious car crash in 2000 that left her with a broken leg and five broken ribs, and a stroke in 2006, which happened during a show in Reggio Calabria and required her to take more than a year off in recuperation.

Subsequently, her active participation in shows was limited, although she would usually parade round the ring at the start, welcoming the audience. Her son and daughter, Stefano and Lara, followed in the family tradition and became part of the show, he becoming one of Europe's foremost animal trainers, she a talented equestrian.

Moira Orfei died in Brescia in 2015 a month ahead of what would have been her 84th birthday, passing away in her sleep in her trailer, having continued to follow the itinerant life of the circus to the end. Her funeral was held in San Donà di Piave - 40km (25 miles) from Venice and about 60km (37 miles) southwest of Codroipo.

A crowd put at around 5,000 watched the funeral cortege, with a hearse drawn by four white Lipizzaners - the breed closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna - carrying her coffin to the tune of a marching band playing circus music.

The Villa Manin in Codroipo, once home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic
The Villa Manin in Codroipo, once home of Ludovico
Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic
Travel tip:

Codroipo, which used to be part of the Venetian Republic, is best known for the Villa Manin, once the family home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venitian Republic, who governed from 1789 until 1797, when Napoleon Bonaparte forced him to abdicate. It was at the villa in 1797 that the Treaty of Campoformio was signed, marking Napoleon's victory, the fall of the First Coalition (of European states opposed to Napoleon), and the cession of Friuli to Austria.

A typically elegant street in the town of San Donà di Piave
Travel tip:

Elegant San Donà di Piave is one of the historical main towns of the eastern Veneto, although it needed substantial reconstruction in the early 1920s after being heavily damaged during the First World War, when the drawn out Battle of Solstizio took place on the banks of the Piave river. The municipality of San Donà had been established in 1797 as the administrative centre of one of the 15 cantons of the Treviso district. It was part of the Lombard-Venetian Kingdom from 1815 and during the Austrian domination it kept its position of county seat of the district. In the first part of the 19th century, the centre of the city underwent some development, with the building of palaces, commercial buildings and a new cathedral, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Find a hotel in San Donà di Piave with TripAdvisor

More reading:

How Dino Risi helped launch the career of Sophia Loren

Why Mario Monicelli was one of the greats of Italian film

The former pasta salesman who helped put Italian cinema on the map

Also on this day:

69AD: Vespasian becomes emperor of Rome

1401: The birth of Renaissance artist Masaccio

1872: The birth of priest and composer Lorenzo Perosi


30 September 2018

Monica Bellucci - actress and model

Movie actress who is face of Dolce & Gabbana

Monica Bellucci has appeared in more than 60 films alongside her modelling
Monica Bellucci has appeared in more
than 60 films alongside her modelling
The actress and model Monica Bellucci, who has appeared in more than 60 films in a career that began in 1990, was born on this day in 1964 in Città di Castello in Umbria.

Bellucci, who is associated with Dolce & Gabbana and Dior perfumes, began modelling to help fund her studies at the University of Perugia, where she was enrolled at the Faculty of Law with ambitions of a career in the legal profession.

But she was quickly brought to the attention of the major model agencies in Milan and soon realised she had the potential to follow a much different career.

Bellucci, whose father Pasquale worked for a transport company, soon began to attract big-name clients in Paris and New York as well as Italy, but decided not long into her modelling career that she would take acting lessons.

She claimed to have been inspired by watching the Italian female movie icons Claudia Cardinale and Sophia Loren and gained her first part in a TV miniseries directed by the veteran director Dino Risi in 1990.

The following year she made her big screen debut with a leading role in the film La raffa, directed by Francesco Laudadio.  Her first major international movie came in 1992, when she played one of the brides of Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s Gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bellucci was studying to be a lawyer when she began modelling to help pay for her education
Bellucci was studying to be a lawyer when she began
modelling to help pay for her education
Other movies for which Bellucci is well known include Persephone in the 2003 science-fiction films The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. She also played Malèna Scordia in the Italian-language romantic drama Malèna (2000), directed and written by Giuseppe Tornatore from a story by Luciano Vincenzoni, which won the Grand Prix at the 2001 Cabourg Film Festival.

She starred in the controversial Gaspar Noé arthouse horror film Irréversible (2002), and Mel Gibson's biblical drama The Passion of the Christ (2004), in which she portrayed Mary Magdalene. At 50, she became the oldest Bond girl ever in the James Bond film franchise, playing Lucia Sciarra in Spectre (2015).

In her simultaneous modelling career, Bellucci soon became known as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She appeared in the 1997 Pirelli Calendar as well as calendars for the magazines Max and GQ, for which she posed for leading photographers Richard Avedon, Fabrizio Ferri and Gianpaolo Barbieri.

She has endorsed Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and many major world brands, including Alessandro Dell'Acqua and Blumarine, has been on the cover of Elle and Vogue magazines and in 2012, she became the new face of Dolce & Gabbana.

Bellucci has been married twice, first to a young Italian photographer of Argentine origin, Claudio Carlos Basso, from whom she separated after a few months.

She had a six-year relationship with the Italian actor Nicola Farron until on the set of the film L'appartamento she met the French actor Vincent Cassel, whom she married in 1999 in Monte Carlo. They had two daughters, Deva, and Léonie, but they divorced after 14 years. She lives with her daughters in Paris, and also owns a house in Lisbon.

A view over the town of Città di Castello
Travel tip:

Città di Castello, where Bellucci was born, is a town 55km (34 miles) north of Perugia that is rich in history, with an artistic heritage that dates back to the patronage of the Vitelli family in the 15th century. Works by great artists of the 15th-16th century such as Signorelli, Raffaello, Rosso Fiorentino and Raffaellino del Colle can be found there. The 14th century church of San Domenico and the Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera are worth visiting, in particular the latter, which now houses the Municipal Art Gallery, with some impressive 15th century paintings including paintings by Raphael, Lorenzetti, Ghirlandaio and Signorelli and a sculpture by Ghiberti.

Bufalini Castle is preserved almost as it was in 15th century
Bufalini Castle is preserved almost as it was in 15th century
Travel tip:

Bellucci grew up in San Giustino, just outside Città di Castello, where the imposing Bufalini Castle is an impressive sight. Perfectly preserved, it was built in the 15th century as a military fortress, a border post at the boundary between the Papal States and the Florentine Republic.  The church of San Giustino at the centre of the town was built on the site of a large seventh-century parish church founded by the Christian martyr Giustino.  The church of the Santissimo Crocifisso is rich in frescoes and stuccos by the Della Robbia brothers.

More reading:

How Sophia Loren was brought up by her grandmother on the Bay of Naples

Giuseppe Tornatore - brilliant Oscar-winning director of Cinema Paradiso

Why Dino Risi is seen as a master of Italian comedy

Also on this day:

1863: The birth of ballerina Pierina Legnani

1885: The birth of Angelo Cerica, the man who arrested Mussolini


1 September 2018

Vittorio Gassman - actor

Stage and screen star once dubbed ‘Italy’s Olivier’

Vittorio Gassman in the 1948 movie Riso amaro, which provided him with his breakthrough as a screen actor
Vittorio Gassman in the 1948 movie Riso amaro, which
provided him with his breakthrough as a screen actor
Vittorio Gassman, who is regarded as one of the finest actors in the history of Italian theatre and cinema, was born on this day in 1922 in Genoa.

Tall, dark and handsome in a way that made him a Hollywood producer’s dream, Gassman appeared in almost 150 movies but he was no mere matinée idol.

A highly respected stage actor, he possessed a mellifluous speaking voice, a magisterial presence and such range and versatility in his acting talent that the Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham once called him ‘the Lawrence Olivier of Italy’.

He enjoyed a career that spanned five decades. Inevitably, he is best remembered for his screen roles, although by the time he made his movie debut in 1945, he had appeared in more than 40 productions of classic plays by Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, and others.

On screen, his major successes included his portrayal of the handsome scoundrel Walter opposite Silvana Mangano in Giuseppe De Santis's neorealist melodrama Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, 1948), and several Commedia all’Italiana classics, including Mario Monicelli’s I soliti ignoti (Big Deal On Madonna Street, 1958), La grande guerra (The Great War, 1959) and L'armata brancaleone (1965), and Dino Risi's Il sorpasso (1962).

With Silvana Mangano and Alberto Sordi (right), his co-stars in the comedy classic La grande guerra (1959)
With Silvana Mangano and Alberto Sordi (right), his co-stars
in the comedy classic La grande guerra (1959)
At this time, his popularity was rivalled only by Alberto Sordi, his co-star in La grande guerra, which shared the Golden Lion prize at Venice in 1959 with a Rossellini film.

Gassman’s portrayal of a blind military man in Risi’s 1974 film Profumo di donna received the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Al Pacino played the same part and won an Oscar in the 1992 remake, Scent of a Woman.

His flirtation with Hollywood came after he met and fell in love with the American actress Shelley Winters while she was touring Europe.

When Winters returned to Hollywood because of contractual obligations, he followed her there and married her. With his natural charisma and fluency in English he landed a number of roles in Hollywood, including Charles Vidor’s Rhapsody opposite Elizabeth Taylor, and with Gloria Grahame in Maxwell Shane’s film noir The Glass Wall.

He was the only Italian star in the cast of King Vidor's epic War And Peace (1956), produced by Dino De Laurentiis in Rome and for which the Italian composer Nino Rota wrote the music score. Later, Gassman gave distinguished performances in the Robert Altman films A Wedding (1978) and Quintet (1979).

Gassman was the only Italian cast in the 1956 epic War and Peace, in which he is pictured with Audrey Hepburn
Gassman was the only Italian cast in the 1956 epic War and
in which he is pictured with Audrey Hepburn
Born to a German father and a Jewish Italian mother, Gassman had aspirations to be a lawyer. But his mother encouraged him to pursue his interest in acting and he remained devoted to his first love, theatre, throughout his career.

A student at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica in Rome, he made his stage debut in Milan in 1942 before moving back to Rome to work at the Teatro Eliseo.

Even after his film debut in 1946 was followed by his breakthrough role in Bitter Rice two years later, he devoted much energy to Luchino Visconti's theatre company in productions such as Tennessee Williams' Un tram che si chiama desiderio (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Come vi piace (As You Like It) by Shakespeare.

In 1952 he co-founded and co-directed the Teatro d'Arte Italiano, which produced the first complete version of Hamlet in Italy.  Later in his career, he created his own company, Teatro Popolare Itinerante, with which he toured Italy staging the works of 20th century authors and playwrights as well as the classics of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and the Greek tragicians. He also founded a theatre school in Florence.

For a while he was the star of a popular TV series, Il Mattatore, which was later turned into a movie.

Married three times - to actresses Nora Ricci, Shelley Winters and Diletta D'Andrea - he also had numerous affairs.  The father of two daughters and two sons - one of whom, Alessandro, became a film actor - Gassman died in June 2000, in Rome, following a heart attack.

The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa
The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa
Travel tip:

Gassman’s home city of Genoa boasts Italy's largest sea port, its maritime power going back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Republic of Genoa ruled the Mediterranean. The old city is fascinating for its large maze of narrow caruggi (streets), opening out occasionally into grand squares such as Piazza de Ferrari, site of an iconic bronze fountain and Teatro Carlo Felice opera house. There is a Romanesque duomo, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, recognisable for its black-and-white-striped facade and frescoed interior.

The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatic in Rome
The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatic in Rome
Travel tip:

The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica "Silvio d'Amico", the dramatic arts academy where Gassman trained as an actor, can be found in Via Bellini, between Villa Borghese and the Parioli district, in an elegant four-storey building. Founded in 1936 by the critic and theatrical theorist Silvio D'Amico, in addition to Gassman it has seen students such as Rossella Falk, Anna Magnani, Paolo Stoppa, Nino Manfredi, Gian Maria Volonté, Monica Vitti, Michele Placido, Nicoletta Braschi and Luca Zingaretti attend lectures and workshops there.

More reading:

Mario Monicelli - the father of Commedia all'Italiana

The genius of Alberto Sordi

How Silvano Mangano's acting talents overcame her critics

Also on this day:

1878: The birth of conductor Tullio Serafin

1886: The birth of vaudeville star Guido Deiro


16 May 2018

Mario Monicelli - film director

Life’s work put him among greats of commedia all’italiana

Mario Monicelli directed his first film in 1949, which also  marked the start of his successful relationship with Totò
Mario Monicelli directed his first film in 1949, which also
marked the start of his successful relationship with Totò
Mario Monicelli, the director who became known as ‘the father of commedia all’italiana’ and was nominated for an Oscar six times, was born on this day in 1915 in Viareggio.

He made more than 70 films, working into his 90s.  He helped advance the careers of actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, and forged successful associations with the great comic actors Totò and Alberto Sordi.

Commedia all’italiana was notable for combining the traditional elements of comedy with social commentary, often addressing some of the most controversial issues of the times and making fun of any organisation, the Catholic Church in particular, perceived to have an earnest sense of self-importance.

The genre’s stories were often heavily laced with sadness and Monicelli’s work won praise for his particular sensitivity to the miseries and joys of Italian life and the foibles of ordinary Italians. He claimed the lack of a happy ending actually defined Italian humour and that themes drawn from poverty, hunger, misery, old age, sickness, and death were the ones that most appealed to the Italian love of tragi-comedy.

Monicelli continued to direct films into his 90s
Monicelli continued to direct films
into his 90s
He was part of a golden generation of Italian directors including Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Dino Risi and Luigi Comencini, and many of his films were hailed as masterpieces, including the caper comedy I soliti ignoti (1958), which was packaged for American audiences as Big Deal on Madonna Street, the satire La grande guerra (The Great War, 1959), which won him Venice's Golden Lion award, and the bitter-sweet drama I compagni (The Comrades, 1963), also known as The Organizer.

Monicelli was the son of a noted journalist, Tommaso Monicelli, and had two older brothers, one a writer and translator, the other a journalist. He attended the universities of Pisa and Milan, where he studied literature and philosophy, and after graduation became became a film critic and amateur film-maker. At the age of just 20 he made a feature-length film, I ragazzi della via Paal, which won an amateur prize at the Venice Film Festival  in 1935.

He spent 12 years as scriptwriter and assistant director, collaborating on some of the most celebrated Italian films of the 1940s, including Giuseppe De Santis’s Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice, 1949).

Monicelli’s debut as a director came in a collaboration with Steno (real name Stefanio Vanzina) on Totò cerca casa (Totò looks for a house, 1949), the first of several popular films the pair made starring Totò over the next four years, including Guardie e Ladri (Cops and Robbers, 1951) and Totò e i Re di Roma (1952). 

Totò cerca casa was typical of the genre, a farce set against the background of Italy’s desperate housing shortage. Guardie e Ladri caused controversy because it was about the friendship between a thief and a policeman, two men from similar backgrounds sharing similar problems, a concept considered so revolutionary that Monicelli had to appear personally before the sensors before it could be released.

Alberto Sordi (left) and Vittorio Gassman in a scene
from the tragic Italian movie La grande guerra
Totò e Carolina (1955), which depicted a young suicidal girl being helped by Communists, was actually banned for a year and a half, and was ultimately granted a certificate only after Monicelli had made 34 cuts.

I soliti ignoti, sometimes called Italian cinema's first true Commedia all'Italiana film, was his first hit. Starring Totò, it gave early comedy roles to Mastroianni, Gassman and Cardinale. Despite the lack of a happy ending, it was a success both in the United Kingdom, where it was titled Persons Unknown, and in the US, where it was also turned into a Broadway musical.

Next came Monicelli’s bravest and possibly most controversial film, the funny but poignant La grande guerra, a scathing satire of the First World War with Sordi and Gassman as peasants thrust into the bewildering world of battle, which opponents claimed would defile the memory of the 600,000 Italians who died in the conflict but once released was seen as a triumph, a film that at last dared to say that so many men, poor men who were badly dressed, badly fed, ignorant and illiterate, had gone to fight a war that had little to do with them and was ultimately pointless.  The film won the Golden Lion award at Venice, and, like I soliti ignoti, was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film.

Totò (left) and Aldo Fabrizi in a scene from Guardie
e Ladri.
They worked together in numerous films. 
I Compagni brought his second Oscar nomination and in 1968 came a third, for La Ragazza con la pistola (Girl with the Gun), which starred Monica Vitti as a girl who travels from Sicily to London intending to murder her unfaithful lover.

Amici miei (My Dear Friends, 1975), a tale of ageing friends who play jokes on one another to camouflage the realities of disillusionment, loneliness and failure, proved one of his greatest hits, breaking records in Italy and France. The following year he won his final Oscar nomination, for another Mastroianni hit, Casanova '70. 

His last feature film was Le rose del deserto (Rose of the Desert, 2006), the story of a group of soldiers in Libya during the Second World War, which he directed at the age of 91. Yet he had still not finished working, in 2008 directing a documentary entitled Monti, about his adopted neighbourhood in Rome.

A lifetime supporter of left-wing parties, he remained politically active until late in life, in 2009 calling on students to protest against the government's proposals to cut the culture budget. He described Italy's then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as “a philistine” and "a modern tyrant".

Monicelli’s father, Tommaso, had committed suicide and when he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2010, he decided he would end his life the same way, dramatically jumping from a window on the fifth floor of the San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital in Rome.

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano said Monicelli would be "remembered by millions of Italians for the way he moved them, for how he made them laugh, and reflect."

Viareggio's Grand Hotel is a throwback to its heydey
Viareggio's Grand Hotel is a throwback to its heydey
Travel tip:

Viareggio, the seaside resort in Tuscany in which Monicelli was born, has an air of faded grandeur, its seafront notable for the Art Nouveau architecture that reminds visitors of the town's heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Thanks to its wide, sandy beaches, however, the resort remains hugely popular, especially with Italians. In addition, it boasts a colourful Carnevale, featuring a wonderful parade of elaborate and often outrageous floats, that is second only to the Venice carnival among Italy’s Mardi Gras celebrations.

Via dei Serpenti, looking towards the Colosseum
Via dei Serpenti, looking towards the Colosseum
Travel tip:

One of Rome's oldest and most charming residential neighbourhoods, Monti retains a bohemian flavour with chic cafes and street food and alternative fashion shops. Occupying the area between the Quirinal Hill and the Colosseum, in Roman times the area was home to craftsmen but also to prostitutes and good-for-nothings and was hidden from the more refined areas of the city by a large wall. Nowadays, it is popular with architects, screenwriters and other creative types as one of Rome’s most fashionable central areas.  Monicelli’s former home in Via dei Serpenti is marked with a plaque.

Also on this day:

1945: The birth of business tycoon and former Inter chairman Massimo Moratti

1974: The birth of top-selling singer-songwriter Laura Pausini


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.

27 January 2018

Giovanni Arpino – writer and novelist

Stories inspired classic Italian films

Giovanni Arpino had a distinguished career as both a sports writer and a novelist
Giovanni Arpino had a distinguished career as both
a sports writer and a novelist
The writer Giovanni Arpino, whose novels lay behind the Italian movie classics Divorce, Italian Style and Profumo di donna – later remade in the United States as Scent of a Woman – was born on this day in 1927 in the Croatian city of Pula, then part of Italy.

His parents did not originate from Pula, which is near the tip of the Istrian peninsula about 120km (75 miles) south of Trieste. His father, Tomaso, was a Neapolitan, while his mother, Maddalena, hailed from Piedmont, but his father’s career in the Italian Army meant the family were rarely settled for long in one place.

In fact, they remained in Pula only a couple of months. As Giovanni was growing up, they lived in Novi Ligure, near Alessandria, in Saluzzo, south of Turin, and in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. His father imposed a strict regime on Giovanni and his two brothers, who were required to spend a lot of their time studying.

In fact, Giovanni was separated from his family for a while during the Second World War, when his mother returned to the Piedmontese town of Bra, not far from Saluzzo in the province of Cuneo, to deal with the estate of her father, who passed away in 1940. He left the family a villa on the hill overlooking the Sanctuary of the Madonna dei Fiori, on the outskirts of the town.  Giovanni remained at school in Piacenza.

After the armistice of 1943, his father left the military and they settled in Bra, where he attended high school before enrolling in the faculty of law at the University of Turin.  He later switched to literature, completing a thesis on the Russian poet, Sergei Yesenin.

Arpino died prematurely in 1987 after a  year-long battle with cancer
Arpino died prematurely in 1987 after a
year-long battle with cancer
Arpino spent several periods of his life working in journalism, including a stint writing about football, for which he had a massive enthusiasm. Gianni Brera, the celebrated football writer, had brought his literary style to the sports pages a few years earlier and Arpino was encouraged to do the same.

His time working for La Stampa, the Turin daily newspaper, enabled him to travel to the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, from which his reports attracted a substantial following. 

It was as a novelist, however, that he truly made his mark. He wrote in a dry and sardonic style to which readers responded well.

His first novel, Sei stato felice, Giovanni (You’ve been happy, Giovanni), was published by Einaudi in 1952. At around the same time, having completed his own military service – compulsory rather than voluntary – he began courting his future wife, Caterina, whose parents owned the Caffe Garibaldi in Bra.

They married in 1953 and moved to Turin, where he began to work in the sales department of the Einaudi publishing house and at the same time wrote a column for the Rome newspaper Il Mondo about provincial life.

His first big break came when his fourth novel, Un delitto d’onore (An Honour Killing), published in 1962, formed the basis for the hit movie Divorzia all’Italiana – Divorce, Italian Style – a satirical comedy directed by Pietro Germi and starring Marcello Mastroianno.

Vittorio Gassman (left) and Alessandro Momo in a scene from Dino Risi's film Profumo di donna
Vittorio Gassman (left) and Alessandro Momo in a scene
from Dino Risi's film Profumo di donna
Two years later, his sixth novel, L’Ombra delle colline (The Shadow of the Hills), about the apprehensions and delusions of a young man who, as a child, had witnessed partisans fighting for their country towards the end of the Second World War, won the Strega Prize – the Premio Strega – which is Italy’s most prestigious literary award.

The film industry gave him another massive sales boost in 1969 when his novel Il buio e il miele – The Darkness and the Honey – was turned into the film Profumo di donna, directed by Dino Risi and starring Vittorio Gassman, both of whom received David di Donatello awards.

Another version of the film was made in 2012, when Martin Brest directed Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, in which Pacino’s performance as Frank Slade, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who had lost his sight in an accident with a hand grenade, won him an academy award for best actor.

Arpino, whose enjoyment telling stories to his son, Tommaso, led him to write for children as well as for his established adult readership, developed cancer in his late 50s, which ultimately led to his early death in 1987 at the age of just 60.

Piazza dei Caduti in Bra with the Bernini church of Sant'Andrea Apostolo on the left
Piazza dei Caduti in Bra with the Bernini church of
Sant'Andrea Apostolo on the left
Travel tip:

The town of Bra in Piedmont, situated some 50km (31 miles) southeast of Turin, is renowned as the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, founded by Carlo Petrini in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions. Every two years, Slow Food organizes the cheese festival in Bra, with artisanal cheese makers invited from across the world.  There are a number of attractive churches in the town, including the beautiful Chiesa di Sant’Andrea Apostolo, just off the main Piazza dei Caduti, which was built to a design by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, famous for the impact his designs made in the city of Rome in the 18th century.

The Castiglia, historic residence of the Marchesi di Saluzzo
The Castiglia, historic residence of the Marchesi di Saluzzo
Travel tip:

The Piedmontese town of Saluzzo, about 30km (19 miles) west of Bra on the edge of the southern part of the Alpine arc, is notable for a beautifully preserved 15th century historic centre characterised by a network of cobbled streets and steep passages by which to explore a number of fine palaces and churches, including the 15th century cathedral built in the Lombard-Gothic style.  At the summit of the town is the Castiglia, built in the 13th century by the Marquis Tommaso I and renovated in 1492 by Ludovico II of Saluzzo, at the time when the town was a powerful city-state.

23 December 2017

Dino Risi – film director

Film comedy director helped launch career of Sophia Loren

Dino Risi won a number of top awards for his work in Italian cinema
Dino Risi won a number of top awards
for his work in Italian cinema
The director Dino Risi, who was regarded as one of the masters of Italian film comedy, was born on this day in 1916 in Milan.

He had a string of hits in the 1950s and 1960s and gave future stars Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman opportunities early in their careers.

Risi’s older brother, Fernando, was a cinematographer and his younger brother, Nelo, was a director and writer.

He started his career as an assistant to Mario Soldati and Alberto Lattuada and then began directing his own films.

One of Risi’s early successes was the 1951 comedy, Vacation with a Gangster, in which he cast the 12-year-old actor Mario Girotti, who later became well known under the name Terence Hill.

His 1966 film, Treasure of San Gennaro was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival where it won a silver prize.

Among his best-known films are Pane, amore e… in 1955, Poveri ma belli in 1956, Una vita difficile in 1961 and Profumo di donna in 1974.

Agostina Belli and Vittorio Gassman in a scene from Dino Risi's Profumo di donna
Agostina Belli and Vittorio Gassman in a scene from
Dino Risi's Profumo di donna
He was awarded the David di Donatello award for best film director in 1975 for Profumo di donna.  The actor Al Pacino would win an Oscar for a remake of the movie as Scent of a Woman in 1992.

In 2002 Risi was awarded the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival for his lifetime’s work.

Two of his films, Il giovedi and Il commissario Lo Gatto, were shown in a retrospective section on Italian comedy at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

Risi died at the age of 91 in 2008 at his home in Rome, where he had lived for 30 years in an apartment in the Aldrovandi Residence in the Parioli district. He was survived by his two children, Claudio, and Marco, who is a film director.

Teatro alla Scala is Milan's famous opera house
Teatro alla Scala is Milan's famous opera house
Travel tip:

Milan, Risi’s town of birth, is the capoluogo – the most important city – of Lombardia. As well as being an important financial centre, Milan is a mecca for fashion shoppers and a magnet for opera lovers. Visit Piazza Duomo in the centre of the city where you are bound to be impressed with the Duomo, which is the third largest cathedral in the world. Walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele where there are elegant bars and restaurants and designer shops. At the other end, Piazza Scala is home to the world famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala, where there is a fascinating museum with original costumes and scores and some items that belonged to the composer Giuseppe Verdi. You can walk along the Via Manzoni to see the Grand Hotel et de Milan where Verdi died in 1901. From there turn into Via Montenapoleone where the top Italian and international fashion designers have shops.

Venice Lido has hosted the Venice Film Festival since 1932
Venice Lido has hosted the Venice Film Festival since 1932
Travel tip:

The Venice Film Festival, where Risi was honoured, was first held in 1932 and took place between 6 and 21 August on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior at the Venice Lido. The festival was considered a success and was held again in 1934 from August 1-20, when it involved a competition for the first time. In 1935 the Film Festival became a yearly event in Venice and the Coppa Volpi (Volpi Cup), an award for actors, was introduced for the first time. The Venice Lido is an eight-mile long sand bank that forms a natural barrier between Venice and the open sea and has become a seaside resort for the city. It is the only island in the lagoon with roads and can be reached from the mainland by car ferry. The Lido is served by regular vaporetti – water buses – from Venice and has plenty of hotels. It became a fashionable holiday destination at the beginning of the 20th century for royalty, writers and film stars. The atmosphere at the time was brilliantly captured by Thomas Mann’s book Death in Venice, published in 1912, which was made into a film in 1971 directed by Luchino Visconti.

23 March 2017

Ugo Tognazzi - comic actor

Achieved international fame through La Cage aux Folles

Ugo Tognazzi became known for playing suave bon viveurs in Commedia all'Italiana
Ugo Tognazzi became known for playing
suave bon viveurs in Commedia all'Italiana
Ugo Tognazzi, the actor who achieved international fame in the film La Cage aux Folles, was born on this day in 1922 in Cremona.

Renowned for his wide repertoire in portraying comic characters, Tognazzi made more than 62 films and worked with many of Italy's top directors.

Along with Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi and Nino Manfredi, Tognazzi was regarded as one of the four top stars of Commedia all'Italiana - comedy the Italian way - in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1981 he won the award for best actor at the Cannes International Film Festival for his role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Tragedia di un Uomo Ridicolo (The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man).

His work was widely acclaimed in Italy, but it was not until he was cast in the role of homosexual cabaret owner Renato Baldi in the French director Édouard Molinaro's 1979 movie La Cage Aux Folles that he became known outside Italy.   The film became in its time the most successful foreign language film ever released in the United States, with box office receipts of more than $20 million.

A publicity poster from the French film La Cage aux Folles in which Tognazzi starred
A publicity poster from the French film La
Cage aux Folles in which Tognazzi starred
The film spawned two sequels in which Tognazzi reprieved the role of the mincing Baldi, who in the story was the joint owner of a night club in St Tropez that specialised in drag acts.

The son of an insurance agent, Tognazzi left school at 14 to help supplement the family income, taking a job as an accountancy clerk in the Negroni salami factory in his home town.  His father had wanted him to become a musician, his mother a priest.

Although he had made his stage debut as a four-year-old child in a charity show at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, he had no thoughts of an acting career until he began participating in amateur dramatics via Negroni's recreational club.

During his military service with the Navy, he became involved with putting on entertainment for his fellow sailors.  After the Second World War, he moved to Milan in search of opportunities in theatre and found work with a number of companies, but it was after he landed his first film role in 1950, in I cadetti di Guascogna, directed by Mario Mattoli.  that his career began to take off.

The following year he met his fellow comic actor Raimondo Vianello, and their collaboration led them to form a successful comedy duo for the fledgling RAI television network.  Their show Un Due Tre (One Two Three) became famous for its wry satire and was among the first to be censored on Italian television.  It ran from 1954 to 1960.

Ugo Tognazzi as Il Commissario Pepe in Ettore Scola's  1969 film of the same name
Ugo Tognazzi as Il Commissario Pepe in Ettore Scola's
1969 film of the same name 
After his first major big screen success in Il Federale (The Fascist), a 1961 film by Luciano Salce, Tognazzi became one of the leading performers of Commedia all'Italiana. 

Excelling as bon vivants, adulterous husbands and other suave individuals, he made many films with the writer-director  Marco Ferreri.  He also worked with Mario Monicelli, Carlo Lizzani, Dino Risi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ettore Scola and Pupi Avati among others.

Risi's Marcia su Roma (The March on Rome) brought him praise but it was with Ferreri that he enjoyed sustained success. Together they made films that included Una Storia Moderna: L'Ape Regina (also called The Conjugal Bed) in 1963, La Donna Scimmia (The Ape Woman) in 1964, Marcia Nuziale (Wedding March) in 1966, L'Udienza (The Audience) in 1971 and La Grande Bouffe in 1973.

As well as La Cage Aux Folles, in which he surprised critics by accepting a role so different from his usual range, he appeared before wider film audiences after Roger Vadim cast Tognazzi as Mark Hand, the Catchman, opposite Jane Fonda in Barbarella (1968).

He had children by three women - the Irish dancer Pat O'Hara, with whom he had a son, Ricky, the Norwegian actress Margarete Robsahm, the mother of his second son, Thomas Robsahm, and Franca Bettoia, an actress, with whom he settled in Velletri, near Rome, after their marriage in 1972.  They had a son, Gianmarco, and a daughter, Maria Sole.  All of his children followed him into the movie business.

Tognazzi, a passionate supporter of AC Milan and a lover of food who also put his name to a number of recipe books, died in 1990 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

The Duomo and Baptistery in the centre of Cremona
The Duomo and Baptistery in the centre of Cremona
Travel tip:

Cremona, well known for its tradition of violin making, is a prosperous city in Lombardy with a wealth of fine medieval architecture, much of it concentrated around the Piazza del Comune, including the cathedral, finished in 1107 and rebuilt in 1190 after suffering damage in an earthquake, which includes impressive frescoes - the Storie di Cristo - by Pordenone.  A chapel inside the Duomo contains what is said to be a thorn from Jesus's crown of thorns.

The Corso della Repubblica in Velletri is typical of the  narrow streets in the town near Rome where Tognazzi died
The Corso della Repubblica in Velletri is typical of the
narrow streets in the town near Rome where Tognazzi died
Travel tip:

Velletri, a town of 50,000 inhabitants, lies just southeast of the Castelli Romani to the south of Rome.  It was once a popular place for Rome's wealthiest to build their country villas.  It suffered considerable damage soon after the Allied landing at Anzio during the Second World War after the advancing army met resistance from German forces in and around the town.  Many monuments were beyond repair, sadly, but the town remains an attractive alternative to staying in the capital and the towns of the Colli Albani are close by, including Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope.

More reading:

The comic genius of Alberto Sordi

Cesare Danova - from medical school to Mean Streets

Was Otto e mezzo (8½) Fellini's finest work?

Also on this day:

1919: The founding of Mussolini's Fascist Party

(Picture credits: Cremona cathedral by Jakub Halun; Velletri street by Deblu68; via Wikimedia Commons)