Showing posts with label Gian Maria Volonte. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gian Maria Volonte. Show all posts

30 December 2023

For a Few Dollars More released in Italy

Second in Spaghetti Western trilogy

The poncho-wearing Clint Eastwood became one of the Western genre's most famous characters
The poncho-wearing Clint Eastwood became one
of the Western genre's most famous characters
The movie For a Few Dollars More, the second in what became known as the Dollars Trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns, was released for public viewing in Italy on this day in 1965.

Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name, the film followed the unexpected success of the low-budget feature A Fistful of Dollars, released 15 months earlier, which overcame poor initial reviews to become, for a time, the biggest-grossing movie in Italian cinema history.

Released for Italian audiences as Per Qualche Dollaro in Più, the follow-up proved even more commercially successful than its predecessor. By 1967, it had displaced A Fistful of Dollars as the highest-grossing Italian production, generating 3.1 billion lire ($5 million) in ticket sales from more than 14 and a half million admissions.

Eastwood, who had been little known outside America before A Fistful of Dollars catapulted him to international fame, had been paid a reputed sum of just $15,000 for his role in the original film, from a production budget of only $200,000.

This time Leone had more money at his disposal after teaming up with Italian producer Alberto Grimaldi and Eastwood received $50,000, although co-star Lee Van Cleef, given the part of a rival bounty hunter after Charles Bronson turned the role down, was paid a rather more modest $17,000.

One of the original posters advertising the film in Italy
One of the original posters
advertising the film in Italy
As with A Fistful of Dollars, the lead villain in For a Few Dollars More was played by Gian Maria Volonté, who was to become one of Italy’s most celebrated movie actors, famous for portraying memorable but neurotic characters in high-profile social dramas, usually with a political message. Volonté always insisted he took the Dollars roles only for the money.

Some critics were again derisive, dismissing the theme as corny, others accusing the director of glorifying violence and murder, yet For a Few Dollars More transfixed audiences with a gripping storyline, stunning cinematography, and powerful performances, as well as another brilliant musical score by Leone’s former school friend, the great Ennio Morricone.

The central plotline revolves around the rivalry between Eastwood’s character, on this occasion known as Manco, and Van Cleef’s former army officer, Colonel Douglas Mortimer, a fellow bounty hunter, with Volonté as a cold-blooded bank robber known as El Indio, who is just out of prison with a price on his head.

In common with the original, the film was shot on location in Spain rather than Italy. The original takes were all recorded without sound. Voices, sound effects and the musical score were all added later.

Leone completed the trilogy the following year with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which teamed Eastwood again with Lee Van Cleef but with Eli Wallach taking over from Volonté as the chief villain.

The budget this time was $1.2 million and box office revenue worldwide was almost as much as the first two parts of the trilogy combined.  Eastwood and Leone’s careers went in opposite directions but both enjoyed considerable success.

Leone scored another huge western hit with Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968 and, despite turning down the chance to direct The Godfather, directed a great gangster epic of his own in 1984, with Once Upon a Time in America. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 60.

Eastwood went on to enjoy countless box office successes as an actor before becoming an Oscar-winning director, remaining active even into his 90s.

The arches of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana echo those of the Colosseum
The arches of the Palazzo della Civiltà
Italiana echo those of the Colosseum 
Travel tip:

Sergio Leone, born in Rome, died there in 1989 when he suffered a fatal heart attack in the villa he used to entertain friends in the city’s EUR district, the complex to the south of central Rome that was originally developed to host the 1942 World's Fair - the Esposizione Universale Roma - which was cancelled because of the Second World War.  Mussolini’s modern city within a city was designed by a team of prominent architects, headed by Marcello Piacentini and including Giovanni Michelucci. The designs combined classical Roman elements with Italian Rationalism in a simplified neoclassicism that came to be known as Fascist architecture.  The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which has become known as the “square colosseum”, is regarded as the building which is the most symbolic of EUR. Designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it draws inspiration from the Colosseum with its rows of arches, while its square shape and stark whiteness are reminiscent of metaphysical art.

The historic entrance to the Cinecitta film studios in Rome, in its heyday the largest in Europe
The historic entrance to the Cinecitta film studios
in Rome, in its heyday the largest in Europe
Travel tip:

The Italian film industry for many years revolved around Cinecittà, the Rome film studio that is the largest in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, like EUR it was built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Mussolini. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there. The complex contains a permanent exhibition about the history of the studio, within which a special hall is devoted to the work of Sergio Leone, who worked at Cinecittà in the early stage of his career as an assistant director on several large-scale international productions, notably Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959).

Also on this day: 

39: The birth of Roman emperor Titus

1572: The death of architect Galeazzo Alessi 

1962: The birth of politician Alessandra Mussolini

1991: The birth of tennis star Camila Georgi


8 November 2018

Paolo Taviani - film director

Half of a successful partnership with brother Vittorio

Paolo Taviani has been active in Italian cinema for more than 60 years
Paolo Taviani has been active in Italian
cinema for more than 60 years 
The film director Paolo Taviani, the younger of the two Taviani brothers, whose work together won great acclaim and brought them considerable success in the 1970s and 80s in particular, was born on this day in 1931 in San Miniato, Tuscany.

With his brother Vittorio, who was two years his senior and died in April of this year, he wrote and directed more than 20 films.

Among their triumphs were Padre Padrone (1977), which won the Palme d’Or and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize at the Cannes Film Festival, La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982), which won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes, and Caesar Must Die (2012), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The brothers famously would work in partnership, directing alternate scenes, one seldom criticising the other, if ever. The actor Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in their 1974 drama Allonsanfàn, is said to have addressed the brothers as “Paolovittorio.”

They were both born and raised in San Miniato by liberal, anti-Fascist parents who introduced them to art and culture. Their father Ermanno, a lawyer, would take them to watch opera as a reward for getting good grades at school.

Paolo Taviani (right) with his brother Vittorio. They  worked as a partnership until the latter's death in 2018
Paolo Taviani (right) with his brother Vittorio. They
worked as a partnership until the latter's death in 2018
After the Second World War, in which San Miniato suffered badly at the hands of the occupying Germans, they both attended university in Pisa, where Paolo studied liberal arts and Vittorio read law.

While there, they saw Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist picture Paisan, about the Allied liberation of Italy. Its portrayal of what they described as their “own tragedy” had such a profound effect on them that they vowed to be making their own films within a decade.

Indeed, their first work, a short documentary film made in 1954 entitled San Miniato, July 1944, produced with the help of one of neorealism’s most famous scriptwriters, Cesare Zavattini, was the true story of a massacre carried out by the Nazis inside the town’s cathedral in revenge for the death of a German soldier.

They worked with the Dutch director Joris Ivens on another documentary, L'Italia non è un paese povero (Italy is Not a Poor Country), before teaming up with Valentino Orsini on two feature films, Un uomo da bruciare (A Man for Burning, 1962) and I fuorilegge del matrimonio (Outlaws of Love, 1963).

Padre Padrone (1977) was one of the brothers' most successful films
Padre Padrone (1977) was one of the
brothers' most successful films
Their first film in their own right was I sovversivi (The Subversives, 1967), a story of four members of the Italian Communist Party which anticipated the unrest of 1968. They hired Gian Maria Volontè, who had starred in Un uomo da bruciare, for the lead role in Sotto il segno dello scorpione (Under the Sign of Scorpio, 1969), which had the critics comparing their work with Bertolt Brecht, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jean-Luc Godard.

They won praise for their literary adaptations, including in San Michele aveva un gallo (St Michael Had a Rooster, 1972), adapted from Tolstoy’s Divine and Human, and also Kaos (1984) and Tu ridi (You Laugh, 1998), both based on stories by Luigi Pirandello. 

After Padre Padrone, their career reached another big moment with La notte di San Lorenzo, a wartime drama based in part on their own early lives and drawing on their own documentary, set in 1944 in a Tuscan village poised to be snatched away from the Germans by approaching US troops.

Some of their later work was less well received by they scored another major success with Caesar Must Die, an unorthodox adaptation of Julius Caesar shot inside Rebibbia prison in Rome and performed by hardened lifers, many of them former mafia and Camorra hitmen. The film won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2012 and was selected as the Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards, although it did not make the final.

Their last work as a partnership, Una questione privata (Rainbow: A Private Affair, 2017), won an Italian Golden Globes as Best Actor for Luca Marinelli.

Still active in Italian cinema, Paolo Taviani presented a lifetime achievement award to his fellow director Martin Scorsese - at 75 some 11 years his junior - at the Rome Film Festival last month.

Crowds at San Miniato's white truffle  festival, guarded by the Tower of Federico
Crowds at San Miniato's white truffle
festival, guarded by the Tower of Federico 
Travel tip:

San Miniato, where Taviani was born, is a charming town perched on a hill halfway between Florence and Pisa. Both cities fought to control it for two centuries. With a picturesque medieval centre built around the Fortress of Federico II and views over the Arno valley, it attracts visitors all year round but one of its busiest times is November, when the annual white truffle festival fills the streets with parades, concerts and artisan vendors. The Diocesan Museum, next to the cathedral, contains works by Filippo Lippi, Jacopo Chimenti, Neri di Bicci, Fra Bartolomeo, Frederico Cardi (known as Cigoli) and Verrocchio.  The church of San Domenico has terracotta works by Luca della Robbia, a fresco attributed to Masolino da Panicale and a burial monument sculpted by Donatello.

The Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa
The Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa
Travel tip:

Pisa, once a major maritime power, is now a university city renowned for its art and architectural treasures and with a 10.5km (7 miles) circuit of 12th century walls. The Campo dei Miracoli, formerly known as Piazza del Duomo, located at the northwestern end of the city, contains the cathedral (Duomo), baptistery and famously the tilting campanile known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, all built in black and white marble between the 11th and 14th centuries. The Scuola Normale Superiore is one of three universities in Pisa, the others being the University of Pisa and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.

More reading:

Roberto Rossellini - the father of neorealism

Marcello Mastroianni - the star who immortalised the Trevi Fountain

How actress Laura Betti became Pier Paolo Pasolini's muse

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1936: The birth of acress Virna Lisi

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari


23 July 2018

Damiano Damiani – screenwriter and director

Film maker behind the hit Mafia drama series La piovra

Damiano Damiani directed a number of 'spaghetti westerns'
Damiano Damiani directed a number
of so-called 'spaghetti westerns'
Damiano Damiani, who directed the famous Italian television series La piovra, which was about the Mafia and its involvement in Italian politics, was born on this day in 1922 in Pasiano di Pordenone in Friuli.

Damiani also made a number of Mafia-themed films and he was particularly acclaimed for his 1966 film, A Bullet for the General, starring Gian Maria Volontè, which came at the beginning of the golden age of Italian westerns.

Damiani studied at the Accademia di Brera in Milan and made his debut in 1947 with the documentary, La banda d’affari. After working as a screenwriter, he directed his first feature film, Il rossetto, in 1960.

His 1962 film, Arturo’s Island, won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian International film festival.

During the 1960s, Damiani was praised by the critics and his films were box office successes.

A Bullet for the General is regarded as one of the first, and one of the most notable, political, spaghetti westerns. Its theme was the radicalisation of bandits and other criminals into revolutionaries.

Michele Placido starred in Damiani's La piovra
Michele Placido starred in
Damiani's La piovra
Damiani’s 1968 film, Il giorno della civetta - The Day of the Owl - starring Claudia Cardinale, Franco Nero and Lee J Cobb, started a series of films in which social criticism, often related to the connections between politics and crime, was mixed with spectacular plots.

Damiani’s 1971 film, Confessions of a Police Captain, which again starred Franco Nero, won the Golden Prize at the 7th Moscow International film festival.

He made his debut as an actor in 1973, playing Giovanni Amendola in Florestano Vancini’s The Matteotti Murder, about the assassination in 1924 of the Socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti, allegedly by Fascist thugs.

He became known to cult horror film fans in 1982 for directing Amityville II: The Possession.

Damiani was still directing in his mid-70s
Damiani was still directing in his mid-70s
In 1984, Damiani directed one of Italy’s most famous television series, La piovra, which put the spotlight on the power of the contemporary Italian Mafia and its involvement in Italian politics.

Starring Michele Placido in the role of the police inspector, Corrado Cattani, it was hugely popular on television in the 1980s and the first three series were shown in the UK on Channel Four. One of the minor characters in the drama was played by Luca Zingaretti, who would later become famous as Inspector Montalbano in the series based on Andrea Camilleri's books.

Damiani won a David di Donatello award for his film, L’Inchiesta, in 1986.

His last feature film was Assassini dei giorni di festa, which he directed in 2002.

Damiani died at his home in Rome in 2013, having reached the age of 90.

Pordenone's elegant town hall, Palazzo Communale
Pordenone's elegant town hall, Palazzo Communale
Travel tip:

Friuli is an area of northeast Italy with its own strong, cultural and historical identity. It comprises the major part of the region Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The towns of Udine, Pordenone and Gorizia are part of Friuli. Pordenone has Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. The Gothic town hall, Palazzo Communale, in the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, was built between 1291 and 1365.

The Villa Saccomani is one of five Venetian villas around the small town of Pasiano di Pordenone
The Villa Saccomani is one of five Venetian villas around
the small town of Pasiano di Pordenone
Travel tip:

Damiano Damiani is probably the most famous person to come from Pasiano di Pordenone, a small comune - municipality - about 90 km (56 miles) northwest of Trieste and about 13 km (8 miles) south of Pordenone. The comune has no fewer than five Venetian villas worth seeing, which were built between the 15th and the 18th centuries. They are Villa Salvi, Villa Saccomani, Villa Gozzi, Villa Querini and Villa Tiepolo.

More reading:

The role that turned Michele Placido into a star

The brilliance and versatility of the character actor Gian Maria Volontè

How Montalbano turned Luca Zingaretti into a star

Also on this day:

1866: The birth of composer Francesco Cilea

1941: The birth of the Italian president, Sergio Matarella



18 June 2017

Raffaella Carrà - entertainer and TV presenter

Much-loved star with long and varied career

Raffaella Carrà has been one of the most  popular entertainers on Italian TV for 35 years
Raffaella Carrà has been one of the most
popular entertainers on Italian TV for 35 years
Raffaella Carrà, the singer, dancer, television presenter, and actress often simply known as la Carrà or Raffaella, was born in Bologna on this day in 1943.

Carrà has become a familiar face on Italian TV screens as the host of many variety shows and, more recently, as a judge on the talent show The Voice of Italy.

She has also enjoyed a recording career spanning 45 years and was a film actress for the best part of 25 years, having made her debut at the age of nine.  Her best-known screen role outside Italy was alongside Frank Sinatra in the hit American wartime drama, Von Ryan’s Express.

Carrà was born Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni. Shew grew up in the Adriatic resort of Bellaria-Igea Marina, just north of Rimini, where her father ran a bar and her maternal grandfather an ice cream parlour.  At the age of eight, she won a place at the National Dance Academy in Rome and from there moved to the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografie, Italy’s oldest film school.

Her film career was never more than modestly successful. Although she has a long list of credits, she was cast mainly in small parts. Her most successful years were the 1960s, when she had more prominent roles in Mario Monicelli’s I compagnoni – the companions – which was a hit in Italy, and in Von Ryan’s Express, in which she played the part of the mistress of a German officer, which raised her profile with international audiences.

Carrà opposite Gian Maria Volontè in the 1963 film  Il terrorista, directed by Gianfranco De Bosio
Carrà opposite Gian Maria Volontè in the 1963 film
Il terrorista, directed by Gianfranco De Bosio
It was at the suggestion of one of her directors, Dante Guardamagna, that she changed her name.  Carrà, in fact, was his choice, after the Futurist artist Carlo Carrà, who was a particular favourite of his.

She frequently appeared in the gossip columns, which excitedly reported an affair with Sinatra at around the time Von Ryan’s Express was being shot, and a longer relationship with the Juventus footballer Gino Stacchini, her partner for eight years.

Carrà also enjoyed some success in Italian TV dramas but it was her move into variety shows in the 1970s that would catapult her to bigger fame.  An uninhibited and daring dancer, she pushed the limits of what was acceptable on Italian TV screens at the time, achieving notoriety for a while as the first showgirl to reveal her belly button on camera, in the show Canzonissima, which attracting serious criticism from the Catholic Church, who felt it bordered in indecency.

Carrà became famous as a singer and dancer
Carrà became famous as a singer and dancer
Nonetheless, her career took off, both as a dancer and a singer, in Italy and in Spain, where she was almost as popular as in her home country.  The sensual Tuca tuca, written as a song and dance presentation by her long-term collaborator and boyfriend Gianni Boncompagni, gave her a first hit and others followed, including Chissa Se Va, A far l’amore comincia tu, and Tanti auguri, which was probably her most successful. 

She even had a hit in the United Kingdom, a difficult market for singers from Europe, with Do It, Do It Again. Years later, a video of the single featured in an episode of the sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Her move from performer to TV host came in the 1980s, when as the presenter of daytime TV show Pronto, Raffaella? for RAI, a game show in which viewers could speak to her directly by telephone, she displayed an ability to relate both to the celebrities who appeared as studio guests and ordinary members of the public.

More shows for RAI followed, her success bringing a move to the Fininvest channels owned by Silvio Berlusconi and a return to RAI, where in the mid-90s she became the host of the huge hit, Carràmba! Que Sorpresa, which reunited long-separated friends and relatives.

Carrà sometimes presented the television coverage of the Sanremo music competition and was Italy’s jury spokesman on their return to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011, which ended the country’s 13-year absence.

She became the face of the Italian national lottery for many years, because her shows, starting with Canzonissima and continuing with Fantastico, Carràmba! Che Sorpresa and Carràmba! Che Fortuna would incorporate the lottery draw.

More recently, she presented Forte forte forte – a talent show on which she worked with long-time romantic partner Sergio Jacopo – as well The Voice of Italy.

Her Italian career ran in parallel with similar success in variety shows in Spain, who chose her to front a gala night in 2016 celebrating 60 years of Spanish public television.

The harbour area at Bellaria-Igea Marina
The harbour area at Bellaria-Igea Marina
Travel tip:

Bellaria-Igea Marina is a popular resort about 14km (9 miles) from Rimini and 35km (22 miles) from Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna.  As well as extensive sandy beaches it has a charming harbour area on the site of the fishing village it once was. It began to develop as resort in the early 20th century, with many tree-lined avenues running parallel with the shore. Interesting features include the Red House, the summer residence of the writer Alfredo Panzini, in the Via Panzini, and the ‘shell house’ in Via Nicolò Zeno, the entire walls of which are covered in shells attached by the owner.

Travel tip:

The Centro sperimentale di cinematografia, established in Rome in 1935, is the oldest film school in Western Europe. It is located close to the Cinecittà studios. Classes are limited to only six students, who train using classic 35mm equipment. Many of Italy’s finest actors and directors are former students.

9 April 2017

Gian Maria Volonté – actor

Brilliant talent who played ‘spaghetti western’ parts for fun

Volonté in his role as the police chief in Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
Volonté in his role as the police chief in Elio Petri's
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
Gian Maria Volonté, recognised as one of the finest character actors Italy has produced, was born on this day in 1933 in Milan.

Trained at the Silvio D’Amico National Academy of the Dramatic Arts in Rome, Volonté became famous outside Italy for playing the villain to Clint Eastwood’s hero in two movies in Sergio Leone’s western trilogy that were part of a genre dubbed the ‘spaghetti westerns’.

However, he insisted he accepted the chance to appear in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – in which he appeared under the pseudonym John Wells - and For a Few Dollars More (1964) simply to earn some money and did not regard the parts of Ramon and El Indio as serious.

In Italy, it was for the much heavier roles given to him by respected directors such as Elio Petri and Francesco Rosi that he won huge critical acclaim.

A person known for a tempestuous private life, he was very strong playing complex and neurotic characters, while his left-wing political leanings attracted him to roles in which he had to portray individuals from real life.

He was a particular favourite of Rosi, the neo-realist director who directed in him in five movies, including the acclaimed The Mattei Affair (1972), in which he played an oil company executive whose death in a plane crash in Sicily aroused suspicion, and Lucky Luciano (1973), in which he portrayed the Sicilian-American Mafia boss controversially released from a 30-year prison sentence in the United States in return for helping the Allies with the 1943 invasion of Sicily.

Volonte played the writer Carlo Levi in Francesco Rosi's 1979 film Christ Stopped at Eboli
Volonté played the writer Carlo Levi in Francesco Rosi's
1979 film Christ Stopped at Eboli
Rosi also cast him as the Jewish-Italian anti-Fascist writer Carlo Levi in Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979)

Other famous roles included that of a television journalist in Swiss director Claude Goretta's Death of Mario Ricci (1983), which won him the him the Golden Palm at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Volonte also played the Italian-born anarchist Nicola Sacco in Sacco and Vanzetti, the 1971 film by Giuliano Montaldo, a courageous Sicilian judge in Fascist Italy in Gianni Amelio's 1990 movie Open Doors, which was chosen as European film of the year at Cannes, and played the Christian Democrat leader and former prime minister Aldo Moro, whose kidnapping and murder in 1978 at the hands of Red Brigade terrorists shook Italy, in Giuseppe Ferrara’s Il caso Moro (1986).

His films under Petri’s direction included  We Still Kill the Old Way (1967), which won the Grand Prix du Scenario at the Cannes Film Festival, and  Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), for which Volonte won one of his three Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon) awards - the most prestigious acting award in Italy, and which won an Oscar for best foreign-language film.

The part of the kidnapped former prime minister Aldo Moro was played by Volonté in Giuseppe Ferrara's Il caso Moro
The part of the kidnapped former prime minister Aldo Moro
was played by Volonté in Giuseppe Ferrara's Il caso Moro
Volonté’s politics seemed to be rooted in his upbringing. Although born in Milan, he was brought up in Turin. His father, Mario, was a Fascist militiaman who was arrested for allegedly arranging the murder of some partisans. He died while awaiting trial, leaving his family facing poverty. Volonté hated the Fascists from that point onwards.

He left school at 14 to find work so that he could support his mother.  One of the jobs he took was with a travelling theatre company, initially as a wardrobe assistant and secretary, but eventually developing a desire to act, and being granted parts.

It was the realisation that he had some talent as an actor that persuaded him to move to Rome and enrol at the Silvio D’Amico Academy.  After graduating in 1957, he worked in the theatre and television, appearing in adaptations of Dostoyevski's Idiot, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Vittorio Alfieri's Saul.

He was soon recognised as one of the most promising of the new generation of actors and his movie debut followed in 1960.

Volonté made no apologies for his political leanings.  A member of the Italian Communist Party, he was arrested in 1971 during a demonstration by workers striking for higher wages and better working conditions and helped his friend and fellow Communist Oreste Scalzone to flee the country after he was sentenced to 16 years in jail on charges of terrorism Volonté believed were false.

He stood as a candidate for the Democratic Party of the Left in the 1992 general election.

Married twice, Volonté had a child, Giovanna, with the actress Carla Divina, his partner for 10 years, before spending the last years of his life with another actress, Angelica Ippolito, with whom he lived in Velletri, a town in the Colli Albani (Alban Hills), just south of Rome.

He died in 1994 of a heart attack while filming on location in Greece and was laid to rest at a small cemetery on the Sardinian island, Isola della Maddalena.

The Silvio D'Amico academy, where Volonté trained, is in Via Vincenzo Bellini in Rome's Municipio II district
The Silvio D'Amico academy, where Volonté trained, is in
Via Vincenzo Bellini in Rome's Municipio II district
Travel tip:

Rome’s National Academy of the Dramatic Arts was founded in 1936 by the writer and critic Silvio D’Amico, whose name was attached to the academy after his death. After occupying a number of premises, the academy settled in a building on Via Vincenzo Bellini in the Municipio II district, just beyond the Borghese Gardens and about 10 minutes’ drive from the centre of the city.

Hotels in Rome from

Velletri's Porta Napoletana formed part of the city walls
Velletri's Porta Napoletana formed part of the city walls
Travel tip:

Velletri is traditionally a walled city. Its original walls were demolished by the Romans in 338 BC but rebuilt in the Middle Ages, giving the town the appearance of a huge castle.  The walls had six gates, the best preserved of which is Porta Napoletana, built in 1511 and which is now home to a branch of the Italian Sommelier Association.

More reading:

How neo-realism and documentary style put Francesco Rosi among greats of Italian cinema

Sergio Leone - from 'spaghetti westerns' to gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America

The tragedy of Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

1454: The Treaty of Lodi ends fighting between rival northern states

1948: The birth of veteran pop singer Patty Pravo

(Picture credits: Porta Napoletana by Deblu68 via Wikimedia Commons)


15 November 2016

Francesco Rosi - film director

Documentary style put him among greats of Italian cinema

Francesco Rosi
Francesco Rosi
The film director Francesco Rosi, one of Italy's most influential movie-makers over four decades, was born on this day in 1922 in Naples. 

Rosi, who made his directing debut in 1958 and filmed his last movie in 1997, built on the fashion for neo-realism that dominated Italian cinema in the immediate post-war years and his films were often highly politicised.

Many of his works were almost pieces of investigative journalism, driven by his revulsion at the corruption and inequality he witnessed in the area in which he grew up, and the dubious relationships between local government and figures from the crime world.

His film Hands Over the City, for example, starring Rod Steiger as unscrupulous land developer, sought to show how the landscape of Naples was shaped by greed and political interests.  The film's disclaimer stated that “All characters and events narrated in this film are fictitious, but the social reality that created them is authentic.”

The Mattei Affair, which starred Gian Maria Volonté - himself a political activist - tells the story of Enrico Mattei, a former Italian resistance fighter who rose to be head of ENI, the state-owned oil company, and died in a plane crash in Sicily. Conspiracy theorists linked his death with his attempt, in the middle of the Cold War, to break America's dominance of the Italian market, sign deals with Arab countries and even court Russia as a possible trading partner.

The project took Rosi's team into such dangerous political territory that one of his researchers, the journalist Mauro de Mauro, disappeared. He was never found and it is presumed he was murdered for finding out too much about the case.

Gian Maria Volonté in a scene from The Mattei Affair
Gian Maria Volonté (centre) in a scene from The Mattei Affair
Lucky Luciano, which featured Volonté and Steiger, was another movie filmed in the style of a documentary investigation, this time with its focus on the controversial role of a repatriated Sicilian-American Mafia boss in the Allied liberation of Sicily and the assault on the Italian mainland towards the end of the Second World War.

Later, with Illustrious Corpses, Rosi sought to shine light on the dark machinations of what would come to be known as 'The Strategy of Tension' during the 1980s, in which a series of deadly attacks carried out by right-wing extremists with the apparent collusion of the secret services would be blamed on activists on the hard left in order to derail an alliance being proposed between the Christian Democrat Party and the Communist Party.

Among his many awards was a Palme d'Or at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival for The Mattei Affair, a Golden Lion at the 1963 Venice Biennale for Hands Over the City and ten David di Donatello awards from the Academy of Italian Cinema.

In 2012, he was awarded an honorary Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for lifetime achievement and leaving "an indelible mark on the history of Italian film-making".

Rosi was born in Montecalvario, a neighbourhood of central Naples that includes part of the Spanish Quarter, the Piazza Carità and the bustling Via Toledo.  His father worked in the shipping industry, but also drew satirical cartoons, once earning a reprimand for his insulting depictions of Benito Mussolini and King Vittorio Emmanuel III.

Giorgio Napoletana, a schoolfriend of Francesco Rosi, who would go one to become President of the Republic
Giorgio Napoletana, a schoolfriend of Francesco Rosi,
who would go one to become President of the Republic
Rosi went to college with Giorgio Napolitano, who would later become Italian President, and they would remain lifelong friends.  He studied law but his career took him in a different direction, first as an illustrator of children's books, then as a reporter with Radio Napoli.

The connections he made through the radio station led him into theatre work and film.  After several films as assistant director, learning from Ettore Giannini and Luchino Visconti among others, he made his solo debut in 1958 with La Sfida (The Challenge), an expose of corruption in the retail trade in Naples which quickly made clear Rosi's preoccupation with social justice and the complex labyrinths in Italian society.

His breakthrough in terms of international acclaim came in 1962 with Salvatore Giuliano, a fictional exploration of the life of the Sicilian bandit of the title, his connections with the state and the church, and his role in fighting against communism in Sicily.  Rosi's aim was to use the bandit’s life and death to convey the complexities of post-war Sicilian politics and society in which "resolving the truth was an impossibility."

Salvatore Giuliano won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1962 and established Rosi as one of the central figures of the post-neorealist phase in Italian cinema, along with Gillo Pontecorvo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Taviani brothers, Ettore Scola and Valerio Zurlini.

Rosi’s later movies were accomplished productions but critics felt they lacked the power of his earlier work, although in his adaptation of Christ Stopped at Eboli, Carlo Levi's memoir about his experiences as a doctor exiled in southern Italy for his anti-Fascist views, with Volonté in the title role, came close, winning a BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film.

After ending his career in film with The Truce, based on holocaust survivor Primo Levi's memoir of returning to Italy after his liberation from Auschwitz, he returned to theatre, notably directing the Neapolitan comedies of Eduardo De Filippo.

He spent his last years living in Rome on Via Gregoriana, near the Spanish Steps.   He died in 2015 aged 92.

The Via Toledo in Naples has a typical flavour of the city
The Via Toledo in Naples has a typical flavour of the city
Travel tip:

Montecal- vario, where Francesco Rosi was born, is said by many visitors to capture the essence of Naples.  Bordered on one side by the Via Toledo, the busy shopping street which links Piazza Dante with Piazza Trieste e Trento, it includes the part of the Spanish Quarter in which can be found the Teatro Nuovo, an historic theatre originally built in 1724 and twice destroyed by fire.  The theatre became famous for comic opera in the 19th century and in the 20th century staged the plays of the great Neapolitian comic dramatist, Eduardo de Filippo.

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Travel tip:

The Via Gregoriana, where Francesco Rosi spent his last years, is a street almost in the centre of Rome, very close to the tourist hubbub of Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, yet still retains the air of a peaceful residential thoroughfare, the kind you might expect to find in a well-to-do suburb.  Commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1575, it runs from the church of Trinita dei Monti, which looks down over Piazza di Spagna, towards Via del Tritone and has long been popular with artists and intellectuals.

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More reading:

Ennio Morricone, the film music maestro enters his 89th year

Anna Magnani - Oscar winning star of neo-realist fashion

The legacy of Fellini and La Dolce Vita

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of conductor Annunzio Mantovani

(Picture credits: Francesco Rosi by Georges Biard; Gian Maria Volonté by Pèter; Giorgio Napoletana by Ralf Roletschek; Via Toledo by Inviaggiocommons all via Wikimedia Commons)