Showing posts with label Raffaele 'Raf' Vallone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Raffaele 'Raf' Vallone. Show all posts

11 February 2024

Giuseppe De Santis - film director

Former Resistance fighter famous for neorealist classic Bitter Rice

Giuseppe De Santis used his films to highlight social problems in postwar Italy
Giuseppe De Santis used his films to highlight
social problems in postwar Italy
The writer and film director Giuseppe De Santis, who is best remembered for the 1949 neorealist film Bitter Rice - screened as Riso Amaro for Italian audiences - was born on this day in 1917 in Fondi, a small city in Lazio about 130km (81 miles) south of Rome.

De Santis is sometimes described as an idealist of the neorealism genre, which flourished in the years immediately after World War Two, yet it can also be argued that he moved away from the documentary style that characterised some of neorealism’s early output towards films with more traditional storylines.

Bitter Rice, for example, while highlighting the harsh working conditions in the rice fields around Vercelli in the Po Valley and the exploitation of labourers by wealthy landowners, is also a tale of plotting, jealousy and treachery among thieves.

Nonetheless, De Santis, a staunch opponent of Mussolini and Fascism, an Italian Communist Party member who fought against the Germans with the Italian Resistance, inevitably underpinned his work with a strong social message.

The son of a surveyor, De Santis wrote stories from an early age, drawing on the day-to-day lives of the people around him in Fondi and the surrounding countryside. He enrolled to study literature and philosophy at university in Rome, making friends among the city’s young intellectuals, meeting poets, writers and artists who shared his vision. The Osteria Fratelli Menghi in Via Flaminia was a popular hang-out.

Luchino Visconti, with whom De Santis worked on Ossessione
Luchino Visconti, with whom De
Santis worked on Ossessione
He identified cinema as the art form in which he would most like to work and began to attend Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, a cinema school established under Mussolini - who at one time banned all foreign films from Italian cinemas - to encourage the development of a thriving Italian film industry.

Despite their opposition to Fascism, De Santis and other anti-Fascists in the industry did not turn down the chance to take advantage of the facilities available at the CSC. At the same time, aware that a group of talented young directors could achieve his aims for the industry, Mussolini turned a blind eye to their political views, which some of the articles De Santis and others - including fellow future directors Antonio Pietrangeli, Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni - wrote for the fortnightly Cinema magazine did not disguise.

While working for Cinema magazine, De Santis met the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, under whose influence he became proponent of early neorealist filmmakers such as Visconti, who sought to make films that mirrored the reality of life for working-class Italians in the tough years of post-war rebuilding, shooting on location and giving parts to ordinary people with no acting experience.

De Santis, in fact, worked with Visconti on scripting the latter’s 1943 film Ossessione, a crime drama based loosely on the James M Cain novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which the Fascists initially banned as morally corrupting.

His own directing debut came in 1947 with Caccia Tragica (Tragic Hunt), the first of three films protesting about conditions for working people that culminated in Riso Amaro, which starred the already-established Vittorio Gassman and the American actress Doris Dowling in the headline roles, with former footballer and journalist Raf Vallone making his debut.

It is remembered largely for the performance of Silvana Mangano, a voluptuous 19-year-old in her first credited part, who conveyed a combination of physical strength and earthy beauty that audiences and critics found entirely convincing in the role of a peasant worker accustomed to hours of slog in the rice fields, but still with the energy to dance the night away to her beloved boogie-woogie music.  Mangano ultimately married the film’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis.

De Santis's Bitter Rice turned the previously  unknown actress Silvana Mangano into a star
De Santis's Bitter Rice turned the previously 
unknown actress Silvana Mangano into a star
The film, which premiered at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and was a finalist for the Palme d'Or, was a box office success in Italy and the United States. The film was nominated for Best Story in the 1950 Academy Awards.

De Santis made another important neorealist film three years later entitled Roma, ora 11 (Rome, 11 o’clock), a dramatic reconstruction of a real-life event in the Italian capital the previous year when a staircase collapsed under the weight of women queuing for job interviews, causing one death and multiple injuries.

In 1959 he won a Golden Globe with La strada lunga un anno (The Road a Year Long), which gained him another Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

However, none of his subsequent work really had the same impact as Riso Amaro, which has been included on several subsequent lists of the best films in Italian cinema history.

De Santis directed his last feature film in 1972. He returned to the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the 1980s and ‘90s, this time in the role of lecturer. In 1995 he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival and came out of retirement to direct, jointly with Bruno Bigon, a documentary called Oggi è un altro giorno (Today is Another Day) - Milano 1945-1995, a documentary about the Resistance in Milan.  

He died in Rome in 1997 at the age of 80, suffering a heart attack. A day of mourning was declared in Italy. His widow, Gordana Miletic, joined friends in establishing the Giuseppe De Santis Foundation, which gives an annual award in his memory to an emerging young film-maker. 

The Castello Baronale, parts of which date back to the 12th century, stands proudly over Fondi
The Castello Baronale, parts of which date back
to the 12th century, stands proudly over Fondi
Travel tip:

Situated on the Via Appia, the former Roman road that was once the main route from Rome to much of southern Italy, the city of Fondi rarely features on tourist itineraries, yet travel guides often include the word charming, even enchanting, in their description. Situated on a small plain - il Piano di Fondi - between the Ausoni and Aurunci mountain ranges and the Tyrrhenian Sea, it was founded by the ancient Romans, it became an important commercial centre in mediaeval times, when the powerful Caetani family built the impressive Castello Baronale, which still dominates the skyline. Subsequently the home of the literary court of Giulia Gonzaga, in more recent times it has housed a museum. The Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta,a beautiful Gothic-style church, is another attraction. The plain also benefits from a fine stretch of natural beach and Fondi has a tradition of excellent seafood.

Find accommodation in Fondi with

An arch over the original Via Flaminia in Umbria
An arch over the original
Via Flaminia in Umbria
Travel tip:

The Osteria Fratelli Menghi, the historic tavern in Rome where De Santis would hang out with painters, actors, musicians and writers, was located in Via Flaminia on the site today occupied by the Caffè dei Pittori. The osteria was just 300m on foot from Piazza del Popolo, one of the major squares in the heart of Rome, yet there is much more to the Via Flaminia than simply a street in central Rome. It follows the route of the ancient Roman Via Flaminia, which was built by Gaius Flaminius in around 220 BC, going due north to cross the Tiber by way of the Ponte Milvio and continuing via a course over the Apennine Mountains to Ariminum (Rimini) on the coast of the Adriatic, a distance by the more recent of two routes of 328km (204 miles). The modern route from Rimini to Rome still follows closely the path of the original Roman road, a distance of 341km (), tracking the Adriatic coast to Fano, turning inland to pass close to Urbino, Perugia and Assisi and onwards towards the capital.

Rome hotels by

More reading:

Luchino Visconti - the aristocrat of Italian film

The enigmatic ‘last great’ of Italian cinema

The director known as the ‘father of neorealism’

Also on this day:

1791: The birth of architect Louis Visconti

1881: The birth of painter Carlo Carrà

1929: The Lateran Treaty gives independence to The Vatican

1948: The birth of footballer Carlo Sartori

1995: The birth of singer Gianluca Ginoble

(Picture credits: Via Flaminia by Imcarthur via Wikimedia Commons)


17 February 2018

Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor

Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, pictured in a scene from the Giuseppe de Santis neo-realist movie Bitter Rice
Raffaele Vallone, pictured in a scene from the Giuseppe
de Santis neorealist movie Bitter Rice
Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916 in Tropea, Calabria, was remarkable for having embarked on three starkly different career paths even before he made his acting debut.

Usually known as Raf, he grew up from the age of two in Turin, where his father, an ambitious young lawyer, had relocated to set up a legal practice.  A natural athlete, he was a fine footballer – so good, in fact, that at the age of 14 he was snapped up by Torino FC, who made him an apprentice professional.

Compared with the average working man, he was handsomely paid as a footballer, and he won a medal as part of the Torino team crowned Coppa Italia winners in 1936.  Yet he quickly became bored with football and enrolled at Turin University, where he studied Law and Philosophy with a view to joining his father’s firm.

Ultimately, he baulked at the idea of becoming a lawyer, too, and instead joined the staff of the left-wing daily newspaper L’Unità, where he rose quickly to be head of the culture pages, at the same time establishing himself as a drama and film critic for the Turin daily La Stampa.

It was in his capacity as a journalist that he was invited to meet Giuseppe De Santis, the film director, who wanted him to help with background information for a new film in the growing neorealist genre called Bitter Rice, about a woman working in the rice fields in the Po Valley.

Vallone in his days as a young footballer with Torino FC
Vallone in his days as a young footballer
with Torino FC
This was a time when, partly out of budget restrictions, partly out of a desire to cast real people rather than rely solely on established stars, directors were weighing up everyone they met as a potential actor.

De Santis was immediately impressed with Vallone, who had served with the anti-Fascist resistance during the Second World War, both for his depth of knowledge but also for the passion of his views, particularly on the subject of exploitation of workers.

The director also noted Vallone’s physical stature and his rough-hewn features and decided he would be perfect for the role of a soldier from peasant roots, competing with Vittorio Gassman for the love of another relative unknown, Silvana Mangano. In fact, not only was Vallone an educated man, his mother was descended from nobility, which only illustrates how appearances can be deceptive.

The film, made in 1949, was a box office hit, commercially one of the biggest successes of the neorealist era.  Unlike some of the unknowns plucked from real life, discarded after one movie, Vallone went on to enjoy a successful career.

He worked again with De Santis in 1950 in  Non c'e Pace tra gli Ulivi (There’s No Peace Among the Olive Trees), playing a shepherd who antagonised local Mafiosi, and in Rome 11 O'Clock (1952), based on a true story of a rickety staircase that collapsed under a queue of unemployed girls hoping for a job interview.

Raf Vallone (left) in a scene from Il Cammino della Speranza, in which he starred with his future wife, Elena Varzi (right)
Raf Vallone (left) in a scene from Il Cammino della Speranza,
in which he starred with his future wife, Elena Varzi (right)
In Pietro Germi’s Il Cammino della Speranza (The Road to Hope, 1951) Vallone starred alongside Elena Varzi, whom he later married and with whom he had three children.

The popularity of neorealist films declined as Italy’s shattered post-War economy began to recover, when audiences decided they no longer wished to be reminded of the hard times they had left behind. For a while, Vallone’s career stalled.

Ever eager to try different things, however, Vallone now set his sights on the stage.  He travelled to Paris and London, where he was inspired in particular by Peter Brook’s production of the Arthur Miller play A View From the Bridge, in which he felt the role of the Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone, tormented by a sexual fixation with a niece, was made for him.

He had the chance to play the character when Brook took the play on tour to Paris. Vallone’s performances at the Theatre Antoine, where the play ran for 550 nights, were frequently received with ovations from the audience, and earned him the same part in Sidney Lumet’s 1961 film version of the play, which he shot in both English and French.

That movie helped cement Vallone’s popularity with American movie-going audiences.  During that time he also gave well received supporting roles in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (1960) and Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961), both co-starring Sophia Loren. Other actresses he co-starred with on included Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Melina Mercouri and Simone Signoret.

In his later years, Vallone tended to play only cameos, such as in The Italian Job (1969) and The Godfather Part III (1990). He also directed for the stage, even trying his hand at opera with a production of Bellini’s Norma, with Renata Scotto in the lead role.

Tropea in Calabria enjoys a spectacular cliff-top location
Tropea in Calabria enjoys a spectacular cliff-top location
Travel tip:

Tropea, where Vallone was born, is for obvious reasons not a resort that attracts many holidaymakers other than Italians. Situated on the western coast of Calabria, the region that occupies the toe and the instep of the Italian peninsula, it is more than 400km (250 miles) south of Naples and though relatively close to Sicily – Messina is just 112km (70 miles) away – it tends to be a place flown over en route.  Yet it has much to recommend it, from its beautiful soft sandy beaches to the spectacular cliff-top setting of its historic old town, with its maze of narrow streets and sleepy southern Italian feel.  On a stretch of scenic coastline known as the Costa degli Dei – the Coast of the Gods – it is regarded by some regular visitors as one of Italy’s hidden gems.

Submerged rice fields are a feature of the countryside around Vercelli in the Po Valley
Submerged rice fields are a feature of the countryside
around Vercelli in the Po Valley
Travel tip:

The rice fields of the Po Valley represent the largest rice production area in the whole of Europe.  The Po Valley, or Po Plain, is vast, stretching about 650km (400 miles) from the Western Alps to the Adriatic Sea, bordered by the Alps to the north and the Apennines to the south, with an area of 46,000 sq km (18,000 sq mi).  Rice production is mainly centred on the province of Vercelli, between Milan and Turin, in which the town of Vercelli is surrounded in the summer months by submerged paddy fields, for which water is supplied by a canal from the Po River.  Rice has been grown in the area since the 15th century.

More reading:

Silvana Mangano - actress whose big break came with Bitter Rice

Vittorio De Sica and the neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves

The earthy beauty of Oscar-winner Anna Magnani

Also on this day:

1600: The death of  'heretic' philosopher Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake

1653: The birth of composer Arcangelo Corelli

1796: The birth of composer Giovanni Pacini