Showing posts with label Vittorio de Sica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vittorio de Sica. Show all posts

6 September 2023

Nino Castelnuovo - actor

Starred in sumptuous French musical and TV adaptation of literary classic

Nino Castelnuovo worked with some of Italy's  most famous 'golden age' directors
Nino Castelnuovo worked with some of Italy's
 most famous 'golden age' directors
The actor Nino Castelnuovo, best known for playing opposite a young Catherine Deneuve in a Palme d’Or-winning French musical and as the star of a celebrated TV adaptation of Alessandro Manzoni’s classic novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), died on this day in 2021 at the age of 84.

Castelnuovo’s talent came to the fore during a golden age of Italian cinema, working with leading directors such as Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Pietro Germi, Luigi Comencini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and starring opposite such luminaries as Alberto Sordi, Monica Vitti and Claudia Cardinale.

Yet it was the visually beautiful, deeply sentimental French musical, Le parapluies de Cherbourg - The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - that catapulted him to fame in 1964, five years after his screen debut.

Directed by Jacques Demy, the musical, in which the dialogue is entirely sung (although by voice dubbers rather than the actors appearing on screen), Castelnuovo played the handsome Guy, a mechanic, who is in love with Deneuve’s character, Geneviève, who works in her mother’s umbrella shop.

Their romance is interrupted when Guy is called up to serve in the Algerian War. Geneviève gives birth to their child while Guy is away but they lose touch. When they meet again, six years later, they are both married to other people, their lives having taken very different courses. An affecting tale, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for five Academy Awards.

Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo arrive at a promotional event for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo arrive at a
promotional event for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Born in the lakeside town of Lecco, in Lombardy, Castelnuovo was christened as Francesco. His mother, Emilia Paola, a maid, was married to Camillo Castelnuovo, who worked in a button factory. 

Nino worked at different times as a mechanic and a painter. An enthusiastic cinema-goer, he idolised Fred Astaire, which prompted him to take lessons in gymnastics and dancing.  After moving to Milan at the age of 19, he studied drama at the Piccolo Teatro, presided over by the director Giorgio Strehler.

His first screen appearance came via a bit part in a film titled The Virtuous Bigamist in 1956, but his first credited role was in the 1959 thriller Un maledetto imbroglio, directed by Germi, based on Carlo Emilio Gadda’s crime novel, which was titled in English as That Awful Mess on Via Merulana. The film was shown in America as The Facts of Murder.

The following year he starred with Alain Delon in Visconti’s acclaimed drama Rocco and His Brothers and alongside the actor-director Pasolini in The Hunchback of Rome. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won him gushing reviews, yet where Deneuve’s career took off internationally after the film’s release, Castelnuovo fared less well.  He was never short of parts, going on to make more than 50 films, yet Italian cinema audiences in particular were slow to warm to him.

Castelnuovo with Claudia Cardinale in a scene from his first credited movie, Un maledetto imbroglio
Castelnuovo with Claudia Cardinale in a scene from
his first credited movie, Un maledetto imbroglio
In the event, it was the small screen that provided him with his second, career-defining part, as Renzo, the principal male character in a television adaptation of Manzoni’s epic I promessi sposi, first published in three volumes in 1827.

The revised, definitive version published in 1842 has become the most widely-read novel in the Italian language, studied by virtually every Italian secondary school student and regarded by Italian scholars as a literary masterpiece on a par with Dante’s Divine Comedy.

By coincidence, Manzoni places Renzo and Lucia, the couple at the centre of the novel’s storyline, in a village just outside Lecco, where their story begins.  The novel is notable for its description of 17th century Milan during a major outbreak of plague. Rai’s adaptation won much praise from critics and Castelnuovo enjoyed a surge of popularity that won him an audience with Pope Paul VI, among other things.

Thereafter, Castelnuovo became a familiar face in TV dramas both in Italy and in other European countries, although he continued to make films and was keen to work in theatre, too. He performed in several stage productions of the works of Carlo Goldoni, the 18th century Venetian playwright, and returned to the cinema in 1996 when director Anthony Minghella cast him as an archaeologist in the Oscar-winning The English Patient.

Despite suffering problems with his eyesight due to glaucoma, Castelnuovo continued working, mainly on television, into his late 70s.  He suffered two personal tragedies, losing both his brothers. In 1976, Pierantonio died after being beaten up by a group of revellers at a festival, while Clemente was killed in a car accident in 1994.

Nino himself died in hospital in Rome after a long period of ill health. He was survived by his wife, the actress Maria Cristina Di Nicola, and a son, Lorenzo, from a previous relationship.

Piazza XX Settembre in the Lombardy town of Lecco, looking towards the Basilica di San Nicolò
Piazza XX Settembre in the Lombardy town of
Lecco, looking towards the Basilica di San Nicolò
Travel tip:

Lecco, where Nino Castelnuovo was born, lies at the end of the south eastern branch of Lago di Como, which is known as Lago di Lecco. The town is surrounded by mountains including Monte Resegone, which has cable-car access to the Piani d’Erna lookout point, and Monte Barro, a regional park area that contains the remains of a fifth-century settlement and the Costa Perla birdwatching station. In the centre of Lecco, the Basilica di San Nicolò, with its neo-Gothic bell tower, is a notable attraction, while the town makes much of it being the childhood home of Alessandro Manzoni, who chose it as the home of his betrothed lovers, Renzo and Lucia, in I promessi sposi. The historic fishermen’s quarter of Pescarenico, which features in the book, has a number of restaurants that make it well worth a visit.

Bellagio is one of many pretty towns dotted around the shores of Lago di Como
Bellagio is one of many pretty towns dotted
around the shores of Lago di Como
Travel tip:

Lago di Como - Lake Como - the third largest lake in Italy after Garda and Maggiore, has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and the wealthy since Roman times, and remains a popular tourist destination. Its many lakeside villas include the Villa Carlotta, overlooking the lake at Tremezzo, built in the late 18th century as a holiday home for the Clerici family, successful silk merchants, the Villa Olmo in Como, built for the marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi, and  Villa d'Este, in Cernobbio, now a luxury hotel and, between 1816 and 1817, home to Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Prince of Wales and later Queen Consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom.  Numerous pretty towns along the shores of the lake, which covers an area of 146 sq km (56 sq miles), include Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna. 

Also on this day:

1610: The birth of Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena

1620: The birth of composer Isabella Leonarda

1825: The birth of painter Giovanni Fattori

1925: The birth of novelist and screenwriter Andrea Camilleri


30 June 2023

Mario Carotenuto - actor

Roman from theatrical family made more than 100 films

Mario Carotenuto forged a career as a character actor in comedies
Mario Carotenuto forged a career
as a character actor in comedies
The actor Mario Carotenuto, who became one of the most familiar faces in the commedia all’italiana genre of Italian film, was born on this day in 1916 in Rome.

Carotenuto, who was active in the movie industry for more than 30 years having started in the theatre and on radio, acted alongside some of the greats of Italian cinema, including Totò, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio De Sica, Sophia Loren and Monica Vitti.

More often than not, he was cast in supporting roles rather than as the star, yet became respected as one of Italy’s finest character actors in comedy, winning a Nastro d'argento award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Professor in Luigi Comencini’s 1973 comedy-drama Lo scopone scientifico - The Scientific Card Player - which starred Sordi, Silvana Mangano and the American Bette Davis.

Carotenuto was born into an acting family. His father, Nello, made a living in Italian silent movies, while his older brother, Memmo, also had a long career in films. His nephew, Bruno, and his niece, Nennella, also entered the acting profession.

He made his stage debut at the age of eight but is said to have had a rebellious nature as a child and his involvement in petty crime and antisocial behaviour saw him receive part of his education in a reform school.

As he matured, he became fascinated with theatre and acting and alongside various jobs he took in order to earn money he was always on the lookout for opportunities to act, one of which came with a radio station in Florence, where he was given parts in radio drama productions.

Carotenuto's acting style was perfect for the  highly popular commedia all'italiana genre
Carotenuto's acting style was perfect for the 
highly popular commedia all'italiana genre
After the end of the Second World War, in which he claimed he joined the Italian Waffen SS in order to avoid being imprisoned by the Germans, he set up his own small theatre company in Milan before being discovered in 1956 by the director Giorgio Strehler, who wanted to entrust him with the part of Peachum, the king of beggars, in Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. 

Carotenuto’s interpretation of the role gained the approval of Brecht himself and won him the San Ginesio Prize, awarded by a Milan-based magazine. He went on to have roles in plays by Shakespeare, Pirandello, Molière, Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams.

After making his film debut in 1950, his ability to portray a broad range of characters soon saw him an actor much in demand, particularly in the comedy genre, working for famous directors such as Alberto Latuarda, Dino Risi, Mario Monicelli, Luigi Comencini, Luigi Zampa and Ugo Tognazzi. 

Ultimately, his most popular roles were those in which his character was one with which many Italians could identify in the years after the war, a character looking to make his way in a changing society in which generally people looked forward with optimism.

Carotenuto's simple memorial at  the cemetery of Grottammare
Carotenuto's simple memorial at 
the cemetery of Grottammare 
Federico Fellini used him as the voice of the actor Mario Cannochia in Otto e mezzo (8 ½).

Carotenuto had many television credits as well as his long list of movie roles but ceased to be active in either medium in the early 1980s, dividing his time between Rome and the seaside town of Grottammare in Marche, the home of his second wife, theatre actress Gabriella Cottignoli.

He had been married previously to Luisa Poselli, an actress, singer and dancer, with whom he had a daughter, Claretta, who went on to become an actress and director.

He died in Rome in the Aurelia Hospital in April 1995 at the age of 79, having for many years been ill with lung cancer.  His funeral took place in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo - the 'church of the artists' - and was attended by many personalities of cinema and entertainment. His body was then taken to be buried in the municipal cemetery at Grottammare.

Rome's principal opera house, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, was originally the Teatro Costanzi
Rome's principal opera house, the Teatro dell'Opera
di Roma, was originally the Teatro Costanzi
Travel tip:

Carotenuto made his stage debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Via del Viminale, a short distance from Piazza della Repubblica. Today the theatre has a different identity as the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma - Rome’s main opera house. Built in 1879-80, it takes its name from Domenico Costanzi, a contractor, who financed the project. It was designed by the Milanese architect Achille Sfondrini, a specialist in the building and renovation of theatres. Built on the site of the house of the Roman emperor Elagabalus, the theatre was inaugurated in November 1880 with a performance of Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini.  Sfondrini paid particular attention to the acoustics of the theatre, the dome of which was adorned with frescoes by Annibale Brugnoli. As well as the world premiere of Pietro Mascangi's Cavalleria rusticana, the theatre staged the first production of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini in January 1900 and introduced Roman audiences to Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, Turandot and Il trittico as well as Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

Piazza Peretti is the central square of the older part of Grottammare, which sits above the resort
Piazza Peretti is the central square of the older part
of Grottammare, which sits above the resort
Travel tip:

Grottammare, where Carotenuto is buried, is one of the beach resorts that make up the Marche region’s Riviera delle Palme, a stretch of coastline around the larger town of San Benedetto del Tronto. It is notable for a fine, sandy beach but also for the well preserved remains of a fortress overlooking the town that was built following the sacking of Grottammare by the Montenegrin Princes of Dulcigno in 1525.  The centre of the older part of the town is Piazza Peretti, a square enclosed by the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Town Hall, Municipal Tower and Teatro dell'Arancio.  A peculiarity of which the administration of Grottammare takes pride is that it sits on the 43º parallel, the line of latitude that also passes through the cities of Assisi (Italy), Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Lourdes (France), Medjugorje (Bosnia), Vladivostok (Russia), Sapporo (Japan), Buffalo and Milwaukee (United States).

Also on this day:

1961: The birth of novelist Gianrico Carafiglio

1986: The birth of heiress Allegra Versace

First Martyrs Day


31 May 2022

Paolo Sorrentino - film director

Seventh Italian director to win Best Foreign Film at Oscars

Paolo Sorrentino won an Oscar for La grande bellezza in 2014
Paolo Sorrentino won an Oscar for
La grande bellezza in 2014
The film director Paolo Sorrentino, whose 2013 movie La grande bellezza won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, was born on this day in 1970 in Naples.

The award put him in the company of Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica in landing the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, a prize that has been won by only seven Italian directors in the history of the Academy Awards.

Fellini scooped the honour four times and De Sica twice. The other successful Italian directors are Elio Petri, Giuseppe Tornatore, Gabriele Salvatores and Roberto Benigni.

La grande bellezza - released for English-speaking audiences as The Great Beauty - was the first Italian winner since Benigni’s Life is Beautiful was named as Best Foreign Film in 1998.

Sorrentino’s 2021 semi-autobiographical movie The Hand of God - È stata la mano di Dio in Italian - was nominated for an Oscar but missed out to the Japanese drama Drive My Car.

Lauded for combining an expansive visual style with a sensitivity for psychological subtleties in his films, Sorrentino was born in the Arenella district of Naples, a relatively prosperous neighbourhood atop the Vomero hill. 

His adolescence was overshadowed by a personal tragedy when he was 16, when both his parents died after a carbon monoxide leak at the ski lodge they owned in central Italy

Actor Toni Servillo in his role as
Jep Gambardella in La grande bellezza 
Their son may well have died with them but on the fateful April day in 1987 Sorrentino was still in Naples, having stayed behind to watch his idol, Diego Maradona, play for SSC Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, where he was a season ticket holder.

Understandably, Sorrentino took a long time to come to terms with being orphaned. Eventually, he obtained a place studying economics and business at university in Naples, after which he chose a career in the film industry, making his debut as a screenwriter on Antonio Capuano’s 1998 comedy, The Dust of Naples.

His first full-length feature L'uomo in più - One Man Up - brought him immediate recognition as an emerging talent. The film was selected at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, gaining three nominations for the David di Donatello from the Academy of Italian Cinema and winning the Nastro d'Argento, awarded by Italian cinema journalists, Best First Time Director.

More awards followed for Le conseguenze dell'amore (2004), L'amico di famiglia (2006) and Il Divo (2008), his dramatised biopic of the controversial veteran politician, Giulio Andreotti. 

Sorrentino’s talents also extend to writing: his 2010 novel Hanno tutti ragione - Everybody’s Right - was shortlisted for the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literary prize.

It was La grande bellezza  that saw him join such illustrious names as Fellini and De Sica in the roll call of great Italian directors.

Sorrentino (second right) and the cast of La grande bellezza with president Giorgio Napolitano (right)
Sorrentino (second right) and the cast of La grande
bellezza with president Giorgio Napolitano (right) 
Set in Rome, La grande bellezza has been compared to Fellini’s masterpiece La dolce vita in that its central character is a journalist, Jep Gambardella, who has spent his life immersed in the superficiality of Roman society nightlife, a debonair figure whose one novel brought him a literary acclaim that was enough to sustain his fame for decades.

On his 65th birthday, he learns that the woman who was his first sweetheart has died, having confessed to her husband that Gambardella had been the only man she truly loved.  The shock causes him to take stock of his life, becoming melancholy about what he might have been had he done more than merely charm his way through an easy life of nightclubs, parties, and cafés. Ultimately, he finds a new appreciation for the timeless beauty of Rome and rediscovers himself.

In addition to the Oscar, La grande bellezza won 18 other awards around the world, including a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

Although it missed out on the Oscar, The Hand of God, which takes its title from the famous description Maradona made of the contentious goal he scored with his fist against England in the 1986 World Cup, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

The film contains many parallels with Sorrentino’s own life in that its central character is an adolescent whose life is rocked by personal tragedy, against the background of Naples in the 1980s, when the arrival of Maradona to play for SSC Napoli not only transformed the fortunes of the club but the city itself.

A mist-shrouded Vesuvius seen from the top of Vomero hill
A mist-shrouded Vesuvius seen
from the top of Vomero hill
Travel tip:

The Arenella district of Naples, where Sorrentino was born, borders Vomero, a largely residential area of central Naples with a number of buildings of historic significance. The most dominant, on top of Vomero Hill, is the large medieval fortress, Castel Sant'Elmo.  In front of the fortress is the Certosa San Martino, the former Carthusian monastery, now a museum.  The adjoining street, Largo San Martino, offers extraordinary views over the city towards Vesuvius.  Vomero's other tourist attraction is the Villa Floridiana, once the home of Ferdinand I, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies.  Surrounded by extensive gardens, the building now houses the Duke of Martina National Museum of Ceramics. 

Inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in  Naples, which can house 60,000 spectators
Inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in 
Naples, which can house 60,000 spectators
Travel tip:

The Stadio San Paolo - now renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona - is Italy’s third largest football ground with a capacity of just over 60,000. Built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city, it was completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began and has since been renovated twice. The home of SSC Napoli, it was Maradona’s home stadium between 1984 and 1991, during which time the club won the Italian championship twice, having never before won the title in its history. The stadium hosted the 1990 World Cup semi-final, in which Maradona’s Argentina ended Italy’s hopes of reaching the final. 

Also on this day:

1594: The death of painter Tintoretto

1914: The death of Angelo Moriondo, inventor of the espresso coffee machine

1921: The birth of Andrew Grima, jeweller to the British Royal Family


4 March 2022

Giorgio Bassani - writer and novelist

Best-known work reflected plight of wealthy Jewish Italians in 1930s

Giorgio Bassani's novels drew on his own background in Ferrara
Giorgio Bassani's novels drew on his
own background in Ferrara
Giorgio Bassani, rated by many critics as alongside the likes of Cesare Pavese, Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia among the great postwar Italian novelists, was born on this day in 1916 in Bologna.

Bassani’s best-known work, his 1962 novel Il giardino dei finzi-contini - The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - was turned into an Oscar-winning movie by the director Vittorio De Sica.

Like much of his fiction, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is semi-autobiographical, drawing on his upbringing as a member of an upper middle-class Jewish family in Ferrara, the city in Emilia-Romagna, during the rise of Mussolini’s Fascists and the onset of World War Two.

Bassani, who was the editor of a number of literary journals and a respected screenplay writer, had already achieved recognition for his work through his Cinque storie ferraresi - Five Stories of Ferrara - which won the prestigious Strega Prize in 1956.

But it was The Garden of the Finzi-Continis that won him international acclaim. The novel was part of a series that expanded on the same theme in presenting a picture of the world during the author's formative years, against a background of state-promoted antisemitism.

The son of a doctor and an aspiring singer, Bassani was born in Bologna. His father, Angelo Enrico Bassani, had served with the Italian Army as a medical officer in World War One and was on furlough in Bologna, where his pregnant wife, Dora, joined him but went into labour during the visit.

They were both from Ferrara, where they returned after the war ended. Giorgio was named after the patron saint of the Po Valley city, on whose feast day his parents had become engaged.

Bassani's most famous novel is a Penguin Modern Classic
Bassani's most famous novel is
a Penguin Modern Classic
With his younger brother, Paolo, and their little sister, Jenny, Bassani had a childhood that was, at first, idyllic. They lived in a big family home on Via Cisterna del Follo, receiving their education at the Liceo Ludovico Ariosto and spending many hours outdoors, playing tennis or football, taking their summer holidays in the seaside resorts of the northern Adriatic coastline, and going skiing in the winter.

There was wealth on both sides of the family. Their paternal grandfather had been a landowner and cloth merchant; their maternal grandfather was a professor of medicine and head of the main hospital in Ferrara, an expert in gastroenterology who was still working right up to his death, aged 99. 

Yet the ambitions of all three siblings were thwarted by Mussolini’s anti-semitic Racial Laws. Giorgio, a talented pianist, completed his degree at the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Bologna, but with Jews barred from most professions the only work he could find was as a teacher at the Jewish School in Via Vignatagliata.

Paolo hoped to become a doctor, like his father and grandfather, but with Jews barred from Italian universities, he was forced to go to France, where he studied engineering instead, before being expelled following the German invasion. Jenny became one of Giorgio’s pupils at the Jewish School but, with little prospect of making a career in Ferrara, fled to Florence.

It was while he was teaching, in 1940, that Bassani published his first novel,  Una città di pianura  - A City of the Plain - which he wrote under a pseudonym, Giacomo Marchi, so as to evade the race laws. It was around this time that he became a political activist, joining the anti-Fascist resistance. He was arrested in May 1943 but thankfully spent only a couple of months in jail, freed after Italy formally surrendered to the allies and Mussolini was arrested.

Dominque Sanda and Lino Capolicchio, stars of the film version of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
Dominique Sanda and Lino Capolicchio, stars of the
film version of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
The threat to the safety of Jews was not over, however.  With his new wife, Valeria, whom he married soon after his release from prison, he too fled to Florence, where they lived under assumed names with forged passports.  Bassani managed somehow to rescue his parents, and his sister Jenny, from the advancing Germans; Paolo, who eventually returned to Italy after a spell on the run in Spain, fought in the resistance and survived, settling in Rome. Sadly, most of their extended family left in Ferrara died at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Bassani, too, drifted south to Rome, where his literary career gathered pace. As an editorial director of the publisher Feltrinelli, he was responsible for the posthumous publication of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel Il Gattopardo - The Leopard. He published some poetry and short stories of his own before his Cinque storie ferraresi raised his profile following the award of the Premio Strega.

His 1958 novel, Gli occhiali d'oro - The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, which was later also made into a film, examined the marginalisation of Jews and homosexuals and ultimately became the first in a series of books known as Il romanzo di Ferrara - the Ferrara Stories.  

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which was one of the series, is narrated by a young middle-class Jew in the Italian city of Ferrara, who is fascinated with the Finzi-Continis, a wealthy Jewish family, and especially by their beautiful daughter Micòl, with whom he becomes infatuated.

The Finzi-Continis live in a lavish walled estate, which becomes a meeting place for other wealthy Jews, who find sanctuary there. The narrator - himself called Giorgio - finds his love for Micòl ultimately unrequited in a poignant portrait of a family and friends enjoying their final days of freedom before the horrors of the world outside the walls close in on them. 

After Dietro la porta - Behind the Door (1964), L'airone - The Heron (1968) and L'odore del fieno - The Smell of May (1972) completed his series of Ferrara stories, Bassani wrote very little more in the way of fiction.

Estranged from his wife, he spent the final years of his life with his companion, Portia Prebys, an American-born professor of literature, whom he met in 1977. Suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and a heart complaint, he died in 2000 at the age of 84. 

De Sica’s film of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which starred Lino Capolicchio as Giorgio and Dominique Sanda as Micòl, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972.

The centre of the city of Ferrara, looking down from the Castello Estense
The centre of the city of Ferrara, looking
down from the Castello Estense
Travel tip:

Ferrara is a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50 km (31 miles) to the north-east of Bologna. It was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent Este Castle in the centre of the city began in 1385 and it was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line.  The castle was purchased for 70,000 lire by the province of Ferrara in 1874 to be used as the headquarters of the Prefecture.   Ferrara is also notable for Palazzo dei Diamanti, a palace in Corso Ercole I d’Este, that takes its name from the 8500 pointed diamond shaped stones that stud the façade, diamonds being an emblem of the Este family. It was designed by Biagio Rossetti and completed in 1503. The palace now houses the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Ferrara on its first floor.

Hotels in Ferrara by

The bustling Via Giuseppe Mazzini is part of what used to be Ferrara's Ghetto
The bustling Via Giuseppe Mazzini is part of
what used to be Ferrara's Ghetto
Travel tip:

Via Vignatagliata in Ferrara, where Giorgio Bassani found work as a teacher at the Jewish School - formerly at No 79 - is part of what used to be the city’s Jewish Ghetto, established in 1624, when about 1,500 Jews lived in Ferrara. Centrally situated, only about 500km (546 yards) from the Castello Estense, it remained open, on and off, until 1859, when it was permanently closed, although it remained the heart of the city’s Jewish community for many years afterwards. Criss-crossed by cobbled streets, the area maintains much of its structure and character. Its main street, Via Giuseppe Mazzini, which begins at Piazza della Cattedrale, is largely pedestrianised and has evolved into one of Ferrara’s main shopping streets.

Also on this day:

1678: The birth of composer Antonio Vivaldi

1848: The approval of the Albertine Statute, which became the basis for the Italian Constitution

1943: The birth of singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla


15 November 2021

Enzo Staiola - actor

Child star of neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves

Director Vittorio De Sica was struck by Enzo Staiola's naturally expressive eyes
Director Vittorio De Sica was struck by
Enzo Staiola's naturally expressive eyes
Enzo Staiola, who found international fame as an eight-year-old boy as one of the stars of the Oscar-winning neorealist drama Bicycle Thieves, was born on this day in 1939 in Rome.

Staiola’s character in Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film was Bruno Ricci, the eldest child in a working class Roman family desperately trying to survive in the hard economic climate that followed the end of the Second World War.

The central character in the film is Bruno’s father, Antonio, who lands a job posting advertising bills around the city but is required to have a bicycle to transport himself, his ladder and bucket to wherever his services are required.

Antonio buys a bicycle after pawning some of the family’s few possessions of value only to have it stolen on his first day at work. The remainder of the film follows Antonio and Bruno as they try to find the bicycle.

The essence of the neorealist genre was that directors achieved authenticity by eschewing the use of professional actors in favour of ordinary people who lived in the city or neighbourhood where the action was set. 

De Sica chose Lamberto Maggiorani, a steel factory worker, to play the part of Antonio, turning down the chance to employ established Hollywood star Cary Grant.

Staiola with his Bicycle Thieves co-star Lamberto Maggiorani, a factory worker who played his father
Staiola with his Bicycle Thieves co-star Lamberto
Maggiorani, a factory worker who played his father
He picked Staiola as his Bruno almost by chance, after filming had already started. He recalled speaking to Maggiorani about what he wanted in the next scene when a crowd gathered round in the street where they were shooting. He noticed there was a young boy with particularly expressive eyes. It was Enzo. 

Unable to break off filming, De Sica dispatched an assistant to find out where the boy lived. In interviews years later, Staiola remembered being followed by a car as he walked home from school and, fearing he was about to be kidnapped, running as fast as he could until he reached the building, in Via Capo d’Africa, not far from the Colosseum, where his family lived.

The following day, De Sica decided to stage impromptu auditions in front of the building in the hope that Enzo would be curious enough to want to know what was going on.  Enzo did not disappoint and as he emerged from the building De Sica walked across to him, telling his crew ‘He’s the one.’

Staiola and another young hopeful took part in screen tests in front of De Sica, taking turns to act out the same scenes, but the director’s mind was made up. Staiola remembered being offered the part but being envious when the unsuccessful candidate was given a new bicycle as consolation for missing out.

Vittorio De Sica was a master of the neorealism genre
Vittorio De Sica was a master
of the neorealism genre
Although Bicycle Thieves was given a decidedly lukewarm reception when it was released in Italy, where critics and audiences craved escapism rather than reminders of life’s daily struggles, in time it came to be regarded as a masterpiece was was cited by numerous film-makers as one of their biggest influences.

Released in the United States as The Bicycle Thief, the movie was named best foreign language film at the 22nd Academy Awards in 1950, winning a BAFTA - awarded by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - as overall best film in the same year. 

Despite the success of Bicycle Thieves, Staiola’s acting career did not sustain him into adulthood. He appeared in another 12 films as a child, including, in 1954, a small part in The Barefoot Contessa, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, but soon afterwards the parts began to dry up.

Thereafter, although he accepted cameo roles in two films as an adult, he lived a relatively anonymous life, working for many years in the offices of Rome’s catasto - land registry.

Now 81, he still lives in the Garbatella neighbourhood of Rome, where his family had its roots.

Garbatella is regarded as a charming district with a village feel within the city
Garbatella is regarded as a charming district
with a village feel within the city
Travel tip:

Many of the houses in the Garbatella district of Rome - which adjoins the Testaccio and San Saba neighbourhoods to the south of the city - were created originally with the intention of housing workers on a proposed canal linking central Rome with the port of Ostia. In the event, the project never happened and the area was instead populated by families displaced when Mussolini flattened parts of the city to build the Via della Conciliazione, which leads to St Peter’s Square, and the Via dei Fori Imperiali, linking Piazza Venezia with the Colosseum. Nowadays, it is regarded as a charming neighbourhood characterised by streets lined with climbing bougainvillea and small squares with a village feel.

Stay in Rome with

Rome's Colosseum is very close to Via Capo d'Africa, where Staiola lived as a boy
Rome's Colosseum is very close to Via Capo
d'Africa, where Staiola lived as a boy
Travel tip:

Via Capo d’Africa, where Staiola lived when he was given the part in Bicycle Thieves, is literally opposite the Colosseum, one of Rome’s most famous monuments. Built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, the Colosseum was the largest of all the Roman amphitheatres. Construction began under Vespasian in 72AD and was completed by his son, Titus, in 80 with further modifications were made during the reign of Titus’s younger brother, Domitian (81–96), the three emperors who made up the Flavian dynasty. It is estimated the amphitheatre could hold up to 80,000 spectators.  It is thought that, having been known first as the Flavian Amphitheatre, it became known colloquially as the Colosseum because of its proximity to a colossal statue of Nero.

Rome accommodation from

Also on this day:

1848: The murder of government minister Pellegrino Rossi

1905: The birth of conductor Annunzio Mantovani

1922: The birth of film director Francesco Rosi

1940: The birth of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli


20 May 2020

Gabriele Muccino - film director

Enjoyed box office success after partnering with Will Smith

Gabriele Muccino won awards in Italy before achieving success in the United States
Gabriele Muccino won awards in Italy before
achieving success in the United States
The film director Gabriele Muccino, whose best-known work so far has been the Oscar-nominated 2006 Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness, was born on this day in 1967 in Rome.  He is the older brother of the actor, Silvio Muccino.

Muccino, who also directed Smith in Seven Pounds (2008), spent several years in Hollywood following his success in Italy with L’ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss), which won him a David Di Donatello award as Best Director and for Best Screenplay.

His most recent work has been in Italy, with his latest film, Gli anni più belli (The Most Beautiful Years) released in February 2020.

The son of Luigi Muccino, an executive at the state television company RAI, and painter and costume designer Antonella Cappuccio, Gabriele enrolled at Rome’s Sapienza University to study literature, but was already fascinated with the cinema.

Indeed, he abandoned his studies soon after he began them, choosing instead to attend Rome’s renowned Centro sperimentale di cinematografia, where he worked unpaid as a director’s assistant, working with the highly-regarded Pupi Avati and Marco Risi.

With Avati’s encouragement, he acted before he directed, taking a role in a TV mini-series that ran for nine months, but disliked the experience and decided he felt more comfortable behind the camera rather than in front of it. His earliest efforts as a director included a short film, Nani, in which both his younger sibling, Silvio, and his grandmother appeared.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Stefano Accorsi in a scene from Muccino's breakthrough movie, L'ultimo bacio
Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Stefano Accorsi in a scene from
Muccino's breakthrough movie, L'ultimo bacio
His first full-length movie, Ecco fatto (Done) was well received at the Torino Film Festival following its release in 1998 and Muccino’s reputation for stylish cinematography earned him a consistent stream of work in advertising, where he directed commercials for Aperol, Vodafone, Nescafé, Pepsi, TIM, Intimissimi and Lancia among others.

After modest success with Come te niente mai (Like You Nobody Ever) in 1999, Muccino’s major breakthrough came in 2001 with L'ultimo bacio, which starred Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Stefano Accorsi as a couple expecting their first child whose happiness is wrecked when Accorsi’s character embarks on an affair with an 18-year-old girl.

As well as winning him critical acclaim, the film grossed 13 million euros and enjoyed a run of six months in Italian cinemas. Early in 2002, the film was presented at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, where it was well received.

More success followed for Muccino with Ricordati di me, which was shown to English-speaking audiences as Remember Me, My Love, which was released in 2003 and starred the Italian superstar actress, Monica Bellucci, alongside Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Laura Morante, with a role also for Muccino’s brother, Silvio.

Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, in a scene from The Pursuit of Happyness, directed by Gabriele Muccino
Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, in a scene from The
Pursuit of Happyness,
directed by Gabriele Muccino
Among his admirers by now was the American star Will Smith, who sought out Muccino to direct his own production, The Pursuit of Happyness, in which he was to star.  The relationship had its difficulties - Muccino could speak very little English when he arrived in Hollywood - but the two developed a rapport nonetheless. Smith had in his mind a particular interpretation of the film’s lead character and after Muccino had insisted that Smith watch with him two Italian cinema classics, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D (1952), the actor knew Muccino would direct sympathetically.

The two collaborated again on Seven Pounds. Both movies were box-office successes, together grossing almost 500 million dollars.  Muccino continued to work with A-list actors in America with the comedy Playing for Keeps (2012), which starred Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta Jones, Uma Thurman and Dennis Quaid among others, and Fathers and Daughters (2015), featuring Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried.

In Italy, he directed Baciami ancora (Kiss Me Again) in 2010 as a sequel to L’ultimo bacio, with Accorsi reprising his role, this time opposite Vittoria Puccini, as well as L’estate addosso (2016), which was titled Summertime for English-speaking audiences.

Gli anni più belli, which features a title song written and performed by the enduringly popular singer-songwriter Claudio Baglioni, tells the story of four friends spanning 40 years, from their adolescence in the 1980s of Muccino’s youth to the present day, charting their own successes and failures but also how Italy has changed in that period.  Much of the film was shot on location in Rome, Naples and Ronciglione, a rugged town in the Cimini mountains near Viterbo in Lazio.

Muccino is married to the costume designer Angelica Russo, who has worked on several of his films.

The Centro sperimentale di cinematografia in Rome is western Europe's oldest film school
The Centro sperimentale di cinematografia in
Rome is western Europe's oldest film school
Travel tip:

Located near Cinecittà in Rome, the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia (Experimental film centre) is the oldest film school in western Europe, founded in 1935 during the Benito Mussolini era by his head of cinema Luigi Freddi. Still financed by the Italian government, it focuses on education, research, publication and theory. With only six places per class, the selection process is highly competitive.  Situated six miles south of the city centre, Cinecittà is the largest film studio in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with 22 stages and 300 dressing rooms, and is the hub of the Italian film industry.

The quaint medieval area of Ronciglione, used for location shooting in Gli anni più belli
The quaint medieval area of Ronciglione, used
for location shooting in Gli anni più belli
Travel tip:

Ronciglione, known locally as Ronció, is a town about 20km (12 miles) from Viterbo, on the southeast slope of the former volcano crater now housing Lake Vico.  The main sights include a well-preserved medieval centre, a castle originally built in the middle ages, with characteristic angle rounded towers, and a Baroque cathedral designed by Pietro da Cortona, rebuilt by Carlo Rainaldi between 1671 and 1695. Ronciglione is known for its carnival and the Palio of the Manna, which features riderless horses competing for each of nine contrades (parishes).  It is the birthplace of the singer-songwriter Marco Mengoni.

Also on this day:

1470: The birth of poet and scholar Pietro Bembo

1537: The birth of anatomist and surgeon Hieronymus Fabricius

1943: The birth of singer Albano Carrisi, who performs as Al Bano


3 December 2018

Angela Luce – actress

Film star and singer was born in Spaccanapoli

The actress Angela Luce has worked with some of Italy's leading directors
The actress Angela Luce has worked with
some of Italy's leading directors
Neapolitan actress and singer Angela Luce was born Angela Savino on this day in 1937 in Naples.

She has worked for the theatre, cinema and television, is well-known for singing Neapolitan songs, and has written poetry and song lyrics.

At 14 years old, Angela took her first steps toward stardom when she took part in the annual music festival held at Piedigrotta in the Chiaia district of Naples, singing the Neapolitan song, Zi Carmeli.

Her cinema career began in 1956, when she was only 19, when she appeared in Ricordati di Napoli, directed by Pino Mercanti. Since then she has appeared in more than 80 films and has worked for directors including Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Amendola, Luigi Zampa and Pupi Avati.

Angela won a David Donatello award for L’amore molesto directed by Mario Martone and was also nominated for the Palma d’Oro at Cannes.

She has acted opposite such illustrious names as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio de Sica and Totò.

Angela Luce (right) in a scene from Franco Rossi's
1960 film Morte di un amico
Her voice has been recorded in the historic archives of Neapolitan songs and she has won prizes for her singing. She wrote the lyric for the song Voglia, which, set to the music of Angelo Fiore, was awarded the Premio Unicef in 1984.

Angela has been quoted as saying she was ‘discovered’ by the Neapolitan dramatist Eduardo De Filippo. She has interpreted many significant roles from his plays in the theatre and appeared with him on Italian television in his play, Il contratto.

During a newspaper interview given last year on her 80th birthday, Angela said the occasion was a good opportunity to ‘thank God for giving her strength and health and a loud, clear voice’, so that she was able to sing without a microphone and, in church, without an orchestra.

The colourful street known as Spaccanapoli is close to where Angela Luce was born
The colourful street known as Spaccanapoli is close
to where Angela Luce was born
Travel tip:

Angela was born in Via Mezzocannone in the part of Naples known as Spaccanapoli, a lively area, rich with churches, historic buildings and bars. Close to her home is the main building of the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, known as Gesu Vecchio, which was built in the 16th century as a Jesuit College and became home to the University in the 18th century.

The church of Santa Maria di Piedigrotta is in the fashionable Chiaia district of Naples
The church of Santa Maria di Piedigrotta
is in the fashionable Chiaia district of Naples
Travel tip:

Angela made her first appearance as a singer at the annual song-writing competition the Festival of Piedigrotta, held near the Church of Santa Maria di Piedigrotta in the Chiaia neighbourhood on the seafront of Naples. The competition was held to judge songs written in Neapolitan dialect and over the years inspired such classics as O sole mio, Funiculi, Funicula, Torna a Surriento and Santa Lucia.

More reading:

What made Vittorio de Sica a maestro of Italian cinema

How Vittorio Gassman was once called 'the Olivier of Italian actors'

Eduardo De Filippo and the 'essence' of Naples

Also on this day:

1596: The birth of violin maker Nicolò Amati

1911: The birth of film music composer Nino Rota

1947: The birth of controversial Lega Nord politician Mario Borghezio


21 August 2018

Lino Capolicchio - actor

Acclaimed for role in Vittorio de Sica classic

Lino Capolicchio's acting talents shone on the  stage, television and the big screen
Lino Capolicchio's acting talents shone on the
 stage, television and the big screen
The actor and director Lino Capolicchio, who starred in Vittorio de Sica’s Oscar-winning film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, was born on this day in 1943 in Merano, an alpine town in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy.

Capolicchio appeared in more than 70 films and TV dramas, and dubbed the voice of Bo Hazzard in the Italian adaptation of the American action-comedy The Dukes of Hazzard.

As a director, he won awards for Pugili, a drama-documentary film set in the world of boxing based on his own storylines, but it is for The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, for which he won a David di Donatello award for best actor, that he is best remembered.

The movie is about a wealthy Jewish family in Ferrara in the 1930s, whose adult children, Micol and Alberto, enjoy blissful summers entertaining friends with tennis and parties in the garden the family’s sumptuous villa.

Capolicchio’s character, Giorgio, from another middle-class Jewish family, falls in love with Micol but she only toys with his attentions. In any event, everything changes with the outbreak of war as northern Italy’s Jewish population become targets for the Nazis and their Fascist allies.

Capolicchio with his co-star Dominique Sanda in Vittorio de Sica's Oscar winner The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
Capolicchio with his co-star Dominique Sanda in Vittorio
de Sica's Oscar winner The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
The movie won De Sica one of his four Oscars as a director. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow both won Best Foreign Language Film, while Bicycle Thieves and Sciuscià were both awarded honorary Oscars.

Trained at the Silvio D’Amico Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, Capolicchio made his stage debut in 1964 at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano in a play by Carlo Goldoni under the direction of Giorgio Strehler, who also used him in some subsequent Shakespeare productions.

By 1967 his acting talents were held in such high regard that he was given a small role in Franco Zeffirelli’s movie version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

His first major starring role came in Escalation (1968), a drama directed by Roberto Faenza, before the chance to play Giorgio in The Garden of the Finzi-Contadinis followed in 1970. The movie was such a success, winning critical acclaim as well as public popularity, that Capolicchio became famous almost overnight.

Capolicchio continued to work well into his 70s with a number of TV roles
Capolicchio continued to work well into his
70s with a number of TV roles
Many more parts followed, including several films for the director Pupi Avati, including his 1976 movie La casa dalle finestre che ridono (The House with the Laughing Windows), the 1984 film Noi tre (The Three of Us), in which he plays Mozart’s father, and Ultimo minuto (Last minute) in 1988.

For a period in the late 80s, Capolicchio focussed on teaching, taking the acting chair at the Experimental Centre of Cinematography in Rome. During this period he discovered new talents such as Francesca Neri, Sabrina Ferilli and Jaja Forte.  Later, while he was holding auditions for his film Pugili, he came across a young actor of great talent who has gone on to enjoy a successful career in Pierfrancesco Favino.

Pugili, shot in 1995, was named Best Film by the international press at the Turin Film Festival.  Awarded the Vittorio de Sica Award in 2012 for best actor and director, he continued working into his 70s, with parts in TV dramas such as La piovra and the massively popular Una grande famiglia.

Updated August 2022: Lino Capolicchio sadly passed away in Rome in May, 2022, at the age of 78.

Trauttmansdorff Castle is one of the attractions of Merano
Trauttmansdorff Castle is one of the attractions of Merano
Travel tip:

Located in a basin surrounded by mountains that rise up to almost 3,350m (11,000ft), Merano is a town of around 40,000 inhabitants in Trentino-Alto Adige, known also as the South Tyrol, which is most famous for its spas. The writers Franz Kafka and Ezra Pound were both residents at one time or another. Among the attractions for visitors are the Gothic St. Nicholas' Church and, a little outside the town, the Trauttmansdorff Castle and its gardens.

The Rotonda Foschini in Ferrara
The Rotonda Foschini in Ferrara
Travel tip:

Apart from the impressively well preserved Castello Estense right at the heart of the city, Ferrara - situated midway between Bologna and Venice in Emilia-Romagna - has many notable architectural gems, including many palaces from the 14th and 15th centuries.  Among them is the striking Palazzo dei Diamanti, so-called because the stone blocks of its facade are cut into the shape of diamonds. The palace holds the National Picture Gallery, which houses many works from the  masters of the 16th-century School of Ferrara, including Lorenzo Costa, Dosso Dossi, Girolamo da Carpi and Benvenuto Tisi.

More reading:

Vittorio de Sica - the maestro behind Bicycle Thieves and other classics in Italian cinema history

The Shakespeare adaptations that made Franco Zeffirelli into a household name

How La Dolce Vita actor Marcello Mastroianni became the epitome of Italian cool

Also on this day:

1862: The birth of adventure novelist Emilio Salgari

1969: The death of Giuseppe Meazza, Italian football's first superstar