Arts & Culture

Three Classic Italian Films To Watch Before Traveling

While my brief acting career in Italy don’t place me in the realm of classic Italian films, it did heighten my appreciation for the artwork that Italian films create. The students at University in Firenze that contracted me to play in their short films had soaring aspirations to one day create their own work of Italian cinematic art. More on this a bit later.

Being in an Italian film, albeit a student one, is where my own love of Italian film began to soar.

Must see of classic Italian films

Not many people are familiar with the classics of Italian Cinema, which is a shame because they have made some of the greatest films in history. Let’s start by talking about Neorealism. This was an era during World War 2 where all the films being made depicted poverty, desperation, oppression and injustice; all of which were happening in their real lives. It is impossible to select the “best” classics of Italian film: Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, Fellini, and Michael Antonio Cimino, who used Caravaggio for his exploration of light in winning multiple Oscars for the Deer Hunter. Where does one start? 

I focused on the Neorealism era to come up with three films you must watch before departing for Italy.

Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves)

Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves) is a 1948 Neorealist, Italian film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It follows the story of a poor father searching in post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family. One of the benefits of Italy never modernizing their architecture is that you can still, to this day, go to all the filming locations of this Italian film. It was shot in Rome and the surrounding Lazio Region. If you do a search for the film on IMDb then you are able to find all the filming locations like Porta Portese (secondary bike market) or Via del Gran Paradiso (the unemployment office).

The director of this Italian film, Vittorio De Sica, was a leading figure in the Neorealist era and four of his films won Academy Awards. He also made the Italian films: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and Marriage Italian Style, both of which star Sophia Loren.

La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful)

La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) is a 1997 Italian, comedy, drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish-Italian bookshop owner, who employs his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. This won Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards and Benigni won Best Actor. This Italian film had more shooting locations than the Bicycle Thieves, and luckily many of them are still there. You can visit Arezzo, and Terni to see many of the locations. If you want to see the railroad scene you can go to Ronciglione, Viterbo. 

Amarcord (I Remember)

The last Italian film we will cover is Amarcord (I Remember) directed by Federico Fellini in 1973. A semi-autobiographical tale about Titta, an adolescent boy growing up among an eccentric cast of characters in the village of Borgo San Giuliano in 1930s Fascist Italy. This film also won a Best Foreign Film Oscar. The only location from this film you will be able to see in Italy is the Grand Hotel exterior in Anzio, Rome. All the other locations were on a studio lot or in Mexico. Fellini is completely different from the other two directors we have talked about because he blends fantasy and baroque images with earthiness. You’ll have to watch the film to understand what that really means. He is also recognized as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. 

So, let’s talk about my Italian film

Now that I’ve covered some of the best Italian films, I’d like to share more about my personal experience making a short film in Italy. When I was 19, I was cast in a film with the New York Film Academy in Florence. It was a black and white film and all I remember about it are two things: the first being that we didn’t have a permit for one of the scenes that took place in an apartment. We were shooting really late at night and all of a sudden the owner of the building came barging in and screaming at everyone in Italian. We all ran out of the building except for the director who was trying to get him to calm down.

The second memory is that Andrew watched the film at the showcase and the closing scene of the film was me saying “f#ck me”… So you can imagine how awkward that was for me to have my babbo watch me say that to a man… Good times. However, those experiences have not derailed my plans to be the American version of Sophia Loren and star in Italian films someday.

So do yourself a favor and watch these three Italian films (you can skip the one that I’m in):

 You won’t regret it.


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