It’s the holiday season so you may have a little time on your hands so I thought I’d recommend a few books and movies with a bit of an Italian theme.
But as is usual in the silly season, I’ve gone and overindulged with the entertainment. Quindi sono guai! So now you are in for it! Get ready for a mega list of movies and great reads from a lifetime lover of Italian cinema and literature, because there is no way in the world I’m going to stick to only one recommendation.
It’s going to be ten of my personal favourite movies and ten fantastic reads I’ve come across in my random journey through Italy.
I’ve tried to keep away from huge commercial successes and clichè building monsters as I’m a bit of a hipster and want to give everyone something different and challenging.
So excuse me while I go ahead and write a totally self-indulgent blog post, in which I hope you will find something new to watch and read.
Nuovo Mondo (Golden Door: Emanuele Crialese, 2006. Vincenzo Amato, Charlotte Gainsborge).
This beautiful migrant story from the early nineteenth century is a lovely mixture of poetry, idealism and surrealism which surrounded the first wave of immigrants to the United States.
It tells the story of one families struggles with poverty, their quest for salvation, the epic journey around the other side of the world and the great leap these people made from one world to the next.
It is an ancient story told through love, tragedy, strength, injustice, with an immense sense of dignity and courage.
Il Postino (Michael Radford, 1994. Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret, Maria Grazia Cucinotta).
This movie became an instant classic in the 1990’s and is a beautifully shot masterpiece, filmed on the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Messina in Sicily.
It is a sweet little film about friendship, love and poetry. It became even more precious as it was the last movie that Massimo Troisi made, so it is seen as a special tribute to this wonderfully understated Neoplitain actor.
Room with a view (James Ivory, 1985. Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Helena B.Carter).
This book and film adaptation is one of the reasons I fell in love with Florence. This stunning little arthouse film from the 1980’s is a perfect little love story, Helena Bonham Carter plays the complete English tourist together with an entourage of wonderful English actors who create this hilarious caricatures which were English expats in the early 19th Century.
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953. Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn).
1950’s Rome in this sweet little Romantic comedy and modern fairytale is positively intoxicating. Modern Roma is a world away from this classic, but the beauty of these old style actors give this movie a sense of timelessness which makes this one of my all-time favourites.
La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960. Marcello Mastrianni, Anita Ekberg) Cassanova, La Strada, Nights of Calabria, 8 1/2, Amarcord.
I adore Federico Fellini, his movies are filled with the energy, charisma, imagination and expressiveness of one of the greatest artists of last century. La Dolce Vita became a symbol of the decadent lifestyle of 1960’s Rome and Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastrianni were symbolic of this innocent, carefree period in Italy’s history.
This year (2018) marks the 25th anniversary of Federico Fellini’s death so I think it is important to revisit these classics of Italian cinema and relive something of this Italian masters energy, flare and style.
Don’t think that Fellini is only La Dolce Vita, his films were made over a lifetime of dedication to the craft of cinema, his movies are considered to be masterpieces of Italian cinema. Be sure to hunt down other classics including his quirky retelling of the life of Cassanova with Donald Sutherland, the movies he made with his wife the iconic Giulietta Masina are also amazing including La Strada and the Nights of Calabria.
Fellini loved to use Marcello Mastriani in his movies, and he has stared in a beautiful collection including the legendary 8 1/2 and an entirely bizarre surreal love letter to women ‘Citta delle Donne’.
The semi-autobiographical Amarcord is a series of comedic and nostalgic vignettes set in the 1930s Italian coastal town where Fellini was born and is a delicious mixture of caricature, surrealism and sexual fantasy.
The Leopard (Visconti, 1963. Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale).
This adaptation of the Sicilian famous novel written by Giuseppe di Lampedusa is a wonderfully epic portrait of the Italian unification in Sicily. The Leopard of the titled is Prince Fabrizio di Salina, the last in a line of an ancient, tired Sicilian aristocracy which is slowly disappearing.
Set during the Italian “Risorgimento” or “The Resurgence,” which stripped Lampedusa’s own family of its royal status the movie focuses on the moment The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies became a part the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, which represented a period of tremendous change on the island.
So the film has a rich historical backdrop to draw from, including the personal reflections of the old Prince, to the raging internal battle between the royalists and republicans and the changes to the Prince’s own family.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988.) Uomo delle Stelle (the Starmaker) and Baaria.
Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore has a deep love for the Sicily of his childhood, and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is his love letter to his native island and how it fostered his love of Cinema. Tornatore is a masterful storyteller, his movies are beautifully shot and his Sicilian themed trilogy shows the beauty, tragedy and poetry of his native island.
The Starmaker is about a conman working his way around small Sicilian towns taking advantage of peoples hopes and vanity until it all catches up with him. It uses many non-actors and gives you a sense of the character of Sicily in the post world war period.
While Baaria is shot in Tornatore’s native town of Bagheria, just outside of Palermo and shows the political and social transformation of Sicily after world war two.
A summer in Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008. Colin Firth, Perla Haney-Jardine).
This beautiful art-house movie shows off the beauty of the city of Genova and Italy in the intimate story of a family who is trying to survive a terrible tragedy.
Nothing left to do but cry (Benigni & Troisi, 1984).
This quirky little comedy from the 1980’s reflects the offbeat humour of Italian cinema through two of its most well-known exponents. Roberto Benigni and Massimo Troisi are an incredible duo filled with quirky wordplay and imagination in this cute little romp through Italian history.
Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Irons) The Dreamers.
Bernardo Bertolucci is yet another master of Italian cinema, Stealing Beauty was possibly the most commercially successful of his moves, which follows the journey of a young girl after the death of her mother.
While the Dreamers is yet another coming of age film but with a more explicit sexual form of rebellion. Both movies are beautifully shot but are very experimental in nature, definitely something to experience as they are the best examples of recent Italian ‘fringe’ or experimental cinema.
Bertolucci recently passed away this year in Rome (2018) and so it seems fitting tribute to a recent legend of Italian cinema to rewatch his movies in all of their intimate beauty.
Lisa Clifford is an Australia writer and journalist who has been writing and living in Italy for four decades. Her books are excellent reads and reflect her ongoing love affair with Italy.
The promise is about her own personal journey back and forth from Italy to Australia and the long-distance relationship she had with her then Italian boyfriend.
Death in the Mountains is a murder mystery set in the Tuscan countryside based on a story from her husbands family history.
And her latest book Naples a way of love explores the nature of life in the iconic Southern Italian city Napoli.
Penelope Green is another Australian writer and her books are very popular and are great summer reads all about her first steps living and working in Italy with an excellent gun-ho attitude and the enthusiasm of youthful naivety.
Time Parks is an English expat who has been living in Italy since 1981. Today he is a well established academic, novelist and translator who writes wonderfully detailed books and essays about Italian literature and travel.
Italian Ways is about rail travel in Italy while his literary tour to Italy takes us on a journey through its most celebrated writers.
But before any of his trips, he was merely a spellbound expat and shared his experiences in Italy through keen and hilarious observations in Italian Neighbours and Italian education.
Grazia Deledda: Reeds in the wind.
Grazia Deledda is an Italian Nobel Prize-winning novelist from the cusp of the 19th and 20th century. Most of her novels are set in her native Sardinia and are lovingly crafted portraits of this ancient and mysterious Italian island.
Reeds in the wind follow the down spiralling destiny of the aristocratic Pintor family and are filled with the vibrant language, landscape and eternal voice of Sardinia.
Il Bel Antonio (Beautiful Antonio) was developed into a movie starring Marcello Mastroianni, which became a classic of Italian cinema. It is a wonderful book filled with the colours of Sicily and Brancati’s playful comic irony a beautiful iconic read.
The novella Don Giovanni in Sicily is a rich caricature of the Sicilian male which is taken to strange extremes in a modern parable which has a core of honesty that goes beyond any form of realism.
Vitaliano Brancati created a new type of contemporary fable, filled with elaborate farce, humour and eloquent twists of fate.
Elio Vittorini: Conversations in Sicily.
Conversazione in Sicilia is an enigmatic work, which is a difficult read thanks to its experimental style which is filled with a stream of conscious like conversations.
The pleasure of the natural discussion between an elderly mother and now adult child, between Sicily and migrant Sicilian is lovely to read and captures the cadence and flow of the Sicilian dialect in a natural conversation.
Yet other times it is easy to get lost in the complicated connections, the shorthand, repetition and long-windedness of the social context of Sicily, like overhearing a conversation and not understanding who is being talked about.
These conversations, like many real ones, are fleeting, flippant, mundane and they slip beyond our grip and understanding. An intriguing book to read.
Giorgio Bassani: The Garden of Finzini-Conti
Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini is a historical novel which chronicles the relationships between the narrator and the children of the wealthy Italian Jewish Finzi-Contini family with the rise of antisemitism and Fascism at the beginning of world war two. And it was also adapted into a well-known movie in Italy,
It is a beautiful, sad story about a dark period in Italian history. The novel captures the eerie ambience in the northern town of Ferrara as Italy loses its innocence before sliding into the evils of the Holocaust.
Tobias Jones: The Dark Heart of Italy
In 2003 English journalist Tobias Jones published The Dark Heart of Italy in which he described the diabolical character of Italy’s complexities focusing on the post world war two period right up to the Berlusconi years.
After the book’s publication Jones was hounded by the Italian press for being a preachy Englishman who didn’t know what he was talking about.
Apart from a little Berlusconi bashing, Jones experiences and observations about Italy are insightful even if they are at times a little superficial.
It is a truthful book which expresses the frustration many foreigners feel while adjusting to living life in Italy and highlights the seedy underbelly of corruption which is a blemish in the contemporary Italian character.
Laurie Fabiano: Elizabeth Street
This wonderfully poignant personal family history was a labour of love written by the great-granddaughter of Calabrian migrants to America.
It is an epic tale and covers a journey which includes the vibrancy of 1900’s New York bustling with immigrants, the Messina-Calabrian earthquake, Mafia bombings and kidnappings.
The lovingly way Laurie Fabiano weaves the intimate details of her family as they move through different countries, experiences and generations with amazing perseverance and strength is what ultimately stays with you after you live this rich reading experience.
It is a cinematographic story worthy of Scorsese or Ford Coppola.
Jhumpa Lahiri: In other words
This fantastic book is an extended love letter dedicated to the Italian language.
In Other Words is at heart a love story of a long and sometimes tricky courtship and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language.
For Pulizer prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri Italian first captivated her during a trip to Florence after college. Seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for a trial by fire diving into a new language and world.
The result of her love affair with Italian is a deeply philosophical memoir which reflects on the nature of language, expression and the art of writing.