While the history of cinema is often dominated by Hollywood, Italy was responsible for making some of the most respected films of all time. From the pathos of neorealism to the infamy of spaghetti westerns, their films have redefined the nature of cinema and continue to be enjoyed and studied to this day.
Vittorio De Sica (1901-1974)
When the Second World War brought devastation to Europe, no facet of life was untouched by its destruction. The film industry was no exception. Its studios were turned to rubble, and with no sets in which to create a world, they took their cameras to the streets. What resulted was a powerful cinema that was more representative of people’s lives. While professional actors continued to play the lead roles, real people became its extras. This style would become known as Italian neorealism. Vittorio De Sica was one the pioneers of this movement and his films are often cited as some of the greatest films of all time. Usually set in reconstruction Italy, they explore the spirit and will to survive in the face of adversity.
Federico Fellini (1920-1993)
Arguably the most famous Italian director, Fellini started out making neorealist films, but as the years passed, he developed his own cinematic style. Moving from the autobiographical to the satirical, from the real to the surreal, his oeuvre is as diverse as it is compelling. Fellini was also nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning 4 for Best Foreign Language Director—a record that still stands today.
Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)
Starting out as a neorealist filmmaker, Antonioni took a sharp turn in the direction of formal, contemplative and highly stylised art cinema. Traditional narratives are shunned in place of image-driven scenes where characters appear lost in their own dreamscapes. While his films won’t strike a chord with everyone, those who love his work will find that the films demand multiple viewings, and that they only reveal their secrets inch by inch.
Luchino Visconti (1906-1976)
Visconti was not only a master of Italian cinema, he was also a highly respected theatre and opera director. He brought some great literary adaptations to the screen, including The Postman Always Rings Twice, Death in Venice and, most notably, The Leopard. In each case he crafted something unique that stood independent of its source material. Critically acclaimed and highly accessible, his films explore universal experiences, regardless of time and place.
Sergio Leone (1929-1989)
US culture went global after the Second World War. One of America’s most unique art forms, the western, captured the imagination of people for whom this particular time and place was foreign. Hollywood’s reimagining of America’s past became more myth than fact. This myth, already distorted, was twisted further when Italian directors began making westerns in the mid-sixties. Featuring graphic violence and an artful European sensibility, these westerns became celebrated both for their popularity and stylistic merits. While many directors tried their hand at spaghetti westerns, there is no doubt that the films of Sergio Leone are the crowning achievement. His style was so widely copied that it became synonymous with the genre. He also established the reputation of Clint Eastwood and brought the incredible music of Ennio Morricone to a wider audience.