Mamma Roma (1962) Pier Paolo Pasolini

Mamma_RomaIt took more than thirty years for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film, Mamma Roma, to arrive on American shores. Made in 1962, the film finally had its day in 1995 thanks to Martin Scorsese, our patron saint of forgotten cinema. The film made the art house circuit beginning at the Film Forum in New York and then made its way around the country. Why did it take so long? Well, it began when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where the local police declared the film obscene. The film made its way around Europe, but met with the scissors from local censors snipping at what they considered objectionable material. Even after the critical and financial success of his third film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, both here and in Europe, there were no takers to bring his earlier work to these shores. Continue reading

Bellissima (1952) Luchino Visconti


Maddelina Cecconi (Anna Magnani) is trapped with an abusive husband from a working class background. A nurse who provides injections for diabetics, she and her husband are saving their money in hopes of someday getting a home of their own. She wants better for her young plain looking daughter, Maria (Tina Apicella). She loves the movies (we see her watching Howard Hawks “Red River” on the local outdoor screen).  When she hears about a movie director’s, Alessandro Blassetti portraying himself, open call for 6-8 year girls for his next film, Maddelina, like hundreds of other hopeful mothers, heads to Italy’s famed Cinicitta film studio with Maria for the auditions. During the process she spends the family’s small savings on ballet lessons, clothes for the young girl and paying off a hanger on who ensures her Tina will get the role. Maddelina becomes blinded by the possibilities of fame and fortune, a way out toward a better life for her daughter. By the end of the film, after hearing the film crews cruel assessment of Maria’s screen test, Maddelina realizes the superficiality of the film industry and that the cruelty of rejection is all too often the end results. Maddaline comes to finally realize family is more important that fame and fortune. Continue reading

Mafioso (1962) Alberto Luttuada

Long before Don Corleone, Don Vincenzo made an offer you could not refuse.

After recording this film off TCM many months ago, I finally got around to watching it, why I waited so long I do not know. Re-released in the United States in 2006 when it was shown at the New York Film Festival, “Mafioso” is a brilliant black comedy, the kind that Italian cinema did so well back in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Divorce, Italian Style, Seduced and Abandon, Big Deal on Madonna Street).  In Mafioso, director Alberto Luttuada mixes genres, flipping from a bright almost frothy comedy in the beginning to a dark, horrific nightmarish world. It is also a story of family and class culture shock where modern Milan (Northern Italy) meets its poor dirt cousins of Sicily ruled by age old suspicions of the law, outlaws and the Mafia.

The age old tension between Northern and Southern Italians is at the root of much of the humor in “Mafioso.” While Northern Italy benefited from the Industrialization and the unification of Italy, Southern Italians remained  in poverty and under educated, generally looked down upon by the north who assumed a more superior posture. So when Nino Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi), a transplanted Sicilian, becomes a success as supervisor at a Fiat factory in Milan, it was a big deal for his family back home.  

At work, Nino is precise, organized and he ensures everything runs like clockwork keeping a close watch on his workers. Nino’s success extends to his family life, he has a modern home, modern conviencences and is married to Marta (Norma Bengell), a sophisticated beautiful blonde with whom he has two adorable blonde haired young girls. Saving his vacation time and money Nino plans a two week trip back to his homeland in Sicily. For his wife and kids this will be the first time they all meet Nino’s family. Just before he is ready to leave the plant for his vacation, Nino’s boss, a Sicilian, via New Jersey, unexpectedly asks him if he knows Don Vincenzo his home town’s capo di tutti capi.  Nino replies of course, everyone knows the town’s patriarch, and no he would not mind delivering a gift since he would have to visit and pay his respects to the elderly man. Little does Nino realize at the time that this little favor will change his life.

For Nino coming home is a joyous reunion, he is the successful son that made it.  For Marta, the trip from modern bustling Milan to the dirt filled village of Nino’s home is culture shock, a trip back to a more primitive time. She tells him, “Italy is fading away” as they ride a ferry leaving the mainland. His family’s small home is filled with relatives, all dressed in black, a sister with a thick moustache and parents who are suspicious of a blonde daughter-in-law who they see as a snobbish intruder. His wife feels unwelcome and wants to go home.  Connecting his two worlds Nino discovers is not an easy task.

 The family dinners are filled with large festival meals of fried swordfish and black pasta (it seems everywhere they go they are showered with food). Nino visits old friends half who seem to be unemployed while the other half seem to be working for the local Don. Nino must pay his respects to Don Vincenzo, who he swore allegiance to as a young boy. He delivers the package from his boss that contains a jewel heart shaped ornament with the names of deceased “friends”  inscribed on it. Later when Nino tries to help his father settle a land acquisition, the seller believing now there is water on the land raises the price, Don Vincenzo “helps” settle the dispute, and in return the crime boss ask a favor.  When the Don and his associates discover Nino is an expert  shot with a gun his fate is even further sealed sending Nino’s world into a dark unforeseen direction.

Lattuada seems very much a visual artist, his camera embraces the landscape as well as the structural design of the film’s three locations, whether it is northern Italy, Sicily or New York. In each his camera soaks in the beauty and style of each location, so much that they literary become  a character in the film.  He and his writers have also put together some interesting vignettes on life in the backward Sicilian village; the first meal with Nino’s family loaded with food, food and more food, the women always dressed in black (as Italian-American comedian Pat Cooper said in one of his comedy albums  that way  “if somebody dies, they’re ready!”), Nino’s conversation with his beach bum friends who ogle his wife when she appears later in this sequence  in  a skimpy bikini, and when Nino and his family first arrive in Sicily, they pass a “party” for a recently deceased person. Later as they walk along the street on their way to pay respects to Don Vincenzo, they pass home after home with small signs at each doorway that are in memory of a deceased family member. Death seems to be a constant companion to the culture.

As Nino, Alberto Sordi swings from the light heartedness of the early part of the film to the dark Godfather like finale with supreme ease. He has a innate style for moving back and forth between comedy and drama. 

Freeing himself from his past Nino discovers will take more than moving to a city up North, marrying a beautiful upscale blonde and working at a great job.   Though more than forty years have passed with audiences being subjected to funny and some not so funny Mafia’s films like “Analyze This” and “Mickey Blue Eyes”, “Mafioso” is a classic and has lost none of its bite.