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Even before the fall of Mussolini in 1943, those who were about to launch Italy's most glorious cinematic era wre at work. Luchino Visconti (1906-76) came to the cinema late, after meeting Jean Renoir, the French film-maker, in France in 1936. His first film, Ossessione, based on James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, was one of the earliest examples of the New Wave in cinema - a movement concerned with depicting the lives of the poor in society.

In the three years that following the close of hostilities in Europe, Roberto Rossellini (1906-77) produced a trio of neorealist masterpieces. The first, in 1945, was Roma Citta' Aperta(Rome Open-City), which was set in German-occupied Rome and starred Anna Magnani. For many cinema-lovers, this film marks the true beginning of neorealist, uniting simplicity and sincerity in a way peculiar to Italian film-making; often heart rendering without ever succumbing to the bathos to which so many Hollywood products fall victim. Paisa' (1946) follows the course of war from Sicily to the River Po in a series of powerful vignettes. while Germania Anno Zero (Germany Year Zero;1947) pulls no punches in looking at a country left crushed by the war it had launched.

Vittorio De Sica (1901-74) kept the neorealist ball rolling in another classic in 1948, Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves), the story of a  man's frustrated fight to earn enough to keep his family afloat. It is one of 10 films he made between 1939 and 1950.

THE 1950s TO THE 1970s

Fellini (1920-94) took the creative baton from the masters of neorealism and carried it into the following decades. His disquieting style of slightly more demanding of audiences, abandoning realistic shots for pointed images at once laden with humour, pathos and double-meaning - all cleverly capturing not only the Italy of the day but also the human foibles of his protagonists. Fellini's greatest international hit was La Docle Vita (1968) with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroiani. Others include 8 1/2 (1963), Satyricon (1969), Roma (1972) and Amarcord(1973). Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, starred in many of his films.

Luchino Visconti made films from 1942 until his death in 1976, including the memorable adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo (The Leopard;1963).

Michelangelo Antonioni (born 1912) began directing in 1950; his films explore existential themes and individual crises and reached a climax with Blow-Up (1967). Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75) had some altogether different themes: preoccupied at first with the condition of the subproletariat in films such as Accattone (1961) and Teorema (1968), he later dealt with human decay and death in such films as Il Decamerone, I Racconti di Cantebury and Il Fiore delle Mille e Una Notte.

In 1974 Lina Wertmüller (born 1928) incurred the wrath of feminists with her work Swept Away ("Travolti da un Insolito Destino nell'Azzurro Mare di Agosto" in Italian!). Bernardo Bertolucci (born 1940) first made a splash on the international scene in Last Tango in Paris (1972).

On a different note, Sergio Leone (1929-89) ended up specializing in a particular brand of rough Western in the late 1960s. Critical approval for movies such as  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1968) came late but the films were highly successful at the box office.


Bertolucci's foreign profile has continued to grow with English-language blockbusters such as The Last Emperor (1987),  Little Buddha  (1992) and Stealing Beauty (1996). Another Italian director who has worked extensively outside his home country is Franco Zeffirelli (born 1923), among whose better-known films are Othello (1986), Hamlet (1990) and Jane Eyre (1995). His 1999 Tea with Mussolini, set in Tuscany, is a comedy following the doings of an art dealer (played by Cher) in Fascist Italy. At the time of writing, Zeffirelli was set to make a film on the life of Maria Callas.

Paolo (born 1931) and Vittorio Taviani (born 1929) got started in the 1960s and in 1976 produced Padre Padrone, a heart-rendering account of peasant life on Sardinia and one man's escape. Their biggest hits of the 1980s were Good Morning Babilonia (1986), an account of the creation of WD Griffiths's Intolerence, and Kaos (1984), inspired by stories by Luigi Pirandello.

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988), by Giuseppe Tornatore (born 1956), is a wonderful homage to film-making. He was back in 2000 with Malena, a nicely shot but somewhat damp film starring Monica Bellucci as a beautiful war widow in a Sicilian town during WWII. Through the eyes of a young adolescent who fantasies about her, the story of her fall into prostitution reflects a broader tale of small-town meanness and double standards.

Nanni Moretti (born 1953), who first came to the silver screen in the late 1970s, has proven to be a highly individualistic actor-director. Caro Diario (Dear Diary), his whimsical and self-indulgent autobiographical three-part film, won the prize for best director at Cannes in 1994. Seven years later he took the film festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, for La Stanza del Figlio, in which a family deals with  the trial of losing a son. Moretti again wrote, directed an acted.

Roberto Benigni made a big international splash with La Vita e' Bella (Life is Beautiful; 1998), which he directed and starred in.

Silvio Soldini's (born 1958) Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips; 1999) is a charming film that charts a housewife's unlikely escape from urban drudgery to the canals of Venice, where she embroils herself in all manners of odd occurrences.

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