Today: March 3, 2024

European Wonders – Italy

Over the next few weeks Filmjuice is going to be taking a look at the masters of European cinema. In the coming weeks we’ll bring you a Top Ten list of a select few countries who have influenced, inspired and captured the imaginations of cinema-goers the world over. Highlighting the best of Italy, Greg Evans, gives details of the essential top 10 films from Italian cinema.

Over the next few weeks
Filmjuice is going to be taking a look at the masters of European cinema.
In the coming weeks we’ll bring you a Top Ten list of a select few countries
who have influenced, inspired and captured the imaginations of cinema-goers the
world over. Highlighting the best of Italy, Greg Evans, gives details of
the essential top 10 films from Italian cinema.

Modern Italy may not be the first
country that springs to mind when you think of pioneering cinema. Art, food,
religion, politics and even football are more widely associated with the
Italians. However, Italy has produced and been the creator of a huge variety of
genres. From religious epics to gruesome horrors and political thrillers, to
their most famous export: the gangster movie. Their rich history, culture and
an abundance of illustrious cities and provinces have provided Italians with
much food for excellent filmmaking.

In 2006 writer and journalist Roberto
published the non-fiction book Gomorrah. It was a harsh and
realistic exploration into the Naples mafia. Since then Saviano has been in
hiding and under constant police surveillance after several mafia godfathers
threatened his life, such was the damning portrayal of the crime syndicate. In
2008 this film, of the same name, was released. It is roughly based around
several accounts from the book and follows five individual stories. Covering
everything from money laundering, waste disposal, piracy, recruitment and the
innocent lives that get wrapped up in the mafia. Brutal and uncompromising,
Gomorrah is a gangster film like no other.


Italy has a rich and vitriolic history
of horror film. Often extremely violent and provocative, the countries horror
output is notorious around the globe. None more so than Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal
Holocaust. This found-footage film charts the journey of a documentary crew as
they attempt to make a film about indigenous tribes along the Amazon River.
Graphic and incredibly convincing, the realism of the film got Deodato arrested
on the grounds of making a snuff film. He was only released after proving that
his actors were still alive and well. What sets Cannibal Holocaust apart from
other video nasties is that although it culprits commit the murder their cause
is just and questions whether our intrusion into their lives is no worse than
their rituals.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s
Paradiso is one of the most beloved Italian films ever. It follows fictional
director Salvatore Di Vita as he recounts his childhood in Sicily where he
first fell in love with cinema. Spending most of his time at the local picture
house, the young Salvatore sparks up a close friendship with the projectionist
Alfredo. Striking up a good balance between humour and realism, Cinema Paradiso
won the 1990 best foreign film Oscar. It shows an incredible gratitude to the
films that came before it and teaches us that if we aim to achieve in life,
sacrifices have to be made.


Not many comedies can class themselves
as being one of the greatest films ever made, but 8 ½ can do just that. Federico
1963 classic is seen as an autobiographical affair, roughly
depicting Fellini’s career in film. The main character Guido Anselmi is a
director suffering from ‘director’s block’ as he struggles to make a science
fiction film. Numerous flashbacks and fantasies delve into his psyche and
manifest itself into a dreamlike state. Inundated with awards and praise 8 ½
continues to win admirers. Profound, intellectual, surreal and funny its
artistry is never in doubt.

Battle of Algiers

Accounting the Algerian battle for
independence against France, The Battle of Algiers is one of the most powerful
films of the 1960s. Shot in a documentary style and using a cast of non
professionals, former chemist, journalist and anti-fascist leader, director Gillo
crafted a masterpiece about war and its atrocities. Taking
place between 1954 and 1962 it is told as a newsreel and gives both sides a
fair and unbiased story. As the French army is purging Algerian homes we see
Algerian terrorists bombing buildings full of innocent French teenagers.
Commissioned by the Algerian government, The Battle of Algiers remains one of
the great war films because of its unblemished and intense reality of war.
Never glorifying in its intention, this is the closet a film has come to
showing the true horrors of war.

Gospel According to Matthew

In the land of the Vatican, it would be
wrong to leave out a religious film and what better one to include than The
Gospel According to Matthew. It is one of the few films that the Vatican
approves of and more interestingly the Pope requested it be made. Controversial
director Pier Paolo Pasolini was asked to take the reins of the project
and produced one of the most fascinating religious films ever. Depicting the
most significant moments in the life of Jesus, he is a completely different
Christ to what we are used to. Direct and almost Marxist, this Christ’s
speeches are more like instructions than teachings. At times you gaze upon this
film like you would a painting. A true piece of art.


This Bernado Bertolucci’s classic
gets right under the skin of 1930’s fascist Italy. We follow Marcello Clerici,
who by order of the government, has been ordered to assassinate his former
university professor who has become an anti-fascist leader in Paris. However, repressed
childhood memories begin to play with Clerici’s consciousness as he questions
the legitimacy of his task. Full of wonderful scenes and cinematography,
Bertolucci made a political thriller that was both tense and eccentric. Veteran
actor Jean-Louis Trintignant put in one of his greatest performances as
Clerici in this unconventional and far from con-formative film.

Bird With the Crystal Plumage

Where would the world be without Dario
and Giallo? For a start we would not have films like Black Swan or
Se7en and directors like William Friedkin and Brian De Palma, their
work would be a lot less interesting. While Argento will always be remembered
for his ballet horror Suspiria, we’ll include this bizarrely titled film
as it is his best film set in Italy. Argento’s work is full of visceral
imagery, extravagant deaths and twists at every corner. The Bird With the
Crystal Plumage
is a relentless ordeal, in which an unsuspecting American
writer attempts to solve a peculiar series of murders. Argento, in his debut
film, is having an immense amount of fun here. In depth narrative and
characters are not necessary here as the surprises leave you on the edge of you
seat till the last minute.

Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Not the first film that comes to mind
when you think of Italian cinema, but The Good, The Bad and The Ugly couldn’t
be more Italian. Better known in some circles as Il Buono, Il Bruto, Il
this epic spaghetti western is what all westerns should
aspire to be like. As three contrasting characters venture across America
during the civil war in search of buried treasure, a true cinematic masterpiece
takes place. Clint Eastwood, as The Good, has never been so awe
inspiring and he is joined in equal measure by Lee Van Cleef (The Bad)
and Eli Wallach (The Ugly). Seen as the conclusion to the amazing Dollars
, Sergio Leone cemented his name as one of the all time great
directors by crafting together some enormous sets with a captivating story. Ennio
score will give you goosebumps from the get go.


For all the fantastic films and genres
Italy has contributed to the world of cinema, the Bicycle Thieves and
neo-realism are arguably its most important. Italian neo-realism focuses its
films on the poor and working class, and looking at how their lives are
affected by everyday troubles in the modern world. As a young father
desperately searches for work he lands a good job pasting posters around the
streets of Rome. A bicycle is
imperative to do the job more productively, if he has no bike, he has no job.
Yet during his first shift a petty thieves steal the bicycle leaving him
helpless. With only a few friends and his young son for help he aimlessly
searches the street trying to retrieve the vehicle. Simple in its execution,
yet incredibly heart breaking, you witness a good honest man fall from grace
and reduced to the same level of the criminals he aspires against. It’s message
and influence can still be seen today and is more relevant than ever in today’s
society. No amount of words or adjectives can be used to describe this film,
except it is one of the greatest movies ever made.

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