“A Blast from the Past”: 7 Italian Cinema Recommendations

I. The Tree of Wooden Clogs [1978]

This Palme d’Or winner shows “[l]ife on a farm in Italy at the end of the 19th century. Many poor country families live there, and the owner pays them by their productivity. One of the families has a very clever child, and they decide to send him to school instead of making him help them, although this represents a great sacrifice. The boy must get up very early and walk several miles to get to the school. One day the boy’s shoes break while returning home, but they do not have money to buy another pair. What can they do?” (IMDb). Director Ermanno Olmi (Il Posto [1961]) presents a very humane drama that also feels deeply realistic.

II. Investigation of A Citizen Above Suspicion [1970]

Whatever he may seem to us, he is yet a servant of the Law; that is, he belongs to the Law and as such is set beyond human judgment” (Franz Kafka, The Trial).

This Academy Award winner tells of a detective chief (Gian Maria Volontè) who kills his mistress and then deliberately leaves clues for others to ensure that his own responsibility for the crime is proven. However, shockingly, this eventuality never seems to materialise. This is a great film-satire from Elio Petri who says much in this story about corruption and the wilful blindness of Italian society in the 1960s. The film is both engrossing and very thought-provoking.

III. The Golden Coach [1952]

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts” (Shakespeare).

This Fench-Italian film is directed by Jean Renoir (The Rules of the Game [1939]), and stars Anna Magnani (Rome, Open City [1945]). It is based on the 1829 play Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement, and follows a commedia dell’arte troupe in Peru in the eighteenth century. Though the story is ok, the film’s vision, acting and its tribute to theatre all make it worth a watch. Martin Scorsese has also given it his seal of approval, for those who need any further encouragement.

IV. Europe ’51 [1952]

The only way not to be selfish is to love the others and ourselves. All of us. We sinners, all of us, sinners, just as we are. And to feel mercy and compassion for each one of us. Then, a great light fills us. A great spiritual force. And it is then that mountains can be moved” (Irene Girard).

Ingrid Bergman shines in this neorealist drama by Roberto Rossellini about the wife of an industrialist, Irene Girard, who turns to humanitarian work after the death of her son. Rossellini has much to say about the wilful ignorance and hypocrisies of the post-war society, producing a moving film that also received the International Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

V. Il Grido [1957]

I view this film by Michelangelo Antonioni as a very underrated and underseen one, indeed. It follows a man who cannot forget the woman he loves, Irma, after she broke up with him. The man, Aldo, a mechanic, goes travelling, meeting other women in the process, but always longs for his Irma. I found this film’s final message and its aura hard to forget once you have seen it. It is a gritty, cold and strange one, but also surprisingly thought-provoking in making its statements on love and loneliness.

VI. Il Posto [1961]

This film is by the director of The Tree of Wooden Clogs. Il Posto is about a socially-shy young man Domenico (Sandro Panseri) who is keen to secure his first job. He is not from a well-to-do family and has to do his best. So, he applies for a job, does the required test, goes for the interview, and even manages to befriend a girl who is also set on working hard. When Domenico finally lands the job and the time passes, the story questions whether this was really the cause for celebration or, in fact, a well-concealed tragedy. This fine film addresses many issues, including loneliness and alienation in the increasingly industrialised world, which is also becoming more and more impersonal.

VII. Shoeshine [1946]

Vittorio De Sica, leading Italian director now better known for Bicycle Thieves [1948] and Umberto D. [1952], here tells the story of two shoeshine boys in post-war Rome. The boys save up money to buy one beautiful horse, but soon find themselves on the other side of the law, suffering great hardship, including imprisonment in a juvenile facility. Can their friendship survive against all odds? The film is not perfect, but it is touching, and provides a curious insight into child poverty, as well as juvenile detention and its impact.

This list was in no particular order, and did not include films that I previously featured in my other list – 20 “Must-See Italian-Language Films”.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. moviefanman says:

    Nice list! I’ve seen Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and have the Criterion Collection Blu Ray, and boy what a interesting and fascinating quasi-Satire on crime and the police it is. Gian Maria Volonte gives one of his finest performances in the film. I’ve got the Criterion edition of The Tree of Wooden Clogs too and still need to see it, but I’m looking forward to it as my Dad’s maternal grandparents came from Naples and the film is set about the time they were growing up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! That’s interesting your great grandparents coming from Naples! The Tree of Wooden Clogs was great, I thought. It’s not one’s usual film, of course, but the vision and the documentary look are hard to forget. It really does capture the life of these working-class people at that place and time, and I learnt things from it. It’s also great to hear that you also loved Investigation of A Citizen. I remember the first time I watched – I just could not believe how good it was!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John Charet says:

    These are some great titles 🙂 Glad to see that you included not only Jean Renoir’s The Golden Coach, but a Roberto Rossellini film as well (in this case, Europe ’51) 🙂 I also love the work of Michelangelo Antonioni – remember L’Eclisse? 🙂 Speaking of Rossellini, even though it came out in 1954, there is something about Journey to Italy that still feels like it was made yesterday 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, and I quite agree with your take on Journey to Italy. My re-watch is over-due 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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