The Bicycle Thiefdirector: Vittorio De SicaImage Entertainment
A beautiful, simple story of a man in post-war Rome who needs his bicycle in order to work at his job. No sooner does he retrieve it from pawn, then it is stolen. The heartwrenching search teaches the man and his son much about the meaning of life and just how far we will go when pushed to the edge. Winner of a special Academy Award.
Vittorio De Sica's remarkable 1947 drama of desperation and survival in Italy's devastating post-war depression earned a special Oscar for its affecting power. Shot in the streets and alleys of Rome, De Sica uses the real-life environment of contemporary life to frame his moving drama of a desperate father whose new job delivering cinema posters is threatened when a street thief steals his bicycle. Too poor to buy another, he and his son take to the streets in an impossible search for his bike. Cast with nonactors and filled with the real street life of Rome, this landmark film helped define the Italian neorealist approach with its mix of real life details, poetic imagery, and warm sentimentality. De Sica uses the wandering pair to witness the lives of everyday folks, but ultimately he paints a quiet, poignant portrait of father and son, played by nonprofessionals Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola, whose understated performances carry the heart of the film. De Sica and scenarist Cesare Zavattini also collaborated on Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D, all classics in the neorealist vein, but none of which approach the simple poetry and quiet power achieved in The Bicycle Thief. --Sean Axmaker
Il Postinodirector: Michael RadfordMiramax
Cheered by critics and audiences everywhere, IL POSTINO (THE POSTMAN) is the record-breaking Academy Award(R)-winning (Best Dramatic Score, 1995) romantic comedy that delivers heartfelt laughs! Mario is a bumbling mailman who's madly in love with the most beautiful woman in town ... and who's too shy to tell her how he feels. But when a world-famous poet -- Pablo Neruda -- moves into town, Mario is inspired. With Neruda's help, he finds the right words to win the woman's heart! This unforgettably funny comedy proves that passion ... with some artful deception ... can win the most improbable love!
Italian star and filmmaker Massimo Troisi was dying of heart failure even before this film, his dream project, began production, and he prevailed upon British director Michael Radford (White Mischief) to see him and the film through to the end. (The 40-year-old Troisi, a beloved comic actor in Italy, died the day production wrapped.) Based on true events, Troisi plays a shy postman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret). Through Neruda's example and tutelage, the hero learns to think of his Italian fishing village in lyrical terms, as well as how to talk to women and even find the strength to take his political stands. Sweet as it is, the film finally pushes beyond its charming borders to become an even more complex and poignant story about the pain of growing into one's destiny. --Tom Keogh
L'Avventura (The Criterion Collection)director: Michelangelo AntonioniCriterion
A girl mysteriously disappears on a yachting trip. While her lover and her best friend search for her across Italy, they begin an affair. Antonioni's penetrating study of the idle upper class offers stinging observations on spiritual isolation and the many meanings of love. Criterion is proud to present this milestone of film grammar in a new Special Edition double-disc set.
Considered by many to be his masterpiece, L’Avventura positioned Michelangelo Antonioni as an international talent. What appears to be a search for a missing person is actually an examination of alienation and self-discovery found along a voyage through the morally decadent world of the idle rich. Less concerned with a smooth plotline, Antonioni tells his story through the use of symbolic images and flawless character development. Using 'real time’ camera shots and rich, landscape imagery, Michelangelo Antonioni creates an unpredictable world where nothing is ever resolved. Ironically, what makes L’Avventura so unpredictable is the high level of realism portrayed by each character and their environments. This isn’t your packaged, formulaic film with a happy ending. A tough one to watch but well worth it...and it gets better and better with repeat viewings. L’Avventura is quintessential Antonioini. Not to be missed. --Rob Bracco
Fellini - Satyricondirector: Federico FelliniMGM (Video & DVD)
Encolpius is a Roman student who begins by arguing with his friend Ascyltus over the affections of androgynous youth Giton. Ascyltus wins, whereupon Encolpius embarks upon an odyssey, partaking in a drunken orgy and being kidnapped by a bisexual sea captain and his concubine. Encolpius eventually rejoins Ascyltus to visit a suicidal Roman couple, join in a plot to kidnap a "sacred" hermaphrodite, and much more. Loosely based on the book "Satyricon" by Gaius Petronius, the "Arbiter of Elegance" in the court of Nero, Federico Fellini wrote and directed this tongue-in-cheek hymn to the "glories" of pagan times via a bizarre journey through the decadence and debauchery of Nero's Rome.
Trippy is as trippy does, even when you're talking about a movie set in ancient Rome. This 1969 Fellini opus was among the most visually arresting entries in a year when the psychedelic experience was trying to claw its way into every movie coming down the pike. But Fellini, in telling a negligible story about two young men tasting the various pleasures of Nero's hedonistic and priapic reign, aimed for images that jarred as well as seduced. He found humor in freakishness, contrasting beauty and ugliness while effortlessly passing judgment on the emptiness of a life devoted to sensation and personal freedom. More of a fever dream than a linear story, Fellini Satyricon crystallized the director's reputation as a visionary--but may have trapped him into spending the rest of his career (with the exception of Amarcord) trying to top himself in reaching new levels of outrageousness. --Marshall Fine
Amarcord (The Criterion Collection)director: Federico FelliniCriterion
In this carnivalesque portrait of provincial Italy during the Fascist period, Fellini satirizes his youth and turns daily life into a circus of rituals, sensations and emotions. Adolescent desires, male fantasies, and political repartee are set to Nina Rota's music in this beautiful transfer of Amarcord.
From moment to moment and shot by shot, Amarcord delivers more sheer pleasure than any other Federico Fellini movie. That's not to say it's his greatest film, or that anything in it rivals the emotional, lyrical, or metaphysical wallop of the finest passages in Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2, La Strada, or even La Dolce Vita, the big early-'60s crossover hit that made the director king of the international film world. But Amarcord was the last clear triumph of Fellini's career, his prodigious gifts for phantasmagoria, amazing fluidity, and gregarious choreography all feeding an emotional core that caught at audiences' heartstrings and carried them away.
The title is supposed to mean "I remember," and the film is ostensibly a memory-dream-diary of life in the director's seaside hometown of Rimini during one year in the 1930s. But Fellini was an irrepressible showman who loved pulling the audience's collective chain, and Amarcord is no more straightforward as a recollection of his real adolescence than "amarcord" is a real word--Fellini made it up as a bit of pretend vernacular. So the strolling town historian who pops up occasionally to supply antiquarian footnotes directly to the camera more often than not gets pelted with snowballs from offscreen. Just as Nino Rota's (wonderful) music score recycles melodies from his scores for earlier Fellini masterworks, Fellini's movie is full of lyric ecstasies--spontaneous parades, comic ceremonies, eye-popping surrealist moments--that exist principally because that is what a Fellini movie is supposed to be like. There's no dominant story line, no individual character or player to be identified as the center of the film's swirling movement. Yet we do get to "know," and begin to cherish, literally dozens of goofy, eccentric, funny/sad creatures who have their distinct places in the continuum of Fellini's made-up town and reimagined Italy of a bygone era.
The era was, of course, that of Facsism. Fellini's take on Fascism here is anything but portentous; the giddy nationalism given voice occasionally by delirious crowds of townsfolk is no more sinister than the same crowd might have been in cheering on the local football team. In the movie's most famous set-piece, dozens of locals put out to sea in small boats to witness the passage of a fabulous ocean liner, the Rex, "the greatest construction of the regime." Waiting, they sleep--till suddenly the luminous (and entirely unreal) vision is towering above them, threatening to swamp them all. The moment is both ecstatic and terrifying. It's not the only one.
One last memory: In 1975 Amarcord received the Oscar for best foreign-language film of 1974. Since the film went into general U.S. release in '75, it was eligible for the Motion Picture Academy to turn around and nominate Fellini again, in '76, for best director and best original screenplay of 1975. He didn't win any further awards, but his repeat appearance in that year's Oscar derby occasioned an exquisite cultural moment: the young Steven Spielberg, realizing that he had not been cited for his direction of Jaws, gasping, "They gave my nomination to Fellini?!" --Richard T. Jameson
Fellini's Romadirector: Federico FelliniMGM (Video & DVD)
Acclaimed director Federico Fellini (Fellini's Satyricon, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2) brilliantly demonstrates why he is regarded as "the last of the great epic filmmakers," delivering "a thrilling personal memoir" (Newsweek) with this monumental and outlandish tribute to his beloved RomeThe Eternal City. This lavish autobiography, full of "lush fantasy sequences and monumental pageantry," (Los Angeles Times) begins with Fellini as a youngster living in the Italian countryside. In school he studies the eclectic but parochial history of ancient Rome and then is introduced as a young man to the real thingarriving in this strange new city on the outbreak of World War II. Here, through a series of "visually stunning" (Los Angeles Times) vignettes brimming with satire and spark, the filmmaker comes to grips with a "sprawling, boisterous, bursting-at-the-seams portrait of Rome" (Interview), reinterpreting with his inimitable style an Italian history full of "rich sensual imagery and extravagant perception" (Playboy).
Federico Fellini's 1972 ode to the city of Rome is far from a coherent narrative, but as a selection of images and sounds celebrating the famed Italian capital, it's dazzling and hugely enjoyable. Stylistically, it's a perfect bridge between the excesses of Satyricon and the nostalgia of Amarcord, and it showcases the true love that Fellini had for the Eternal City. Mixing autobiographical flashbacks with the travails of a present-day movie company making a film about the city (headed up by Fellini himself), Roma is an impressionistic tour de force, delivered via Fellini's unique cinematic vision. If you can't tolerate Fellini's larger-than-life approach, the sometimes-garish colors, or the circus atmosphere, you'll probably find Roma insufferable. But fans of Fellini will be in seventh heaven, especially during some of the wonderful set pieces--a music dance hall performance that's interrupted by bombing during World War II; a papal fashion show that's so surreal it must be seen to be believed; and a breathtaking sequence in which the film crew, tagging along with an archaeological dig, happens upon an ancient Roman catacomb and watches as the beautiful murals disintegrate before their eyes. Through it all, Fellini's passion for Rome (and moviemaking) shines through, especially in the film's climax, a dialogue-free sequence of motorcycles roaring through the city at night, a tour that ends at the magnificent Colosseum. At that marriage of past and present, Roma is about as perfect as cinema can get. --Mark Englehart
Nights of Cabiria (The Criterion Collection)director: Federico FelliniCriterion
Giulietta Masina won Best Actress at Cannes as the title character of one of Fellini's most haunting films. Oscar® winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria) is the tragic story of a naive prostitute searching for true love in the seediest sections of Rome. Criterion proudly presents the restored director's cut in a breathtaking new transfer.
A year after his international breakthrough film La Strada, Federico Fellini and his leading lady/wife Giulietta Masina collaborated on another masterpiece, a magical mix of neorealism and romantic optimism set on the streets of Rome. Masina's moon-faced and bright-eyed Cabiria is a passionate streetwalker with a heart as big as Italy and the emotional spontaneity of a child, a woman with a hearty passion for life whose constant weakness is falling in love with mercenary creeps. For a couple of hours we share the dreams and disillusionments of Cabiria as she rattles around Rome before once again losing her heart. The bittersweet heartbreak is tempered with a soaring celebration of the human spirit: no other Fellini film offers such honest hope in the face of such bitter devastation. Fellini left the poor and the working class to revel in the decadence of Rome's high society for his next film, La Dolce Vita, a film that could have sprung from Cabiria's hilarious chance interlude with a matinee idol (played by Amedeo Nazzari). Rambling and leisurely paced, Nights of Cabiria is a sweet film of warmth and simple grace. It became the basis of Neil Simon's American musical Sweet Charity, with Shirley Maclaine taking Masina's role in Bob Fosse's film version. --Sean Axmaker
La Nottedirector: Michelangelo AntonioniFox Lorber
Antonioni's study of alienation and moral decay chronicles a day in the life of a middle-class couple whose marriage has been destroyed by mutual indifference and impenetrable loneliness.
Continuing the "alienation trilogy" that began with L'Avventura and ended with L'Eclisse, Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte is a visually arresting, emotionally numbing exercise in chronic ennui. The film's anesthetizing effect is entirely intentional; Antonioni's central couple (Marcello Mastroianni as a self-absorbed novelist, Jeanne Moreau as his bored and wealthy wife) wallow in their own emotional desolation, constantly drifting--and in Moreau's case, literally drifting--from one disaffected scene to the next. Antonioni's pained study of modern detachment is richly supported by his visuals, often placing his isolated characters in a harsh landscape of empty glamor and even emptier emotions. Driving the point home is Monica Vitti as Marcello's would-be mistress; in their aimless lassitude, neither can muster the necessary passion. It's all too superficial to register with any lasting dramatic impact, but La Notte remains the fascinating work of a master, redefining how movies reflect the many facets of humanity. --Jeff Shannon
Salo (The Criterion Collection)director: Pier Paolo PasoliniCriterion
A loose adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò is perhaps the most disturbing and disgusting film ever made. It is also one of the most important, offering a blistering critique of fascism and idealism that suggests moral redemption may be nothing but a myth. Criterion presents Salò in its uncut, uncensored version.
Open Citydirector: Roberto RosselliniImage Entertainment
The stars play an impoverished mother-to-be and a parish priest whose loyalties are tested by the sinister German forces that occupy their homeland during World War II.
The Allies had barely driven the Nazis out of Rome when Roberto Rosselini went to work on Open City, considered by most to be his greatest work. Shot on bits and short ends of scavenged film, this film helped define Italian neorealism. Audiences were convinced that the actors were all amateurs (they weren't) and the whole film was improvised (it wasn't; the three screenwriters included Federico Fellini). With its semidocumentary camera style and use of actual locations, the film does feel very real. Of course, so does the opening half-hour of Saving Private Ryan, and like that film Open City is at its heart a classic war yarn any Hollywood studio would feel at home with. The story involves members of the Italian underground trying to smuggle badly needed cash out of Nazi-occupied Rome to partisan fighters in the mountains, while the Nazis are hunting down one of the underground, a notorious freedom fighter and seditionist. Anna Magnani (an actor well established in her own country who became an international star with this film) is often singled out for her portrayal as the pregnant, unwed woman who gets caught up in the action on her wedding day, but the entire cast is topnotch. The sparse subtitles are both a blessing and a curse--there is less to read, which allows the viewer to concentrate on the visuals, but there are times when non-Italian-speakers will feel like they're missing out on some juicy dialogue. --Geof Miller