The five Italian films you should have seen

The Italians save their escapism for real life. Most of the country looks like a film set, and the natives preen and posture in situ, directed by their ‘inner Fellini’. If you want the real grit of Italian life, watch Italian films. Poverty stricken thieves, death camp inmates, Mafia hitmen – it’s a long way from your average fortnight in Chianti. Speak the Culture: Italy swims the full, murky lengths of Italian cinema, but try dipping your toe in the water with these:

Ladri di biciclette (dir Vittorio De Sica 1948).
A destitute man and his son (played by amateur actors) scour Rome for the stolen bike on which his job hanging posters depends. Bleak but utterly compelling: the best film you’ll ever see about a stolen bike (probably)…and the finest effort from Italian Neorealist cinema.

Il Deserto Rosso (dir Michelangelo Antonioni 1964).
Ravenna’s foggy industrial backdrop fits perfectly with Monica Vitti’s depressed housewife. A lip-synched Richard Harris is her husband. Nobody did angst quite like Antonioni – why explain things when you can stare moodily out of the window making vague existential comments?

(dir Federico Fellini 1963).
Marcello Mastroianni, Italian cinema’s leading man, starred in a dreamy, disorientating and critical stab at the art of directing and its attendant distractions. Really it’s a film about filmmaking, but nevertheless stands as the best work from Italy’s most lauded director.

La vita è bella (dir Roberto Benigni 1999).
A modern cornerstone in the pantheon of Italian cinema. Benigni starred as well directed, winning a best actor Oscar for his turn as the father trying to make life in a Nazi concentration camp ‘fun’ for his son.

Gomorra (dir Matteo Garrone 2008).
If you want Mafia Hollywood-style watch Coppola, if you want cold, clammy fear, tune in to the adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s bestselling book. The author’s retreat into hiding, under threat of death from the Neapolitan Camorra, lends a certain sickening credibility to the movie.

All agreed on the above films? Think we’ve missed something? Feel free to harangue us in the comments box at the bottom of this page…

Comments (8)

Bit disappointed there’s no Dario Argento in there…

Posted by Matthew • 6 November 2009, 00:45

I would have included Cinema Paradiso in the top five Italian films. A bit sentimental perhaps, but a great film nonetheless. Otherwise, great list!

Posted by T-bone Wilson • 12 November 2009, 08:19

I’d mention “Il Gattopardo” by Luchino Visconti, “Il mestiere delle Armi” by Ermanno Olmi

Posted by Rossella • 29 November 2009, 21:38

Why did we miss off the Italian job?

Posted by Matthew • 3 January 2010, 06:07

Neorealism in general is OK with me.

From among Fellini’s films I personally prefer “Le Notti di Cabiria” and, secondly, “La Dolce vita”.

And I don’t think “La Vita e bella” is such a good film at all. It is a BEAUTIFUL film, yes, but not all that good, in my opinion.

And where, pray, are Luchino Visconti and Nanni Moretti?

Posted by Pretty Polly • 9 January 2010, 01:13

Thanks for the comments everyone. I know, listing a ‘top 5’ is always asking for trouble. You can’t please all the people all the time etc etc. I’m inclined to agree with Pretty Polly tho – perhaps we should switch La Vita e bella for something by Visconti. And if we’re going with Visconti, how about La terra trema, a film that used ‘non-actors’ to portray the plight of exploited Sicilian fisherfolk (the film was actually financed by the Italian Communist Party – but don’t let that put you off). Il Gattopardo, a later work by Visconti, was, as Rosella mentions, also a classic (although of a very different sort – it starred Burt Lancaster). The film was drawn from Giuseppe Lampedusa’s brilliant novel of 1958.

Posted by Andrew • 29 January 2010, 13:08

Yes, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ one of the best and what about ‘Il Postino’ ?

Posted by Mary Connatty • 16 March 2010, 21:35

Il Gattopardo has that heart-stopping (for me, at any rate) moment where Claudia Cardinale’s face takes up the whole screen as she arrives at the ball. I think Clive James described at his favourite moment in film history. I know it’s mine…

Posted by johnny bull • 1 July 2010, 12:00

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