Vienna’s Film Museum pays homage to Valerio Zurlini and Antonio Pietrangeli, among the most intense and intriguing directors associated with (but not limited to) the neo-realism movement of Italian cinema.
Vienna, and more precisely, the Film Museum, in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce and the Italian Cultural Institute in Vienna has organised a retrospective tribute to Valerio Zurlini and Antonio Pietrangeli, two milestones of Cinema Italiano. Proving once again that Italian cinema has had influence beyond its own country, with a visual and emotional language that touches also foreign people’s hearts, too, at times attaining the class of masterpiece, like ‘Io la conoscevo bene’ or ‘La ragazza con la valigia’ (Girl with a Suitcase, 1961). But who are these directors?
Don’t call it Post-War cinema: the work of Valerio Zurlini (Bologna 1926 – Verona 1982) is much more than that. With many projects left undone for his eagerness to confront them in depth, his great themes were loneliness and abandonment, but also memory, waiting, and war. His first important movie is ‘Violent Summer’ (1959), an autobiographical story shot in Riccione, where he spent a summer as teenager.
The breakthrough comes with ‘La ragazza con la valigia’ (Girl with a Suitcase, 1961), his most important movie and one of the best performances of Claudia Cardinale.
His meticulous eye couldn’t bear an imperfect movie, and that is why so he realised so few projects, but what he did complete are deemed masterpieces. An example is ‘Passion of Lumumba Among the Mercenaries,’ ‘Seduto alla sua destra’ (1968), that was planned as an episode of the omnibus film ‘Amore e rabbia’, but then developed into a full-length feature, using pretty much the same money budgeted for the initial 30 minute short.
Other films include ‘Le soldatesse’ (1965), ‘La prima notte di quiete’ (1972) – which was the only episode finished, the final one, of his endless project ‘Il paradiso all'ombra delle spade’….
His last movie – a transposition from Dino Buzzati’s masterpiece book – ‘Il deserto dei Tartari ‘(The Desert of the Tartars, 1976) was made at a relatively young age, 50, and then no other project of the director moved forward.
Zurlini’s work intertwines with Pietrangeli’s only because Zurlini supervised the post production of the last film by Pietrangeli, ‘Come, quando, perché’ (1969), who drowned accidentally on the very last day of shooting.
Antonio Pietrangeli actually studied medicine, but he understood soon his true love and started to work as a film critic. Pietrangeli was among those who wanted the renewal of Italian cinema, so called Neo-realism, together with Luchino Visconti and Giuseppe De Santis, but he mostly focused on writing screenplays rather than directing. When he did finally get behind the camera, he did it with ‘Fantasmi a Roma’ (1961), with Marcello Mastroianni, it is a film about human relations and about the past, always central themes in his films.
Both ‘La visita’ (1963) and ‘La parmigiana’ (1963) examine human memories and consequentially pain and sorrow.
‘lo la conoscevo bene’ (I Knew Her Well, 1965), his masterpiece, with a beautiful, young Stefania Sandrelli is all about society's moral double standards. Another sad portrait of a corrupted society is’ Lo scapolo’, 1955, with an always magnificent Alberto Sordi impersonating the loneliness of the eternal bachelor.
There have been only few other directors able to handle modern social issues with such profound psychological insight as Pietrangeli, who portrayed the cruelty of love and past memories with such poignancy.