Italian Cinema of the 1960s: Comedy and Social Drama

Italian cinema in the 1960s was blessed with an enormous amount of talent, ranging from the high modernism of Antonioni’s art cinema to the popular interventions of Leone in the Western genre. One group of filmmakers have, however, been somewhat overlooked in discussion. This is those filmmakers who tended to deal with more specifically Italian concerns, such as internal migration from the south to the north and the clash between age-old mores and the contemporary world into which millions had suddenly been thrown. With this mini-season we celebrate the work of some of these directors, including Pietro Germi, Alberto Lattauda and Mario Monicelli.

Divorce Italian Style

Pietro Germi | Italy | 1961 | 104 minutes

Baron Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni) longs to marry his nubile young cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), but one obstacle stands in his way: his fatuous and fawning wife, Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). His solution? Since divorce is illegal, he hatches a plan to lure his spouse into the arms of another and then murder her in a justifiable effort to save his honour. Pietro Germi’s hilarious and cutting satire of Sicilian male-chauvinist culture, winner of the 1962 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Il posto

Ermanno Olmi | Italy | 1961 | 93 minutes

When young Domenico (Sandro Panseri) ventures from the small village of Meda to Milan in search of employment, he finds himself on the bottom rung of the bureaucratic ladder in a huge, faceless company. The prospects are daunting, but Domenico finds reason for hope in the fetching Antonietta (Loredana Detto). A tender coming-of-age story and a sharp observation of dehumanizing corporate enterprise, Ermanno Olmi’s Il posto is a touching and hilarious tale of one young man’s stumbling entrance into the perils of modern adulthood.

Mafioso

Alberto Lattuada | Italy | 1962 | 102 minutes

In Alberto Lattuada’s brilliant dark comedy Mafioso, auto-factory foreman Nino (Alberto Sordi) takes his proper, modern wife (Norma Bengell) and two blonde daughters from industrial Milan to antiquated, rural Sicily to visit his family and get back in touch with his roots. But Antonio gets more than he bargained for when he discovers some harsh truths about his ancestors—and himself. One of the first Italian films to look frankly at the Mafia, Lattuada’s devastatingly funny character study is equal parts culture-clash farce and existential nightmare.

The Organiser

Mario Monicelli | Italy | 1963 | 130 minutes

In turn-of-the-twentieth-century Turin, an accident in a textile factory incites workers to stage a walkout. But it’s not until they receive unexpected aid from a traveling professor (Marcello Mastroianni) that they find their voice, unite, and stand up for themselves. This historical drama by Mario Monicelli, brimming with humor and honesty, is a beautiful and moving ode to the power of the people, and features engaging, naturalistic performances; cinematography by the great Giuseppe Rotunno; and a multilayered, Oscar-nominated screenplay by Monicelli, Agenore Incrocci, and Furio Scarpelli.

Seduced and Abandoned

Pietro Germi | Italy | 1964 | 117 minutes

Shotgun weddings, kidnapping, attempted murder, emergency dental work—the things Don Vincenzo will do to restore his family’s honor! Pietro Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned was the follow-up to his international sensation Divorce Italian Style, and in many ways it’s even more audacious—a rollicking yet raw series of escalating comic calamities that ensue in a small village when sixteen-year-old Agnese (the beautiful Stefania Sandrelli) loses her virginity at the hands of her sister’s lascivious fiance. Merciless and mirthful, Seduced and Abandoned skewers Sicilian social customs and pompous patriarchies with a sly, devilish grin.

Fists in the Pocket

Marco Bellocchio | Italy | 1965 | 108 minutes

Tormented by twisted desires, a young man takes drastic measures to rid his grotesquely dysfunctional family of its various afflictions in this astonishing 1965 debut from Marco Bellocchio. Charged by a coolly assured style, shocking perversity, and savage gallows humor, Fists in the Pocket was a gleaming ice pick in the eye of bourgeois family values and Catholic morality, a truly unique work that continues to rank as one of the great achievements of Italian cinema.