5. Mediterraneo (1991)
The film is set in 1941, when an Italian army patrol is shipped to a Greek island; cut off from the world for three years, the soldiers forget the war and become familiar with the locals, finally forgetting their real home altogether.
The director Gabriele Salvatores, in a eulogy to rebellion, dedicated the film “to all those who are fleeing” and draws inspiration from a line by Henri Laborit: “In times like these, escape is the only way to stay alive and continue to dream.”
In one regard, the movie wants to be a criticism of the futility of war and to provide a peaceful reinterpretation of history; yet, at the same time, the film expresses disillusionment with the dreams and dashed hopes of postwar Italy. In this sense the finale is highly thematic, as the protagonists meet each other after many years on the island, disappointed by Italy and united by their memory of the happy years together.
But the real strength of the film is its characters, a diverse group of men that don’t seem soldiers at all, each with a different story to tell. They are human, each with their own memories, loves and homesickness, and not even a catastrophe like war will change them.
This is the utopian message by director Salvatores, who with “Mediterraneo” closes a trilogy (together with “Marrakech Express” and “Turnè”) that has shaped the history of modern Italian cinema.
4. The Consequences of Love (2004)
“Do not undervalue the consequences of love.” This is the sentence that Titta Di Girolamo, the protagonist of the film, writes in a notebook after meeting Sofia, the girl that somehow will change his life. Titta has lived for eight years in a hotel in Lugano, Switzerland, and leads a kind of double life.
By all appearances, he does nothing, is divorced with three children who do not speak to him, suffers from insomnia, and spends his days in the lobby of the hotel. But in actuality he is working on behalf of the Mafia, taking advantage of his clean record to deposit money in Swiss banks.
The film, which is shrouded in a constant melancholy, eventually makes us realize that there are many Tittas among us: people who live behind a mask and who are isolated from the rest of the world to avoid looking inside themselves and to avoid the consequences of love. They are the ones we fear most because they are the most human and passionate.
Paolo Sorrentino directs this, his second movie, and displays continuous professional growth but keeps his style slow, poetic and melancholic, a style that also characterizes “The Great Beauty”.
Toni Servillo does an impressive job enacting the inner rebellion of his character through his expressions and silence rather than with words. The final scene is like a punch in the gut, and it leaves the viewer petrified, due especially to its suddenness after the slow development of the narrative plot.
3. Life is Beautiful (1997)
Guido, a young, Jewish lover of life and poetry, moves to Arezzo with his friend Ferruccio to find work. He gets hired as a waiter and soon falls in love with Dora, a teacher betrothed to the fascist Rodolfo. With his characteristic exuberance and joy, Guido manages to win over the reluctant schoolteacher and marry her. Six years later, Guido is deported to a Nazi concentration camp with his son, the little Joshua, and his wife.
This is the beginning of the tragic adventure of a father who masks the entire grim experience of imprisonment behind the facade of an exciting, point-based game in order to protect his child from reality.
If the staging by director Roberto Benigni is very simple and traditional, the selection of the script, on the other hand, is innovative and magnificent; the basic idea is to represent an unthinkable theme, the abuse of human life in the concentration camps, in a manner that reflects on its particular unspeakable nature.
In fact, no logic could explain to a child why he has been imprisoned in a Nazi camp, so it makes sense to turn the process into a big game. In this manner, Benigni avoids making a generic film and can portray the folly and madness of extermination in an unconventional way.
The magic of this story is that it reminds us that, despite everything, life is worth living. We can perhaps learn from the healthy energy of the great Benigni himself, who went wild upon receiving his Oscar and demonstrated that spontaneity is often a winning trait in life, just as it is in cinema.
2. The Last Emperor (1987)
Crowned in 1906 at the age of three years, Pu Yi is the last emperor of China, which in 1912 will be transformed into a republic. After the invasion by the Japanese, he becomes a puppet under their control, and this is the beginning of his decline. Held captive for five years in Russia, will be forced into ten years of “rehabilitation” by the Maoist government. He will ultimately end his days working as a gardener in what was once his palace.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci wanted to shoot a simultaneously intimate and large-scale film which focuses on a son, separated from his mother at an early age, who spends his life moving from one prison to another (whether ideological or physical). The film garnered public acclaim and international praise (earning nine Oscars), both for its wonderful storytelling and for a flawless historical reconstruction.
Visually, the impact is in the depiction of the Forbidden City with its vast spaces and 9,999 rooms. This was a huge prison designed to isolate the emperor from society and the common people, who would even have to turn their back in his presence to avoid looking him in the face.
There is a great performance by John Lone, who is extraordinary in his role and is able to powerfully portray the tormented protagonist’s complex psychology.
1. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Salvatore, a successful but unsatisfied director, spends a sleepless night reminiscing on his childhood and youth in a village in Sicily, where the old projectionist Alfredo taught him a love for cinema. But today the village has changed, Alfredo has died, and the cinema where he worked has fallen into disrepair.
Cinema Paradiso is a reflection on the history and customs of Italy, as seen from the central setting of a movie house in a provincial town. Most of all, the film is a memory of the old ways of life and of making cinema, rooted in the European method that has been lost in the world of Hollywood.
Tornatore sings an ode to cinema as a popular art, capable of filling not only theaters but people’s lives. The spectator can practically sense the smoke and the sweaty, crowded spaces, thanks to the story of a friendship that is cemented by a common passion for film.
If “The Legend of 1900” was the most American film on the list, this is perhaps the most Italian of all, but still received many international awards (Oscar and Palme d’Or at Cannes). It is reminiscent of Fellini’s “Amarcord”, as the film grabs you and draws you into its story, with the help of Morricone’s great bombastic score.
Author Bio: Sebastiano graduated in Humanities and is attending a degree in Economics for Arts and Culture. He is interested in art and film ratings, and is a regular follower of Venice Film Festival.