This article originally appeared in
May 16, 2006
Italian films feeling momentum
By ERIC J. LYMAN
ROME -- Italian films, for years maligned even in their own country, are enjoying a
renaissance, with boxoffice booming and critical accolades rolling in.
According to Italian cinema monitoring company Cinetel, some 34% of Italian boxoffice
receipts in the first four months of this year have come from Italian films, compared
with 23% for all of 2005 and less than 15% in most years.
Figures have been buoyed by such commercial successes as Carlo Verdone's "My
Best Enemy," Fausto Brizzi's "Night Before Finals," Nanni Moretti's "The Caiman,"
Michele Placido's "Crime Novel," and Cristina Comencini's "Don't Tell" — all of which
have raked in more than €5 million ($6.4 million). "My Best Enemy" heads the pack,
approaching €20 million ($25.7 million) in ticket sales.
Italian television tells a similar tale of local success: Some estimates are that four out
of five films shown during primetime on national networks are Italian, compared with
an estimated one in five or less a decade ago.
Italian productions are garnering critical acclaim abroad too. Earlier this year "Don't
Tell" was the first Italian film nominated for the foreign-language Oscar since Roberto
Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" won seven years earlier. And films from Italy will have a
strong presence at the Festival de Cannes, including two movies In Competition.
"Italian cinema just seems to have woken up after a long slumber," says Paolo Ferrari,
head of Warner Brothers-Italia and the newly elected president of the Italian
Association of Cinematographic Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries. "There are a lot
of factors in play, but once it gets started, the newfound quality feeds on itself. It
inspires more quality."
The industry is still a long way from its heyday after World War II and lasting until the
1970s, when it was often a trend-setting business dominated by revolutionary
directors like Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo
Pasolini. But most observers agree momentum is improving.
According to industry insiders, seeds for the ongoing rebirth of Italian films were laid
in the late 1990s by a series of new laws backed by then-Minister of Culture Walter
Veltroni (now the mayor of Rome and one of the key backers of the Rome Film
Festival, which will debut in the fall).
Among the changes were rules that made it easier for new production houses to
open and others that required such TV networks as RAI and Mediaset to increase
spending on films. Those laws, combined with later cutbacks in government backing
for film production, gave the private sector a larger role.
Additionally, several Italian regions have developed funding programs that encourage
directors to locate parts of their projects in those regions, a process that some say
leads to more ambitious — and often better-written — scripts.
On the artistic side, privately produced films are freer to touch upon controversial
topics than those partially funded by the state. Moretti's "The Caiman," which takes
jabs at the business career of outgoing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is only
the latest such project.
"Films produced under the auspices of the state never have the same creativity,
intelligence and originality that private projects have," Riccardo Tozzi, president of
Cattleya production studios, says.
"It wasn't too long ago that when Italians would see an Italian film showing they would
avoid it on purpose," Tozzi says. "Now I think most Italians seek Italian films out."
According to Massimo Amici, an Italo-Canadian director and head of Acaluma
production studios, the change in viewership patterns is a key factor.
"It takes time to (lure audiences back). The quality and variety of Italian films has been
improving for years, but the change is really gathering momentum now because
moviegoers are realizing that there is a lot of good stuff coming out," Amici says.
Most insiders predict the current trend will have legs, as many of the newest
generation of directors — such as Paolo Sorrentino, who along with Moretti will be
flying the Italian flag at Cannes — are only in their 30s. It also is helped by the fact that
there seems to be more money in the sector than there has been for years.
"Provided that the laws are not reversed to the way they were before, I think this new
trend will last," Tozzi says. "The talent in Italy has always been there, and now it has
the freedom and the resources to reveal itself."
But some are less sure, taking a more philosophical view of Italian cinema's recent
"I'm always cautious when people talk about the rebirth of Italian film because many
are the same people who talked about a crisis in the past," says Claudio Trionfera,
director of communications for film distribution giant Medusa. "Depending on the
perspective, Italian films are always in crisis, always being reborn. There is a strong
period going on right now, but nobody can know the future."