Years ago I read something about Italian cinema in the ’80s and ’90s that I suspected was true but had no way of knowing for sure: Italian directors were making bad movies because they had too much freedom. They got funding, controlled every aspect of the project, and there was no one there to say, “This movie is terrible!”
There are plenty of terrible Hollywood movies too, but I suspect that they end up in theaters because someone who has a little too much power (cough, Adam Sandler) pushes it through and doesn’t listen to anyone. Eventually, however, people start to get tired of losing money and the megalomaniacs don’t get to make movies anymore.
Italian cinema has changed a lot in the last 20 years, for the better, and not because of the system, but because of the people. Italian directors today are heading in the right direction, but what were the catalysts for this transformation?
My first clue came from an interview with director Roberto Andò (Viva La Libertà), who told me a great story about the legendary Bernardo Bertolucci. “Bertolucci”, said Andò, “for years made beautiful films that nobody saw. It was in the moment that Bertolucci decided that he wanted an audience that he began to fill theaters, because if you don’t want an audience, then why would an audience want you?”
Could the answer be that simple? Are directors making better movies because they are trying to please us, the audience?
I say yes.
Andò told me, “Filmmakers have given up on the idea of making films with no relationship to the audience.” So what are directors doing differently to build that relationship?
After talking to dozens of Italian filmmakers, my conclusion is that they are cutting ties with the past.
I asked director Francesco Munzi (Anime Nere) what he is doing that is different from the old directors and he claims to be part of a group of filmmakers who are “looking to their grandfathers, and not their fathers”, for inspiration,trying to create something that is “somewhere between our grandfathers and the future.” He says that he wants to distance himself from the cinema of the last 30 years, to research something that interests him and make it entertaining for the audience.
The younger directors seem to have no trouble starting with a fresh slate. I asked 30-year-old director Michele Vannucci (Il Più Grande Sogno) the question I ask all directors, about what young filmmakers are doing differently from their predecessors in cinema in the ’80s and ’90s and he really couldn’t say, or maybe he just doesn’t care. He seems completely removed from that era and a filmmaker that is in the moment, bringing his own truth to cinema. When I asked him if he had any favorite Italian directors from those years he said flatly, “No.”
Young director Alberto Caviglia (Pecore In Erba) told me, “I’ve never thought about it before in those terms, especially because after having made just one film, I don’t claim to have a “personal poetry” and maybe not even I understand what I do yet. I don’t know if there is a real change from those years, the main difference I sense is an attempt to bring back the things that aren’t addressed any more, seeking to renew them and contaminate them. In this sense I believe that we are more daring.”
Daring is a good word for Italian filmmakers who dare to challenge the style of the old directors from the “Golden Era”, like the Neo-realists. And if there is freedom for today’s Italian filmmakers, it is the freedom to tell the truth in their films. “We talk about reality in our films,” director Piero Messina (L’Attesa) told me, “and they (our films) are made with little money, but we are free with the way we make them. Even with the mainstream film distributors we have a kind of freedom to produce the kind of realism that we want to.”