Category Archives: Italian Films and Books

Films set in Italy: Tea with Mussolini

The film, Tea With Mussolini, was released in 1999 and opens in Florence in the mid-1930s. It is a semi-autobiographical story about a young boy, Luca, who grows up surrounded by a group of cultured British expatriate ladies, who go for tea every afternoon.

The film follows the lives of several characters, including Luca, Elsa, a rich Jewish-American woman from the USA, and several English women. As the decade draws on and it looks certain that Italy will join forces with Nazi Germany, one of the women has tea with Mussolini himself, who assures her that the expat community will remain safe.

The Piazza Cisterna in San Gimignano, where many of the film's scenes were shot.

The Piazza Cisterna in San Gimignano, where many of the film’s scenes were shot.

However, the remainder of the film depicts a story of deception, lies and struggle, as the characters try to overcome the problems related to being from ‘the enemy’ in a period of war. Much of the drama is set in the beautiful Tuscan town of San Gimignano, where the characters are holed up in wartime Italy.

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Italian Books: The Decameron

Written in the period of time directly after Italy had been ravaged by the plague of the Black Death, Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece of storytelling, The Decameron, follows 10 people who have escaped to a villa outside Florence to try to avoid infection.

Illustration from a ca. 1492 edition of Il Decameron published in Venice

Illustration from a ca. 1492 edition of Il Decameron published in Venice

In the garden of the villa they have escaped to, the 10 people, 7 women and 3 men, decide to tell stories to pass the time. They decide that each person has to tell one story a day over a period of 10 days, meaning that the book is split into a grand total of 100 sub-stories, and a certain theme is picked by the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of that day. The themes vary from adventures that end happily to losing something before regaining it.

Miniature by Taddeo Crivelli in a manuscript of c. 1467 from Ferrara

Miniature by Taddeo Crivelli in a manuscript of c. 1467 from Ferrara

The book has lasted the ages and can often be split into passages. Even though it is certainly a long read, at 909 pages, millions of readers throughout the ages have been delighted with its stories.

A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.

A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.

 

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Italian Films: Non Ti Muovere (Don’t Move)

The 2004 Italian film, Don’t Move (Non Ti Muovere), was first screened at the prestigious Cannes film festival and became a multiple award winner, including the prestigious David di Donatello. The film, which stars Penelope Cruz, who learnt Italian specifically for her role, could appear to be at first sight just a tale of a love triangle between two women and one man, set under the Italian sun. However, there is a lot more to the story.

Sergio Castellitto directs and stars

Sergio Castellitto directs and stars

Timoteo is the man involved, alongside Italia – an Albanian immigrant played by Penelope Cruz – and his wife, Elsa. Upon hearing the news that his daughter Angela, has suffered a serious injury in a motorbike accident, Timoteo, who is a surgeon himself, spends much of the remainder of the film  reminiscing about a memory which is sparked by him seeing a woman with red shoes on.

The red shoes remind him of Italia, who used to own a similar pair. He met her when his car broke down and followed her to his house so he could make a phone call. Timoteo tortuously fell in love with her and wanted to leave his wife for her, but, upon hearing that Elsa was pregnant, he decided to stay with her, whilst still seeing Italia when at work conferences.

Without giving too much other information away, the film focuses, using flashbacks, on relationships and how even the perfect life can be upset by passion. The surgeon is forced to confront events from his past in addition to the mortality of his own family members, whilst confronting his own past relationships, making for a brave and, at times, difficult film.

 

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Films Set in Italy: The Italian Job

One of the most significant Anglo-Italian contributions to cinema has to be the comedy caper, The Italian Job. The film, which was released in 1969, is still a firm favourite today, even spawning a 21st century Hollywood remake in 2003.

The premise for the film is revenge for the murder of Robert Beckermann, whose car explodes in a tunnel on an Alpine road. The mafia were responsible for the killing, and push Robert’s car down a gorge. Robert’s wife informs Charlie Croker – played by Michael Caine – who is a fellow thief, of her late husband’s plan to steal gold from a Fiat factory in Italy. Croker is interested in the idea and sets about gathering his team.

Michael_Caine_handprints,_Leicester_Square

Michael Caine‘s handprints on Leicester Square

The gang travel to Italy on the premise of going to Turin for a football match between England and Italy. Quickly loading the gold into three Mini Coopers, the thieves plan to escape by hacking the Turin traffic light system to cause gridlock in the city.

The Minis escape via a combination of good driving and comical policing and, with the gold in the boot, are loaded onto a moving bus via a ramp, in a high-risk manoeuvre. The bus drives off towards the Swiss-Italian border, yet, just as it seems everything has worked, the bus slips and looks as if it will career off the Alpine cliff and into the beautiful valley below. We leave our ‘heroes’ on a literal cliff-hanger, as it were, as they try to save the gold and their lives.

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Books Set in Italy: Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror is a fantasy novel set in 16th Century Italy, delving into a world of dwarves and mystery. The noble man Don Vicente de Nevada finds a mirror at the beginning of the book in a pond on his farm in Montefiore, in and amongst the rolling hills of Tuscany. Don Vicente decides to bring the mirror, which was crafted by dwarves, back to his house where he lives with his daughter Bianca de Nevada.

Lily Collins played Bianca in the 2012 film adaptation

Lily Collins played Bianca de Nevada in the 2012 film adaptation

The two live peacefully on their farm with their beloved cook and Priest and have hardly a care in the world. Yet one day a noble entourage makes the ascent to where they live, heavily interrupting their lives. The entourage includes the two children of an immoral Pope who clearly did not stick to his vows, named Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Cesare sends Don Vicente on a mission to bring back the relic of the Tree of Knowledge which he so desires, and Bianca is left in the care of Cesare and Lucrezia.

Lucrezia, who is extremely vain and jealous, plots the death of young Bianca, hoping to kill her in the woods located beneath the family farm. This however proves more difficult than imagined in a forest which seems to have eyes and ears. The story has been compared by some to Snow White, with Bianca as our hero and Lucrezia as the wicked Queen. It is extremely well written, breathing fresh life into the genre and has been one of the most popular books set in Italy ever since its release in 2003. As with many other books set in Italy, it was made into a film in 2012 starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins.

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Books Set in Italy: A Soldier of the Great War

The latest on our series of books set in Italy, Mark Helprin’s novel, “A Soldier of the Great War”, inspects how war can overshadow the rest of your life. The story follows Alessandro Giuliani from a noble Roman family, who, as a young man, climbed the Italian Alps and rode horses across the countryside. He had even fallen in love while studying at the University of Bologna before the Great War intervened.

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Depiction of the Battle of Doberdò, fought in August 1916 between the Italian and the Austro-Hungarian armies.

The book takes us on the journey from the perspective of an older Alessandro, who is retelling the story of his life to a travelling companion in 1964. The book reflects on love and loss and Italy during the war. Alessandro was serving in the North, but was sent to Sicily to search for deserters. Alessandro became a deserter himself and was sent to prison. The story follows what he has learnt over the course of his lifetime and shows how war can change a person’s outlook irrevocably.

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Books Set in Italy: The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Today in our series of books set in Italy, we bring you Paolo Giordano’s first novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers. Published in 2008, it has since sold more than a million copies globally, winning him the prestigious Italian writers’ award, the Premio Strega.

The story focuses on the lives of two characters, Alice, who was left physically scarred by a skiing accident, and Mattia, who lost his disabled twin sister in the park when he abandoned her for a friend’s birthday party. Both were aged 8 when the events occurred, and as teenagers, the two are lonely at school as they struggle with their past. The author uses the metaphor of ‘prime numbers’ – always alone – to describe them, yet Alice and Mattia become close, although their relationship never becomes romantic.

Later, Mattia, who is a budding mathematician, is offered a job which takes him miles away from Alice and the two appear to have lost touch until Alice sees someone who she thinks could be Mattia’s lost sister.

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Books Set in Italy: Eat, Pray, Love

You might not recognise this as one of the books set in Italy, but we are glad to say you’d be wrong! The book follows an American woman who, unhappy with her marriage and career, decides to embark on a voyage to discover happiness which covers Italy, India and Indonesia. While the praying happens in India, and she falls in love in Indonesia, the first part of the book, ‘eat’, is based in Italy – where else could it have been – where the main character lands in Rome. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who intends to learn how to speak Italian, falls in love with the food in the country and spends her time sampling the best that Italian cuisine has to offer.

Upon arrival in the Italian capital, the author makes three Italian friends who teach her the language and how to enjoy life whilst doing nothing. She also manages to fall in love with one of the most important parts of the food culture, the gelato, memorably even managing to eat it for breakfast. As the author discovers from a local bus driver, the best place to eat ice cream is Il Gelato di San Crispino, which has several branches throughout Rome and many different flavours to test.

Julia Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert in the 2010 film version of the film

Julia Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert in the 2010 film version of the film

As Italian introduced the expression ‘la dolce vita’, it is not difficult to imagine why the Italian phase of the trip is all about rediscovering enjoyment for the author. After all, what better place to revive a lust for life than with the pleasures that Italy has to offer? Like many others before her, the author is sad to leave Italy behind when the time comes to move onto the next stage of her journey.

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Films set in Italy: Manuale d’Amore

Italy is often thought of as one of the most romantic countries on earth, and with cities such as Venice and Rome, it is not difficult to see why this is the case. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the 2005 comedy film Manuale d’amore (Manual of Love), was set in the Italian capital, following four intertwined couples in different chapters, in a similar vein to the British film, Love Actually.

Goffredo (Carlo Verdone) is a rich doctor abandoned by his wife

Goffredo (Carlo Verdone) is a rich doctor abandoned by his wife

The first in a trilogy of films by the same director, Giovanni Veronesi, Manuale d’amore allows us to peek into the world of four different couples who are at very different stages of their relationships. The story tries to show the possible cycle of love.

First off is our new couple, who demonstrate the process of dating and falling in love to the audience. Another couple are in crisis and are looking at a possible divorce. The third couple are dealing with the fallout from the husband having an affair, as his wife is out looking for revenge, while the fourth couple shows a wealthy doctor trying to cope with being abandoned by his wife.

The film shows how each couple manage their relationship and is a light-hearted look at love and life with stories which resonate slightly more deeply than might appear on first viewing. The motion picture also shows a variety of different shots of the capital, and it is clear to see how people can fall in and out of love so easily in such a beautiful location.

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Films Shot in Italy: Lords of London (Lost in Italy)

There are perhaps too few Anglo-Italian collaborations when it comes to film. The first one that springs to mind is the Italian Job starring Michael Caine, which showed some of the stunning scenery of the Alps, even if our heroes were dangling on the edge of a cliff. 2013 saw the premiere of another one, Lords of London (originally called Lost in Italy), which is a gangster film with Ray Winstone as one of the main stars. The film received a good response at its premiere at the Cannes film festival in 2013.

Lords of London

Lords of London is one of the latest films shot in Italy. The film tells the story of a man who wakes up in a beautiful country in 1954 and has absolutely no idea why he is in Italy. The film has become something of a cult classic and has won awards for its cast at the Abruzzo Film Festival in Italy and as best film in the ‘World’ category at the New York Hell’s Kitchen Film Festival. The film was shot in both the South of England as well as Italy, in Palombaro in the Abruzzo region. Abruzzo is located to the East of Rome and is one of the most tranquil areas in Italy, so it would appear the perfect place to shoot a film set in the 1950s.

Lords of London, originally titled Lost in Italy, will be available from January 2014 on DVD and is the perfect way to see some of the beautiful scenery that the Abruzzo region has to offer, even if the film itself has a gritty subject!

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