Saturday, October 5, 2013

RIP Carlo Lizzani

Italian neorealist film director and screenwriter who made Last Days of Mussolini, starring Rod Steiger.

John Francis Lane
The Guardian
Tuesday 15 October 2013 09.53 EDT
Carlo Lizzani, who has died aged 91, after falling from a balcony at his home, was a screenwriter and director of Italian neorealist cinema who made more than 40 feature films, as well as documentaries and television series.

His first professional experiences in the film world were as an actor, playing cameos in two powerful neorealist films: Il Sole Sorge Ancora (The Sun Still Rises, 1946), directed by Aldo Vergano; and Caccia Tragica (Tragic Hunt, 1947), Giuseppe De Santis's first feature film.

In 1947 Roberto Rossellini summoned Lizzani to Berlin where he was preparing to shoot Germania Anno Zero (Germany Year Zero). Lizzani did research with East German locals which Rossellini would find useful when the film was being made without a definitive shooting script. Lizzani said later: "Rossellini filmed the story of the boy [Edmund] as if growing up under nazism had been a plague with which he and his family had been infected and from which they had difficulty recovering. For me it was a lesson in how to make realism seem real."

His next lesson in cinema came from De Santis, who employed him as a writer on Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice, 1949), which taught him how even an erotic melodrama could have deep social significance and be popular with audiences, which most neorealist films failed to be. For Bitter Rice, he shared an Oscar nomination for best writing with De Santis.

Lizzani had an idea for a film he wanted to direct but could not find a producer prepared to take a risk on a movie about partisans in Genoa. He would make Achtung! Banditi! (Attention! Bandits!) in 1951 thanks to the enthusiasm of workers in Genoa who formed a co-operative and obtained help from the Communist party. It was a success, helped perhaps by the appealing presence of the young Gina Lollobrigida, not yet a star, in the female lead.

He was born in Rome and while at university took part in the resistance. In 1942 he joined the Communist party. He became a critic for the film journal Cinema and for the Communist party's postwar newspaper Unità. One of his first documentaries would be about the charismatic party leader Palmiro Togliatti's return to Italy from exile in the Soviet Union.

In 1953 Lizzani founded a co-operative to produce his adaptation of a novel by the Florentine writer Vasco Pratolini, Cronache di Poveri Amanti (A Tale of Poor Lovers), set in Florence in the early years of fascism and filmed superbly in black and white. The cast included Marcello Mastroianni in one of his first dramatic roles.

Lizzani never became, or aspired to be, an auteur. "I use the cinema to help me live my own life, to get to know my country and the world," he said, and was never ashamed to make popular films. He would change genre willingly, because he enjoyed experimenting. He made a zany comedy, Lo Svitato (The Screwball, 1956), with Dario Fo, then known only as a Milanese cabaret artist, who gave a scintillating performance. The film was a flop and Fo gave up his aspirations to become a movie actor.

Lizzani was commissioned to make the documentary La Muraglia Cinese (The Chinese Wall, 1958) in China, where he was disillusioned by Maoism. After the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he had left the Italian Communist party but remained a convinced leftist and rejoined when Enrico Berlinguer became party secretary in 1972 (and in 1984 Lizzani would make L'Addio a Enrico Berlinguer, a moving film about Berlinguer's funeral in the streets of Rome).

In 1960 he made Il Gobbo (The Hunchback) about an inhabitant of the slums of Rome (played by Gérard Blain) who became a hero of the resistance. In 1963 came Il Processo di Verona (The Verona Trial), one of his most appreciated films, in which Silvana Mangano gave an outstanding performance as Edda Mussolini, the dictator's daughter, married to Count Galeazzo Ciano, who was accused of betraying Il Duce and executed in 1944.

Lizzani's La Vita Agra (The Bitter Life, 1964) starred Ugo Tognazzi as a provincial anarchist entrusted with blowing up a skyscraper in Milan. After an entertaining spaghetti western, Requiescant (1967, in which Pier Paolo Pasolini played a cameo role), he directed I Banditi di Milano (Bandits in Milan, 1968), starring Gian Maria Volonté, about a terrifying bank robbery.

In 1972 Lizzani was convinced by Dino De Laurentiis to go to the US to make the mafia story Crazy Joe (1974). In return, De Laurentiis produced one of Lizzani's most impressive historical films, Mussolini Ultimo Atto (Last Days of Mussolini), in which Rod Steiger was convincing in a dramatic reconstruction of the Duce's attempt to escape to the Swiss border with his mistress Clara Petacci (Lisa Gastoni).

In 1979 Lizzani became director of the Venice film festival, which had been in the doldrums, and succeeded during his four-year term in giving it back its prestige. In 1988 he was awarded the festival's gold medal for Caro Gorbaciov (Dear Gorbachev). Lizzani was a jury member at the Berlin film festival in 1994. His last feature for the cinema was Hotel Meina (2008), another reconstruction of Nazi persecutions.

In 2007 he published an autobiography, Il Mio Lungo Viaggio nel Secolo Breve (Long Journey Through the Short Century), the title a homage to the historian Eric Hobsbawm, of whom he was a fervent admirer.

Lizzani's wife, Edith, and their two children, Francesco and Flaminia, survive him.

Born:  4/3/1922, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Died: 10/5/2013, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Carlo Lizzani’s westerns – director:
The Hills Run Red – 1967
Kill and Pray – 1967

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