The Italian cinema, since its dawn, made it clear that it was here to stay. Despite the challenging conditions Italy was going through, Italian films still kept on bedazzling with their stories and cinematic techniques.
The early days of Italian films may have gifted the world with some masterpieces, setting the tone for a long time in the history of Italian cinema. However, the following years, especially the 1970s, fundamentally shaped the history of Italian films.
From the protests of 1968 to the Years of Lead, the 1970s marked a turning point in Italian politics, culture, and cinema. The years of protest, demonstrations, and hardship have resulted in the presentation of one of the most memorable eras in the history of Italian films. In fact, the new generation of directors who turned out to mark the history of this art-house cinema belongs to this period.
In the mythical 1970s, Italian films also made their important contribution to the cause, dealing with themes that were new to society at the time, making the audience dream and confront their reality. Coming up next, we remember the best Italian films from the 1970s.
Sacco & Vanzetti by Giuliano Montaldo (1971)
Based on the actual events of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti that took place in the 1920s, the film follows the story of the two Italian immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti, who were unjustly accused of robbery and murder. Despite the defence presenting evidence of their innocence, the two got sentenced to death!
The sentence caused quite a stir because it seemed more related to the political beliefs of the two defendants, who were anarchists than to an actual crime.
The film features Gian Maria Volonté and Riccardo Cucciolla in the leading roles. Cucciolla won the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Actor Award for playing the role of Nicola Sacco.
Duck, You Sucker! (Giù la Testa) by Sergio Leone (1971)
Released in 1971, it is the last film of Sergio Leone’s western period and the second film of the “Once Upon a Time Trilogy “. The other two are Once Upon a Time in the West (C’era una volta il West) (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (C’era una volta in America) (1984).
Set in the period of the Mexican Revolution of 1916, the film follows the story of an outlaw who teams up with a former I.R.A (Irish Republican Army) as they rebel against the government and end up being heroes of the revolution!
The film stars an exceptional cast with Hollywood stars Rod Steiger, James Coburn, and Romolo Valli. The film also features the soundtrack of the great Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack, who is considered one of the most legendary composers ever. In fact, his music completed the picture perfectly.
Last Tango in Paris by Bernardo Bertolucci (1972)
Last Tango in Paris remains, to this day, an unmatched blend of form and content. There is no other film that shows the impetuous staging of an impossible, self-destructive and savage elaboration of loss like this film. Marlon Brando gave all of himself to play the character of the vibrant and sensual Paul.
The film is considered one of the most scandalous Italian films ever due to the strong emotional impact caused by the numerous erotic scenes. The controversial film earned Marlon Brando an Academy Award for Best Actor nomination, and Bernardo Bertolucci also received an Academy Award nomination as Best Director as well!
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, who also collaborated on the screenplay, the film follows the story of 45-year-old Paul (Marlon Brando), an American businessman who moved to Paris after the death of his wife. Paul is not handling the death of his wife very well, and he seems to have lost all reasons to live! However, things change when he meets 20-year-old Jeanne (Maria Schneider). They both meet in a flat, which the two happen to be interested in renting, and that is when a fatal attraction is sparked!
Film d’amore e d’anarchia (Love and Anarchy) by Lina Wertmüller (1973)
Film d’amore e d’anarchia follows an impossible love affair between a female escort with a heart of gold and a farmer who came to Rome to assassinate Benito Mussolini, the reason behind the death of his best friend.
The film is one of the best works filmmaker Lina Wertmüller did, and it was headlined by Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini. The intense, passionate and ultimately moving film earned Giancarlo Giannini his Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor.
Amarcord (I Remember) by Federico Fellini (1973)
Released in 1973, the film is a semi-autobiography by Federico Fellini. It tells the story of young Titta, Fellini’s alter ego, and his family in Fascist Italy in the 1930s, following a succession of simple but significant episodes of his life.
The main actors in Amarcord are Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brangia, and of course, the unforgettable Ciccio Ingrassia as the mad uncle. The film scored many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
We All Loved Each Other So Much (C’eravamo Tanto Amati) by
Ettore Scola (1974)
C’eravamo Tanto Amati tells the story of three former comrades who were very close during wartime. Now that the war has ended, the three friends meet to catch up after a long time. However, as the story unfolds, they realise how much has changed, including their beliefs and perspectives in life; nevertheless, they All Loved Each Other So Much!
The film was released in 1974, featuring a star-studded cast with Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Stefania Sandrelli, Stefano Satta Flores, Giovanna Ralli and Aldo Fabrizi. The film by Ettore Scola is halfway between Italian comedy and socially committed cinema; it is a bitter fresco (fresh) presentation of Italy in the early decades.
Fantozzi by Luciano Salce (1975)
This is one of the finest Italian films ever! The film is based on Paolo Villaggio’s book of the same name. Paolo wrote the screenplay and played the unfortunate protagonist Ugo Fantozzi. The accountant Ugo Fantozzi, perpetually pursued by bad luck, tries to survive life as an employee of a large company, experiencing a continuous series of comic and unfortunate events.
Director Luciano Salce staged the satirical and surreal cross-section of Italian society at the time with sharp and ruthless attention to detail. Fantozzi was a contradictory and irresistible presentation of hypocrisy, good feelings, pride, and ineptitude.
Paolo Villaggio presented a legendary performance with this character. He and Luciano Salce gave life with this film to the first chapter of an extended Italian films series dedicated to Fantozzi, one of the most popular characters ever.
Amici Miei (My Friends) by Mario Monicelli (1975)
Amici Miei is a1975-film by Mario Monicelli that narrates the pranks, better known as ‘zingarate’ (meaning gipsy shenanigans), of a group of five inseparable Florentine friends. They like to live their lives this way, as they really don’t want to grow old and stop having fun.
In the film, we follow Count Mascetti (Ugo Tognazzi), architect Melandri (Gastone Moschin), journalist Perozzi (Philippe Noiret), bar owner Necchi (Dulio Del Prete) and surgeon Sassaroli (Adolfo Celi). One of their favourite victims is the pensioner Righi (Bernard Blier).
Like so many Italian films by the great Monicelli, although Amici Miei has a comic tone, it actually conceals a bitter aftertaste underneath. It is no wonder that it ends with Perozzi dying of a heart attack! The Italian comedy classic was the first of a trilogy; Amici Miei Atto II (1982), directed by Monicelli, and Amici Miei Atto III (1985), directed by Nanni Loy.
Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) by Dario Argento (1975)
Although the Horror genre is mainly linked to the American Cinema, Italy too has written important horror works thanks to the maestro Dario Argento. Released in 1975, Deep Red deals with the story of a jazz pianist involved, against his will, in a chain of heinous murders that he stubbornly undertakes to solve with the help of a ditzy journalist.
The film includes David Hemmings as the pianist Marcus Daly, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Eros Pagni and, in a striking cameo, the 1930s-1940s diva Clara Calamai.
Horse Fever (Febbre Da Cavallo) by Steno (1976)
Told in flashbacks, Horse Fever follows the story of three friends, Mandrake, Pomata and Felice, whose lives revolve around the world of horse racing and betting.
Gigi Proietti, Francesco De Rosa and Enrico Montesano star in this top-rated Italian comedy directed by a master of the genre, Steno. The film was among the films screened during the retrospective on Italian comedy tribute at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.
A Special Day (Una Giornata Particolare) by Ettore Scola (1977)
Set during Hitler’s visit to Rome on 3 May 1938, in a semi-deserted building in a crowded Roman neighbourhood, a simple housewife, a stereotype of the mother-servant symbol of fascism, and a man who does not attend the gathering, meet by chance. It is a presentation of a non-story of love between two lonely souls who are lost.
Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni have never been so in tune in showing the pain, loneliness, and misery of those left behind, staying at home while many are on the street celebrating the parade of the Special Day. The masterpiece, directed by the brilliant Ettore Scola, received numerous nominations at prestigious awards ceremonies like the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, where it won Best Foreign Language Film.
The Best Italian Films from the 1980s
The 1980s was one of the least exciting periods in Italian films’ history due to the famous crisis created by private TV and home video. However, some gems have survived, embodying the allure of classic Italian 80s!
Many classic Italian films from the 1980s are engraved in the public’s memory and deserve to be rediscovered by audiences of all ages. These Italian films have taught a great deal to the world and today’s filmmakers, and despite the brutal nature of the 1980s, the decade witnessed the birth of the masterpieces of some of the most renowned authors, which we will find out next!
The Terrace (La Terrazza) by Ettore Scola (1980)
The film follows the course of a social evening taking place on a Roman terrace, where several characters talk about their lives and experiences. This peculiar group of people, whose stories intertwine, are united by their age and work in the world of communication. Ettore Scola’s The Terrace stars an all-star cast, including household names like Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman and Ugo Tognazzi.
Bianco, Rosso e Verdone by Carlo Verdone (1981)
What could be more iconic when it comes to 1980s Italian films than this comedy of unforgettable characters by Carlo Verdone, the legendary Furio Zoccano, in particular?
Bianco, Rosso e Verdone is, still until today, one of Carlo Verdone’s best-loved Italian films thanks to the shrewdness of its characters that speak of the vices and virtues of the 1980s Italy, from the ups and downs of the naive Mimmo to those of the jinxed Pasquale and the pedantic Furio.
The film follows three dramatically opposed characters, who present three different types of Italian citizens as they go back to their hometowns to vote on election day. It sounds like a typical, simple day, right? But it was so not like that to them!
Dog and Cat (Cane e Gatto) by Bruno Corbucci (1983)
Tony Roma (Tomas Milian), an Italian American playboy, singer and dancer, is also a thief who lures rich women to rob them of jewellery and other valuables. However, he ends up stealing the wife of an important politician, conspiring with the Mafia.
On his trail is police lieutenant Alan Parker (Bud Spencer), who always manages to catch Tony bringing him to justice. In the meantime, Tony manages to escape until he winds up being an eyewitness to a Mafia murder and ends up being an ally of the police instead of a wanted man.
The film was shot between Italy and Florida, and it brings together two icons of the 1970s and 1980s Italian American cinema, Tomas Milian and Bud Spencer. Focusing on how polar opposites, the film’s plot is the continuous chase between the two, Dog and Cat, offering one of the most classic guard and thief scenarios.
Once Upon a Time in America (C’era una volta in America) by Sergio Leone (1984)
With Once Upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone ended his career on a high note. The film is an unrivalled crime epic, which continues to be unsurpassed, so much so that it is considered by audiences and critics alike to be one of the most beautiful films of all time.
Featuring Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jennifer Connelly, Once Upon a Time in America is one of the best Italian films in history!
The film follows the story of a Jewish gangster returning to the city he once ruled, the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Throughout the film, he takes us on a journey down memory lane that’s full of friendship, love, betrayal, violence, and remorse.
Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) by Giuseppe Tornatore (1988)
Without Cinema Paradiso, no list of the best Italian films from the 80s would be complete! The film is set two years after World War II, in the Sicilian village of Ciancaldo, where cinema is the only entertainment. It is run by a local parish priest, who offers Italian and American films to the public after censorship cuts. Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) is the projectionist who works on editing the films; he is also the one who introduces Salvatore (Totò Cascio) to the projection machine and its secrets.
Salvatore is a curious ten-year-old boy, his father has disappeared in Russia, and his favourite activity is going to the cinema. Back in the village, and now an adult, Salvatore sets foot again in the cinema he used to go to as a child, but Alfredo is no longer there!
The film was released in 1988 and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, tackling the crisis that Italian cinema was going through in that decade. Giuseppe Tornatore’s coming-of-age drama has gone down in history as a classic and genuine evidence of the Italian film’s brilliance!
Just like in the early days, Italian films from the 1970s and 1980s are noteworthy for being watched repeatedly. The above-mentioned Italian films from the 70s and 80s, along with many other films, helped change the course of Italian films’ history, leaving us with some of the best films in the world!