Friday, June 14, 2013

Risate di Gioia / The Passionate Thief

Lemmenvaras. IT 1960. D: Mario Monicelli. Based on Racconte romani by Alberto Moravia. This print ran 106 min. A Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna print viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu with e-subtitles in English, Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival), 14 June 2013

A Gian Luca Farinelli masterclass with consecutive interpretation into Finnish by Elina Suolahti

From the Festival Catalogue: "The Passionate Thief by Mario Monicelli (1915-2010), one of the great masters of Commedia all'italiana who visited Sodankylä in1994, is a brilliant choice for one's screening list just because it is, uncannily, the only screen encounter of Totò and Anna Magnani - the two captivating superstars of Italian cinema! One can only guess at the reasons because the two friends often worked together on the stage. Perhaps the production crowd were inclined to consider that casting two box-office magnets for the same projects would be overdoing it?"   "Gioia “Tortorella” Fabbricotti (Magnani) is an underemployed run-of-the-mill film extra, Umberto “Infortunio” Pennazzuto (Totò) an unemployed and unlucky veteran actor, and Lello (Ben Gazzara) a young and virile pickpocket. The paths of the three cross during the New Year chaos that creates an excellent setting for both crime and romance. Besides the glamorous, glittering flurry of festivities in the prosperous salons, the magnificent (we are treated to a freshly restored top quality print!) the black-and-white cinematography also reflects many scenes of nocturnal Rome. Even at the Fontana di Trevi witnesses - only some months after Fellini's more famous contribution - a passionate nighttime incident."
   "The scriptwriting department - the story is based on two stories by Alberto Moravia - also employs the best forces in the land; besides Monicelli himself, both the legendary Age & Scarpelli team as well as Suso Cecchi d'Amico, whose filmography contains an amazing number of the top titles of Italian cinema."
   "Still, Monicelli's film is a supreme celebration above all because of its two leading stars. Wearing a blonde wig, Magnani as usual uninhibitedly puts in all her soul, her charisma, and her built-in pandemonium to serve the silver screen, and Totò shines in his older years' mode as the sorrowful clown where one can, even amidst the laughs, always sense a touch of authentic despair."
(Lauri Timonen)

Peter von Bagh on Gian Luca Farinelli: "If the world's film archives are a solar system with increasing influence on the significant presentation of films, then Gian Luca Farinelli, the head of the Bologna film archive, is one of its centres of gravity, perhaps even the most important one of the moment. His archive and its laboratory are an important centre for the restoration work that is crucial for the preservation of film culture. The Chaplin estate entrusted them with the new prints of the master's works, and Bologna also houses the archives of Pasolini, Scorsese, and many other masters. The archive's publishing output - both in the form of books as well as DVDs - is broad: the activity forms a whole where working within the city and the surrounding province on the one hand and internationally on the other are inseparably one. The festival Il Cinema Ritrovato, which in June and July gathers together the world's leading film experts, archivists, historians and critics to view unknown and rarely seen film treasures, began in 1988 when both founders, Farinelli and Niccola Mazzanti, were in their twenties - a prime example of how film history has often been made by the very young, and on the other hand, of how many initiatives in film culture can be as important as the best films. A recent example of Bologna's restorative work is The Passionate Thief (Risate di Gioia, 1960), a masterpiece by Mario Monicelli - a director of importance to the archive, and a Sodankylä guest." (PvB)

The Festival website on the Masterclass with Gian Luca Farinelli: "As the subject of his Friday Master Class at the Midnight Sun Film Festival, Gian Luca Farinelli had chosen Mario Monicelli’s The Passionate Thief (Risate di Gioia, 1960). Farinelli is the director of Bologna’s film archive and this is his first time at the Midnight Sun Film Festival."

"Monicelli is a pioneer of Italian comedy films. Set in Rome, The Passionate Thief revolves around three characters: movie extra Tortorella (Anna Magnani), unemployed actor Umberto (Totò) and pickpocket Lello (Ben Gazzara). The three characters keep pumping into each other in various situations and dazzling parties on New Year’s Eve."

"According to Farinelli, The Passionate Thief has retained its power to amaze the viewer. He especially praised the fine acting in the film. Monicelli was a master at working with actors, Farinelli said. There were a lot of actors whose careers were greatly influenced by Monicelli. Gazzara, for instance, was considered more of a tragedian before The Passionate Thief, but Monicelli was able to see his comedic side.

"Monicelli also discussed Totò, whom he considers one of Italy’s greatest actors. “Totò represents something that runs deep in the tradition of Italian performing. On one hand, seeing Totò act is like watching a documentary about a farce, but on the other hand there is something very tragic and mysterious about his humour.” Totò was an extremely popular theatre actor before Monicelli introduced him to movie-goers. “After seeing The Passionate Thief, Pasolini realized Totò’s movie star potential and cast him in Hawks and Sparrows (1966).”"

"Magnani was very pleased to get an opportunity to act in a Monicelli film, but he didn’t like acting alongside Totò, who reminded him of his own period in variety theatre. Still, Farinelli thinks there are some absolutely wonderful scenes in the film especially between Totò and Magnani: “It is like watching traditional variety theatre.”

"Magnani was a son of a socialist, and he himself was also one. His journalist father wrote openly about the fascists’ wrongdoings, which led to the father being beaten up while his small son was present. “His whole life Monicelli strived to make films that would benefit Italy, which was being torn apart by contrasting factions,” Farinelli told the audience. In his films Monicelli attempted to show how Italy has repeatedly been led to the brink of destruction by crooks and villains. “Monicelli realizes this depiction in his movies in an extremely disciplined but very enjoyable fashion.” Farinelli discussed Monicelli’s fantastic ability to express tragedy in a comedy. The tragic veins in his films make it possible to deepen the characters’ attributes and humanity.

"Before The Passionate Thief, Farinelli showed Daniele Ciprì’s and Franco Maresco’s short film A Silvio. Ciprì and Maresco hold Monicelli in high regard and according to Farinelli the “monsters” in their films can be seen as direct descendants of Monicelli’s characters.
" (The Festival website)

Further notes, by me:

Gian Luca Farinelli's introduction was excellent. Besides the remarks above he highlighted Mario Monicelli as "one of the great directors of the golden age of Italian cinema with works such as I soliti ignoti, La grande guerra, and Amici miei. He had the talent to get together an incredible cast, he was a master in casting, even to the point of directing career-changing performances."

"For instance Vittorio Gassman was known as a dramatic actor in Shakespearean roles for Luchino Visconti et al, an actor in the grande teatro di traditione. In Monicelli's direction there was the revelation of an extraordinary comedian."

"Monicelli combined for the first time Magnani and Totò - the greatest Italian actor. Ben Gazzara, from Actors Studio, had apparently nothing in common with them. He had done some alert roles for Otto Preminger, for instance. But together they were a terrific trio."

"Magnani had distanced herself from the tradition of the variety, and she had little desire to go back, having been the muse of Rossellini in L'amore, and having made an important Hollywood career."

"With Totò we go deep into the Italian culture of performance - it is like watching a documentary on the history of farce - going back to ancient Rome, Plautus - into something profound, tragic, mystic, and eternal. He was enormously successful in variety. No director before Monicelli really grasped his resources. The true breakthrough was Totò i Carolina, Monicelli's debut film as a solo director, the most censored film in the history of Italy."

"With Magnani Monicelli needed to work. He had to detach the mental structure Magnani had acquired in Hollywood. Even the colour of her hair had to be changed. Monicelli asked Totò to restrain himself in order not to leave Magnani in his shadow. The combined result is miraculous, like a documentary on variety theatre."

"The screenplay was strong, based on two stories by Alberto Moravia. Goffredo Fofi has remarked that the majority of Italian movies were based on Moravia - openly or not. Suso Cecchi d'Amico and the duo Age & Scarpelli wrote the script. Monicelli had an innate capacity to condense the subject to a few lines of dialogue, like: 
Totò: May I invite you to a pizza?
Magnani: Got any money?"

"Monicelli had the talent to keep the rhythm going, the whole, the flow."

"Monicelli was 8 years old when the Fascists murdered the MP Giacomo Matteotti. When the newspaper edited by Monicelli's father exposed them, the Fascists destroyed its printing house and beat up the father. - After WWII the father committed suicide, and the corpse was discovered by Mario."

"Monicelli had a marvellous talent to bring tragedy inside comedy, to show profoundly a character's traits."

"He had on his desk a motto from I pensieri by Giacomo Leopardi, the greatest name in Italian poetry:"

"Terrible and awful is the power of laughter: who has the courage to laugh is the master of others. Nobody can find an inner shelter from such laughter. Who has the courage to laugh has all the power on earth". [What I was able to jot down; the original text is in Pensieri / passage 4391 / 23 Settembre 1828]

"Mario Monicelli committed suicide two years ago, and the epitaph he ordered on his grave is: 'Mario Monicelli has never visited the Maldives."

"The surprise short before the feature film is made by two Sicilians, Marisco and Cipri, who had made movies together for a long time. Cinico TV was a special break that used to be shown after the news, presenting only monstrous figures. Marisco and Cipri received a letter from Mediaset, Berlusconi's company, suggesting a short congratulation when Berlusconi had been appointed Prime Minister. The name 'A Silvio' is a variation on Giacomo Leopardi's famous poem 'A Silvia'".

Cinico TV: A Silvio. 1992. A greeting to Berlusconi in the style of Le Pétomane.

Peter von Bagh reminisced on Mario Monicelli's visit to Sodankylä in 1994.

"He seemed sad. It was raining. For the first time with a major guest everything had been ruined, I thought. Years passed. I evaded him. Four years ago Paolo Mereghetti wrote two whole spreads about him in Corriere della Sera, and there Monicelli stated that Sodankylä had been 'the best event where he had ever been in his life'. I met him for lunch one year before his death. This was further proof of the fact that great humorists are extremely melancholy."

A further remark from Gian Luca Farinelli:

"Risate di Gioia was made one year after La dolce vita. It was shot in the summer, but it was supposed to be December. Monicelli had a high regard for Fellini, and in his movie he created a humoristic riposte to Fellini in his scenes at the two fountains, including the Fontana di Trevi, already showing the influence of La dolce vita on American tourists. There is something in common - the night, Rome - yet contrary."

A great comedy about Lello the master thief (Ben Gazzara), his absent-minded partner Umberto (Totò), and Gioia (Anna Magnani), who always makes a mess of Lello's perfect plans.

All the events of the night of the New Year celebrations - a dance, a dinner, a fine party at a palazzo of Germans, a spree with an American tourist, even a visit to the church - are for Lello but opportunities for theft. Either the inept Umberto or the exuberant Gioia - or both - manage to spoil everything for him.

The most devastating humiliations take place in front of the Germans and again at the church ("stolen from the Madonna!"), and it is Gioia who gets to carry the blame and the guilt although it is the wily Lello who has used her as his scapegoat. It is Gioia who goes to jail.

There are satirical scenes from the subway train conductor's home (his lunch box being prepared), a laundry, Cinecittà (Anna Magnani as an extra in a Biblical epic with a single line of dialogue: "Miracolo! Miracolo!"), and in Umberto's home (Umberto is a professional in insurance fraud).

A wonderful and surprising comedy, which in the true tradition of commedia all'italiana is often more serious and disturbing than drama.

The print is excellent.

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