Top Ten Italian Film Directors

by Marianne Wi

Compiling this list seriously put me in danger of contracting a repetitive strain injury, Italy has had so many fabulous talented directors, I had to add an additional clause ” AND their 5 best films ” that cut the list considerably. I never had any doubts about the winner, the order of the others were more difficult and is really just down to personal taste in films, as this is my blog I have the advantage of being able to change the rules at a drop of at hat and I did ….. Oh, yes I was never any good with numbers so why start now.

10    Bernardo Bertolucci  1940 –

Bertolucci, he was born in Parma, on the 16th March 1940 and is still going strong today. He is a  Marxist and active politically often using his films to voice his beliefs. My top 5 films directed by Bertolucci are: L’ultimo Imperatore, The last Empore 1987 – Novecento, 1900 1976 – La luna, The Moon 1976 – Il conformista, The Professor 1970 – Ultimo Tango a Parigi, Last Tango in Paris 1972. The last Tango in Paris was not only a great film starring Marlon Brando, it also did very well for the popularity of butter.

9     Roberto Rossellini  1906 – 1977

Rossellini was born in  Rome on the 8th May 1940 and died of a heart attack in Rome in 1977. Rossellini is apart from his films also well-known for the amount of scandals he managed to be the center of during his life. Rossellini had many love affaires and also married a number of women, his first wife was Assia Noris, a Russian actress working in Italy, this marriage was annulled. Second marriage was to Marcella de Marchis 1936 to 1950, he had two children with this lady. Third wife became after years of  struggle Ingrid Bergman, the scandal was made worse as they has a child outside marriage, he was still married to Marcella and Bergman was married to Aron Petter Lindström, they did eventually tie the knot and had 3 children together, it is worth mentioning that even today a child cannot be baptised in Italy if one of the parents have been divorced, so imagine if you can the furore when a child is born outside marriage by parents still married to other people. Enter his fourth wife Sonali das Gupta, he met her in India while making a documentary, he was eventually asked by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to leave the country due the moral pressure. Rossellini was still married to Ingrid Bergman and Sonila had a husband with whom she had two small children. They left for Italy together, Sonila took her youngest son ( 1 year old) while leaving the other son with her husband. Rosselini later adopted this boy and he was renamed from Anjun to Gil, they also had another daughter. You could not make it up but someone should make a film about it actually each marriage could be a film in its self.

My 5 favorite films by Rosselini are: Roma Citta aperta, Rome open City 1945 – Paisa 1946, La nave bianca, The White Ship 1942  –  Viaggio in Italian, Journey to Italy 1954 – La Paura , Fear 1954.

8.5    Ettore Scola   1931 –

Scola was born in Trevico on the 10th May 1931. His last feature film was Gente di Roma, People of Rome 2003, which did well on the International circuit. Scola was nominated twice for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film first in 1977  with A Special Day, Una giornata special again in 1978 with Viva Italia . My 5 favorite films are : Gente di Rome, People of Rome 2003 – Brutti Sporchi e Cattivi, Ugly, Dirty, Bad 1976 – La Famiglia , The Family 1987 – C’eravamo tanti amati, We were very much it loved 1966, A Special day , Una giornata speciale 1978.


8     Dario Argento   1940 –

Argento was born in Rome on the 7th September 1940 and is still very much active today. If  a horror come thriller and scary film rocks you boat then take a cruise with Argento, he is fabulous and one if not Italy’s best director in this particular style of films . My first experience of this director was Suspira back in 1977, I was scared and quite stressed about maggots falling from roofs for many years, they never did but I did not know that . My top 5 are : Suspira 1977 –  Phenomena, Creepers 1985 – Opera , The Terror at the Opera 1987 – Profondo Rosso,Deep Red 1975 – Il cartaio, The Card Player 2004.

7     Ermmano Olmi     1931 –

Olmi was born in Bergamo on the 24th July 1931 and is still  producing films today, they all  play to great acclaim outside Italy. He has directed 79 films/documentaries and shorts so trying to pick 5 seem a bit reckless. Olmi is in post production with his latest offering Il villaggio di cartone (Village made of Carton,  is a possible English title) so looking forward to its release. My fav 5 are : L’albero degli zozzoli, The tree of wooden clogs 1978 it is a must see –  Centro chiodi, One Hundred Nails 2007 – Il segreto del bosco vecchio, The secret of the woods 1993 – Il mestiere delle armi, The Profession of Arms 2001 –  Tickets 2005.

6      Franco Zeffirelli  1923 –

Zafferelli was born on the 13th February 1923 in Florence. He is apart from being an excellent film director also an Italian politician, he was in office representing Catania from 1 April 1994 – 29 May 2001 and a long time member of Fortza Italia that later became The Peoples Party led by Silvio Berlusconi. Zafferelli served with the British Army for 3 years during the second world war and was awarded an honorary knighthood by the Queen in England in November 2004, a man of many talents indeed. Zafferelli’s passion for Opera  influenced many of his films. He also had an affair with Luchino Visconti, they must have had some brilliant conversations about films over the dinner table.

Top 5 films directed by Zafferelli are : La Bisbetica domata , The Taming of the  Shrew 1967 – Jesus of Nazareth 1977 – Brother Sun, Sister Moon 1972 – Romeo e Giulietta, Romeo and Juliet 1968 – La Traviata 1983 – Un te con Mussolini Tea with Mussolini 1999.

5    Frederico Fellini  1920 – 1993

Fellini was born in Rimini on the 20th January 1920 and passed away in Rome on the 31st October 1998, leaving a devastated Giulietta Masina who died less than 6 months later. Fellini was not the faithful husband she would have wanted for sure , however they did seem to be inseparable in old age. Fellini is one of the greatest Italian film makers and was feted outside Italy properly more so than in Italy itself. He has Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, you name it he had  more than most.

My top 5 are : La Strada, The Road 1954 a simply unforgettable film with Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn, you can keep La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 I am taking this film with me on a desert island. You say Fellini I say La Strada – Il bidone , The Swindler 1955 –  Le notte di Cabiria,Nights of Cabiria 1957 – Satyricon 1969 – Amarcord 1973 -La voce della luna, The Voice of the Moon 1990.

4    Michelangelo Antonioni 1912 – 2007

Antonini was born in Ferrara on the  29th  September 1912 and passed away on the 30th July  2007 in Rome. He was married twice, no scandals to speak of or perhaps the man was very discrete or too busy making films. I love most of this directors  films equally so here is the top 5 “ish” : Le Amiche, The Girl Friends 1955 – Il Grido, The Outcry 1957 – L’avventura, The Adventure 1960 – La Notte, The Night 1961 – Eclipse 1962 – Red Dessert 1964 – Blowup 1966 – Zabriskie Point 1970 – Al di la delle nuvole, Beyond the Clouds 1995 oh and The Passenger 1975. Look I really love these films and it is my blog and perhaps it was a stupid idea to highlight just 5 films per director, I am not perfect let me know which of the above films do not deserve to be  in the top 5.

3     Vittorio de Sica  1902 – 1974

Something interesting about this mans birth, de Sica was born in Sora Lazio on the 7th July 1901 or 1902 ? HA it would have been just that little bit smarter to have had a problem with the day or the month…. I am seeing two birthday parties every year, not knowing the exact year is just down to bad research. This cool looking man has 4 Oscars to his name and has produced a number of offspring who looks just like him, now also staring in films…comedys sadly, I am not a great fan. Lets stick with de Sica and his many wonderful films although he did act in 157 films himself …YES 157  awesome I think you will agree his real love was directing. de Sica directed  36 films, so very difficult to make a short list of 5 :Il giardino dei Finzi Contini, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis 1970  –  Sciuscia, Shoeshine 1946 – Ladri di biciclette , Bicycle Thives  1948  – Ieri,oggi,domani Yesterday,Today and Tomorrow 1963 ,La Ciociara, Two Women 1960 I remember this film being shown in Denmark in the 1960s , I never forgot Sophia Loren and her superb heartbreaking  performance.  I could go on but that would mean more that 5 what about Umberto D , I hear you say and you are right that was solid too.

2     Luchino Visconti  1906 – 1976

Visconti was born on the 2nd November 1906 in Milan and named  Luchino Visconti di Modrone and was Count of Lonate Pozzolo, he died in Rome on the 17th March 1976. I absolutely adored this man, I remember La Terra Trema, The Earth Trembles being shown in Denmark late 1960s, I must have been 11 years old and was hopelessly in love with the youngest son, I cried during the film more than once, and might I add that I was reading subtitles at that age ! I am now living in Acitrezza, where the film was made and am saddened by the lack of credit this man has been given here, why I hear you ask do they not love Visconti ? He is not Sicilian and therefore cannot possibly understand how a poor Sicilian feel and Visconti came from a posh background, very much opposite worlds and not true as I think he captured their struggle and pain brilliantly . There is a small museum dedicated to the film here but no statue of the man, do not get me started !  He was known to have had an affair with number 6 on my list and of course his long-term parter Helmut Berger is still appearing in films today. Visconti also had a great love for music in particular the Opera, he produced many on stage in Milan, Rome and also in London.

Visconti’s top 5 for me are: La Terra Trema, The Earth Trembles 1948 – Obsession, Ossessione 1943 –  Beautiful, Bellissima 1951 – Sense, Senso 1954 – Rocco and His Brothers, Rocco e i suoi fratelli 1960 – The Leopard, Il Gattopardo 1963 – Death in Vince, Morte a Venezia 1971.

1     Paolo Pasolini    1922 – 1975

My number one without doubt, I love this Director and Poet with many reservations, I admit he is not an easy director to love however I never had a moments doubt that he would be number 1 on my list. I hold my own Pasolini Festival every year in private behind closed doors, it is an exclusive private viewing as no one seem to share this great passion of mine , I am fortunate that I have all his Films on DVD as they rarely appear in cinemas in Italy. My festival starts with Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodom, Salo, the 120 days of Sodom 1975 and finishes with Accatone 1961, I use to watch it in reverse but the thought of seeing Salo would stress me out, I can now watch the entire film without closing my eyes or hide behind my laptop, I understand Pasolini cut 20 minutes of the violent end , I love him for that alone.

Pasolini was born in Bologna on the 5th March 1922 and was murdered on the 2nd November 1975 outside Rome in Ostia. Pasolini’s first love was Poetry which he started to write aged 7, later adding essays and novels to his belt. He was expelled from the Communist Party for unbecoming conduct with minors and being a Homosexual, he again coursed controversy and received a conviction for offences to the Italian State for his part “La Ricotta” in the film Ro.Go.Pa.G. in 1963 . Pasolini again coursed a storm, when he started his relationship with the then 15 year Ninetto Davoli, who later acted in many of his films. Pasolini has had most of his films banned in most of the world at some point Salo,120 days of Sodom being on top of the list. Salo, 120 days of Sodom was his last film and the reaction around the world was to ban it, Denmark being one of the only country’s not to do so, it is a film that borderline on Porn to be fair , I have seen it a number of times and have reached the stage where I no longer feel the need to vomit, cannot decide if that is a good or bad thing. I have had more arguments with Italians about this film, than any other, my fault entirely as I lose the plot each time I hear the words ” I have not seen the film BUT …….” I have yet to actually find one that has seen it. Where would Pasolini have gone from there, we shall never know as he was murdered shortly after its release, I would like to think he would have gone for light comedy to ease the pain.

Here is a list of his films :

Accattone,  1961 – Mamma Roma 1962 – Il vangelo secondo di Matteo, The Gospel According to Matthew 1964 – Uccellacci e uccellini, The Hawks and the Sparrows 1966 – Edipo re, Oedipus Rex 1967 – Teorema, Theorem 1968 – Porcile, The Pigpen 1969 –  Medea 1969 – Il Decameron  1971 – I racconti di Canterbury, The Canterbury Tales 1972 – Il fiore delle mille e una notte, A Thousand and One Nights 1974 –  Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodom, Salo,the 120 days of Sodom 1975.

One should never hope for anything. Hope is a thing invented by politicians to keep the electorate happy. P.P.P.

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