Since the 1970s, Italian filmmakers have been struggling to throw off the monochrome shadow of Neorealism. The genre defined the golden age of Italian cinema and is still remembered as one of the most important and influential movements in cinema history. Yes, you’re right – that is quite a lot of pressure. It’s no wonder, then, that the nation’s best contemporary directors have what you could call a complex relationship with neorealism’s grande formaggio, Frederico Fellini.
Fellini and his fellow neorealists – Roberto Rossellini, Giuseppe De Santis, and Luchino Visconti – effectively defined Italy’s portrayal on film, using their works to explore the economic, moral, and religious strifes of a society in-flux. Many of the movement’s leading directors turned non-professional actors into world-famous acting royalty, with Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, and Silvana Mangano being just three of the most obvious examples. That taste for fresh talent is still present in the Italian film world today. Alice Rohrwacherwhile’s Happy As Lazarro, for example, starred first-time actor Adriano Tardiolo in the title role, while Paolo Sorrentino’s Hand Of God made a star out of newcomer Filippo Scotti.
It’s clear that without the likes of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Rossellini’s Rome: Open City, or Fellini’s La Strada, Hollywood’s domination of the film industry would have remained absolute, destroying the possibility of the French New Wave or the Polish film school. However, towards the end of the 1970s, the number of Italian directors working in Hollywood began to drop drastically. Coupled with an economic crisis that forced the Italian government to cut funding to cinema studios like the iconic Cinicitta, this effectively spelt the end of Italian cinema’s golden age.
But in recent years, Italy has been producing some of the most exciting directors working in the film industry, filmmakers whose work seeks to capture Italy as it is today, not what it was in the post-war decades. This new wave of directors has arrived alongside a number of changes in the way the Italian film industry works, including an end to censorship on moral and religious grounds and the reopening of Rome’s Cinicitta studios. All of the directors on this list are working at the top of their game; pushing the genre towards a bright new future. From Paolo Sorrentino to Laura Bispuri these are five directors ushering in a new golden age of Italian cinema.
Five Italian directors you need to know:
To get you started: Hand Of God
Paolo Sorrentino has been at the vanguard of Italian cinema ever since the release of One Man Up, which premiered in Venice in 2001. In a career that has spanned more than 20 years, the Neapolitan director has used his camera to investigate the murky world of The Vatican (The Young Pope), the emotional fragility of the elderly (Youth), and, in his most recent film, Hand Of God, his own parent’s death.
Sorrentino’s taste for blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction have often led critics to locate his work beneath the broad umbrella of the ‘Fellinian’. Indeed, when the director described Hand Of God as being influenced by Roma, many assumed he was talking about Fellini’s sprawling 1972 mind-bender. In truth, he was referencing Alfonso Cuarón’s film of the same name. Indeed, Hand Of God makes numerous references to Fellini, which oftentimes feel like examples of Sorrentino grappling with his own fascination with the famed director and his dominion over Italian cinema in general.
To Get You Started: Call Me By Your Name
Many of you will know Luca Guadagnino from his incredibly successful 2017 coming-of-age romance, Call Me By Your Name starring Timothy Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Shot chiefly in the Lombardy town of Crema, Guadagnino’s seventh feature film helped to redefine cinematic portrayals of Italy by locating the action, not within the urban chaos of Rome, but in the bucolic landscapes of Northern Italy. ‘It is quintessentially Italian without being an idea of Italy,’ Guadagnino told Conde Nast. ‘It’s just Italy.”
Guadagnino’s career has also seen him explore political conspiracy (Beckett) and the excess of the rich and famous on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (A Bigger Splash). While his 2019 remake of Susperia may have cast him in a somewhat unflattering light, he is undeniably one of the Italian film’s leading voices.
To Get You Started: Happy As Lazzaro
Alice Rohrwacher’s filmography is intricately bound to Italy’s rural north. Born in Fiesole, Tuscany, Rohrwacher grew up in Castel Giorgio, where her father worked as a beekeeper. After studying screenwriting in Turin, she landed her first feature film, Heavenly Body, which was described as marking the arrival of a vital new cinematic voice when it premiered at the 2011 Canne Film Festival.
After the success of her second movie The Wonders – which won the Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Fesitval – she made Happy As Lazzaro (2018), which tells the story of Lazzaro, an infinitely (and sometimes foolishly) kind young farmhand, and Tancredi, a spoilt aristocrat, who convinces Lazzaro to help his fake his own kidnapping. At its heart Happy as Lazzaro is an immaculate rendering of rural Italy on the cusp of complete industrialisation.
To get you started: Gomorrah
Hailing from Rome, Matteo Garrone’s work bounces between gritty social realism (Gomorrah/ Dogman) and lavish fantasy ( Tale of Tales/Pinocchio). In his earlier work, he demonstrated remarkable insight into human’s inability to understand one another’s pain. In Gomorrah (2008), for example, he invites us into the world of a Camorra crime syndicate that has made its fortune off the back of cocaine, corruption and chemical waste – portraying the innate moral complexity of life in the urban sprawl.
His MUBI bio says a lot about his difficult relationship with the neorealism directors: “I’d obviously like to find my own way and not be considered an imitator. Some have claimed my style is a new neorealism. But neorealism is of course a style that is connected to an earlier period of Italian cinema. I do owe a great debt to those directors — to Rossellini and many others.”
To Get You Started: Daughter Of Mine
Laura Bispuri is one of the most acclaimed Italian directors of the last ten years. Having honed her cinematic voice on the same courses as Garrone and Sorrentino, Buspuri went on to make a number of documentaries before her 2010 short Passing Time won her the David di Donatello for Best Short Film.
Then, in 2015, Bispuri released her feature debut, Sworn Virgin, which centres around the Albanian tradition that asserts women must remain virgins and impersonate men to obtain the same rights. Like Sworn Virgin, her next film, 2018’s Daughter of Mine, explores the complexities of gender and motherhood, this time under the scorching Sardinian sun.