Far too often, foreign films don’t do well in America because of the mono-lingual tastes of the American consumer. No one wants to sit through 2 or more hours of subtitles. However, these people are missing out on some fantastic films. There is much to gain when watching foreign films, as they are a window to other cultures different from our own. While I will be the first to admit that I have focused on mostly English language films, in the last few years I have been expanding my movie viewing to include a lot more foreign language films (partly due to the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”). At any rate, from the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone to the truly artistic films of Federico Fellini, Italian language films remind us that their culture is rich with art. Both stationary pictures and moving ones deserve an observation for anyone interested in art. This week’s two films both won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for their home country of Italy.
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours
Aside from the aforementioned Spaghetti Westerns, there is one film that stands as the representative work for all Italian language films. That film is Federico Fellini’s 8½. As much a defining statement about his film-making career as it was on film in general (even though he had already won two Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film), this movie is often considered one of the best films ever made. At the end of the 1960’s a lot of strides had been made in avant-garde film-making but the movement still only produced very “artistic” films, and not necessarily films that were really watchable. And yet, Fellini’s film effortlessly infused the artistic movement into a storyline that could accept it. Of course, when one makes a semi-autobiographical movie like this one, it’s easy to come up with such a realistic plot.
Writer’s block is one thing, but Director’s block is a whole different animal. Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is finding the creative process incredibly difficult, especially since everyone seems to be on his back to create his next big hit. They all want him to create something that they can have a part in, since the money is a big motivator for them. Even though he should be working on his science fiction film, Guido can’t help but reminisce about his life up to that point. Soon, his flashbacks almost become fused with reality as he remembers all the women of his past. And yet, a silver lining appears in the memories! Through introspection, Guido comes to the roots of his Director’s block and is able to arrive at the inspiration for his next big motion picture.
Life is Beautiful
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this film came during the 1999 Oscars, when Actor/Director Roberto Benigni walked across the tops of the chairs to receive his Best Actor Oscar. As mentioned above, one of the other Oscars that Life is Beautiful won that year was Best Foreign Language Film (the other being Best Music). This seems almost like the epitome of the Italian culture: incredibly happy, but even more so on special occasions. Their culture, full of art, food, and history is certainly something to be happy about, that’s for sure. Of course, it does somewhat approach the cliche, when you consider that the first Italian name people can think of is “Guido”, which just so happens to be the name of the main character of both 8½ and Life is Beautiful.
This Italian film showed the power of positive thinking, even during the tragedies of World War II. The main character, Guido (Benigni, who also directed the film), takes an approach to his life that at times feels derivative of Charlie Chaplin. In the Italian town of Arrezzo, Guido searches for love as the powers of Facism and anti-Semitism gain influence in his government. Eventually, he falls in love and continues on his romantic journey, gaining a son in the process. As the war progresses, he uses games and imagination to keep his child from being killed. Considering the challenges involved with just surviving the Holocaust, being able to save his child is just that much more impressive. In the end, Life is Beautiful demonstrated that life can be beautiful, even in the darkest times.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 incredible Italian movies