marcello mastroianni
Marcello Mastioanni in La Dolce Vita (1960)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 24 Mar 2020

ROMA! The Screen Life of the Eternal City

Film Retrospective
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Your museum of screen culture

Some of the world's best directors have explored the lustre and legend of Rome, now you can too.

For ACMI at Home, we're sharing our curatorial insight into different films, artworks, TV series, or videogames each fortnight, as well as where you can find them online.

In 2015, we screened a selection of films that immortalised Rome on the silver screen, in our season ROMA! The Screen Life of the Eternal City. We all remember the Hollywood vision of Rome, whizzing by as Gregory Peck took Audrey Hepburn on the Vespa ride of her life in William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953). 

Journey deeper into the eternal city with films by Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bolognini, and more recent award-winning Italian auteurs including Gianfranco Rosi and Paolo Sorrentino, to explore nostalgic and contemporary cinematic visions of Rome.

Luckily, you can rent or stream some of the most iconic films in this ode to Italian cinema, curated by Roberta Ciabarra. Film notes reproduced below are by the curator.

For even more insight, check out film critic Joanna Di Mattia's essay, Rome moves forwards, yet remains forever old.

Love in the City (L’amore in città, 1953)

Released in Italy only a few months before Roman Holiday, Love in the City may have come too late in the Italian Neorealist movement’s run to appeal broadly to a local audience who preferred the escapism Hollywood films offered. Viewed more than half a century later, it offers a fascinating snapshot of Roman society in the early 1950s through a series of vignettes by then still-emerging directors including Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream Love in the City (L’amore in città)

Roman Holiday (1953)

William Wyler’s romantic comedy casts Audrey Hepburn as a European princess so seduced by the “forbidden excitement” of the Eternal City – as Paramount Pictures’ trailer breathlessly exclaims – she briefly abandons royal protocol to (quite literally) scoot around Rome with Gregory Peck, a dashing newspaperman. Somewhere between the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo, Peck’s “bewildered bachelor” falls hopelessly in love with Hepburn’s “pixie on the prowl”.

Rome’s inexhaustible supply of ready-to-shoot piazzas, churches, fountains and ruins set the stage for the impossibly romantic tale of an American abroad – the impeccably turned out Peck – falling in love with someone from the Old World. In a narrative conceit that traded on Hepburn’s aristocratic lineage, the Belgian-born actress was perfectly cast as an elegant, charmingly guileless modern royal from ‘one of Europe’s oldest ruling families’. (Though not quite modern enough to marry a ‘commoner’ – no Notting Hill (1999) fantasy fulfilment here!)

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards® – including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Eddie Albert (Green Acres), who played Peck’s beatnik sidekick, Irving – the film won Oscars® in three categories: Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn), Best Screenplay (Dalton Trumbo) and Best Costume Design (Edith Head).

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream Roman Holiday

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Arguably the role that has come to define Marcello Mastroianni as an actor more than any other in his illustrious career – with a knowing nod to 8 ½ – is that of Marcello Rubini, the flawed and still supremely fascinating protagonist of Federico Fellini’s ambitiously conceived and magnificently realised film from 1960.

A disenchanted gossip columnist with a lazy conviction that a higher spiritual or intellectual calling awaits, Marcello cruises the nightclubs and cafes of Rome’s (once) glamorous Via Veneto for print-worthy fodder that will pass as insight into the lives of jaded aristocrats and second-rate celebrities. Anouk Aimée, Alain Cuny and Anita Ekberg stand out in an impossibly stylish cast, with Rome itself never more alluringly captured on screen in luminous black and white. 

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream La Dolce Vita

Mamma Roma (1962)

Pier Paolo Pasolini followed Accattone, his audacious 1961 screen debut, with Mamma Roma, casting the fearless Anna Magnani, enshrined as the Roman actress par excellence for her performance in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945). Magnani plays a former prostitute whose desperate efforts at upward mobility and determination to raise her son up from the social and economic mire are undermined by her former pimp, Carmine (Accattone’s Franco Citti). 

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream Mamma Roma

L’eclisse (1962)

Making few concessions to narrative or stylistic conventions, Michelangelo Antonioni’s third instalment in his trilogy on modernity and its discontents after L’avventura (1960) and La notte (1961) challenged audiences with a radically transformed cinematic view of Rome. Pre-existing fascist-era architecture and newer buildings in the city’s EUR district offered Antonioni an eerily unfamiliar environment in which to place his emotionally disoriented would-be lovers, Vittoria (Monica Vitti) and Piero (Alain Delon).

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream L'eclisse

The Salt of Life (Gianni e le donne, 2011)

Gianni Di Gregorio, the writer/director and affable, comically put-upon leading man of 2008’s Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto) followed up his charming directorial debut with this genial, equally wry comedy. Largely set in Rome’s picturesque Trastevere district, it takes a scenic side-trip or two to locations across the Tiber including Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori.

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream The Salt of Life (Gianni e le donne)

La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013)

Paolo Sorrentino has joined a select group of Italian directors – Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica notable among them – whose films have won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar®. His magnificently baroque ode to Rome, The Great Beauty was duly anointed at the 2014 Academy Awards®, with his male lead, star and frequent collaborator, Toni Servillo (Il divo), joining him on stage to collect the award.

Notwithstanding Sorrentino’s disinclination to comparisons with Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) – the director and his leading man, Toni Servillo, both hail from Naples – there are echoes of Mastroianni’s Marcello in Servillo’s Jep Gambardella. Both characters are writers, after a fashion – Jep has been trading on the success of his only published novel for several decades – prone to bouts of ennui even as they enjoy access to and move freely among Rome’s pleasure-seeking social set.

Roger Ebert described Marcello in La Dolce Vita as “a handsome, weary man…trapped in a life of empty nights and lonely dawns.” Jep likewise indulges a proclivity for indolent hedonism and ruminative morning-after walks along the Tiber in scenes in which the Eternal City’s glorious excess of beauty both becalms and excites the senses – Jep’s and our own.

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty)

Sacro GRA (2013)

Gianfranco Rosi’s gently beguiling film received the Golden Lion in 2013, the first time the Venice Film Festival awarded the top prize to a documentary. Rosi’s film – its title a pun on ‘Holy Grail’  (Sacro Graal, in Italian) – takes an unassuming, humanistic approach to the intriguing subjects that populate his film, who variously live or work near the 70-km ring road, the Grande Raccordo Anulare, that encircles Rome.

– Roberta Ciabarra

Stream Sacro GRA

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