October 5 – Istituto Italiano di Cultura at Montreal
La Memoria Mancata: il cinema degli anni ’50 e il fascismo tra camicie nere e cuori d’oro
What does it mean to remember Fascism in 1950s Italy? Just a question, yet, one which Italian Culture struggles to answer. Professor Giacomo Lichtner’s contribution to “The Long 1950s” opens the series wondering how the fifties represented a missed opportunity to found the new-born Italy on working through the collective trauma of its past rather than repressing it.
On that Wednesday, the conference room of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura at Montreal was crowded with people: students, but also Italians who live in the city or sons, daughters and relatives of those who, decades ago, packed everything up and moved to Canada.
“In-between 1948 and La Dolce Vita (1960), the fifties are quite mysterious, handed down as grey years, or rather beige” says professor Lichtner, in the attempt to define the duration of this decade, too long to be enclosed into its chronological boundaries.
Then “it would be interesting to think of the 1950s as a milestone, a fundamental step in the rebuilding of Italian national identity” and to measure this importance through an analysis of its Popular Culture.
In postwar Italy, Popular Culture means also cinema and, in the fifties, war films and comedies. Professor Lichtner focuses on these two genres of Italian Cinema and stresses how the concept of “Italiani brava gente” mystifies the representation of soldiers and violence, especially in war films such as Divisione Folgore (1955) and El Alamein (1958). Quite paradoxically, in these films Italian soldiers do not kill or, better, they are not represented in acts of violence or killing. The process of editing separates their bodies from those of guns and weapons that stand alone in the frame, deleting any responsibility of the human counterpart that embraces the killing object. Hidden behind these objects, these soldiers seems to fight in an undetermined past, where there is no explicit reference to Fascism.
“These reactionary films took advantage of their ideological ambiguity in order to reach both a large public eager of adventure and action and a smaller one, sincerely nostalgic and set apart from Italian postwar culture (…). The absence of Fascism and acts of killing are the signs of Italian war films.”
October 6 – Wendy Patrick Room – Wilson Hall – McGill University
National Vices and Ordinary Virtues: Luigi Zampa’s Cinema and 1950s Italy
The next day, the Wendy Patrick Room was even more filled up. In his second presentation, professor Lichtner talked about the collaboration between the director Luigi Zampa and the writer Vitaliano Brancati on four films [Anni Difficili (1948); Anni Facili (1953); L’Arte di Arrangiarsi (1954); and Anni Ruggenti (1963)] and the censorship that influenced the making of some of them. Zampa and Brancati attack conformism and clientelism, but defend the ordinary man (the idea of “Italiani brava gente”) keeping an anti-political tone. According to professor Lichtner, “the story of Zampa and Brancati’s understudied oeuvre poses difficult questions about the continuity between Fascist and Republican Italy.”
In the context of Postwar Italian Cinema Zampa’s films (38 between 1933 and 1979), constitute a representation of Italy alternative to the dominating model of Neorealist Cinema. The protagonists of the five films mentioned above show Zampa’s critique of those vices and habits that contributed to the popularity of Fascism. In other words, “Zampa and Brancati’s anti-Fascism is primarily a moral one” and distrusts any form of politics and, especially, politicians of any party. Zampa and Brancati are more interested in representing the national character of Italian society, rather than its Fascist embodiment. Italian Identity lives before, survives through and is evident also after Fascism, and Lichtner’s analysis stresses this continuity.
In the 1950s, ambiguity and the lack of a party-political intent did not save these films from censorship. The focus on the Italian national character was misunderstood by both the right and the left side of the Italian parliament and Lichtner showed how these films were modified or left unchanged in years like 1953 or 1954, where the elections called for a control of every cultural manifestation, films included. Yes, Zampa and Brancati depict the regime as responsible for the “moral degradation” of the country and the disaster of the war. Yet, “their version of Fascism is a relatively harmless regime, more ceremonial than political.” Then “the result is a unique and grave indictment, but also a simplistic, unfair and at times disconcerting equidistance” that is misread or attacked by Democratic Christians and Communists respectively.
Thus, one may wonder what of the Italian national character, in Zampa and Brancati’s version, fostered the rise of Fascism and allowed the Italian Identity to survive this twenty-years phase? In Lichtner’s view, the family and its importance in Italian culture shaped the relationship between Italians and both Fascism and the new-born democracy. Beyond any social responsibility, Zampa and Brancati’s characters “supreme individual concern” is the “well-being of the family.”
Familism and its influence on Italians’ mindset prevented dissent and aided the rise of Fascism, but it also “provided some of the antibodies necessary to withstand totalitarianism and gave a constant pole of allegiance, thus ensuring a relatively smooth transition to democracy.”
In conclusion, Zampa and Brancati’s films are symbols of that opportunity of working through Fascism that Italian society missed during the 1950s. Their contradictions, as well as “the myopic response of a society determined to forget, or remember selectively” are the elements that, in professor Lichtner’s analysis, lead to this conclusion.