In the last few months Italians have quickly become cinema-philes. What is the reason of such a surge in interest, you may ask? Quite simple: this year an Italian movie is an Oscar nominee and considered to be the favorite in the category of Best Foreign Language Movie for the upcoming night of the 86th Academy Awards , also known as The Oscars 2014.
All (sleepless red) eyes in Italy will be staring at the TV, sipping their tiny cups of espresso and trying to stay awake to cheer for Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) as it attempts to take home another major award after winning the Golden Globe last January.
The Renaissance of Italian Cinema
Italy and its cities all over the boot have been portrayed many times in movie productions of any dimension and budget, from films depicting Roman holidays to villas under the Tuscan sun, to the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, to the recent Hollywood blockbusters (The Tourist and Eat Pray Love to name a couple). And how can one ignore the obsession of 007 James Bond or the celebrities flocking to Il bel paese for their vacations, weddings and honeymoons? It’s safe to say that the movie industry loves Italy.
However, it is common belief that in the last few decades the Italian movie industry has lost its past glory. Long gone are the days when Italians directors created movies that went on to influence many generations of directors all over the world (Woody Allen, Scorsese, Coppola and many others have always been vocal about their inspirations). Past are the days when Italian directors took home the statue for Best Foreign Language film, and while the total count says that Oscar himself been won by an Italian 39 times, only 10 times was that for Best Foreign Film and just 3 as best actor or actress (Roberto Benigni, Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani).
To celebrate the occasion and the history of Italian Cinema we put together a list of all the cities and destinations that have been the setting for an Oscar- winning Italian motion picture, the same category as The Great Beauty, this year’s nominee. We hope this will be a good luck charm and – why not – a source of inspiration for planning your next travel itinerary in Italy.
Movies Capital: Rome
It shouldn’t surprise you that the capital has been the setting for the highest number of Oscar- winning movies. The mind falls on the masters of Italian Neo-Realism such as Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini who took home the golden prize 4 times each, often filming in Rome: 3 times for De Sica, with Sciuscià (Shoeshine, 1948), Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1950) and Ieri, oggi e domani (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1965); and 2 times for Fellini with Le notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria, 1958) and 8½ (1964). After this incredible streak, the first and last movie set in Rome able to win the Oscar was Elio Petri’s Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) in 1970.
Twenty-four years later Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty could join this exclusive club of established giants.
Full-Flavored: Naples, Campania
Vittorio De Sica was able to add two other cities in this list with his Ieri, Oggi e Domani. In fact the comedy anthology film, starring the stunning Sophia Loren and the great Marcello Mastroianni, consisted of three short stories about couples in different parts of Italy: Rome, Milan, and Naples.
The episode in Naples takes place in 1953 in the poorer part of the city. Nevertheless the essence of the city, with the breathtaking view of the the bay and the narrow streets of the center, and the unique vibe of this town shine through the Silver Screen and amaze the viewer with its colors and flavors, just like a slice of its most well-known invention: pizza!
Not Just about the Future: Milan, Lombardy
The last city depicted in De Sica’s comedy Ieri, Oggi e Domani is Milan where Mrs. Loren plays the wife of a mega-rich industrialist and Mastroianni her secret lover.
In this chapter the city is portrayed as the main Italian economic hub but in spite of its modern incarnation as the fashion and business capital of Italy, Milan offers enchanting treasures from its glorious past: from the Sforzesco Castle with Michelangelo’s final work, the Rondanini Pieta, to the majestic Gothic Duomo, to the porticoes of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Arcade that leads to La Scala opera house, probably the most famous theater in the world. And how could we not mention Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper, the amazing painting that only a small number of visitors have access to (so if you plan to visit don’t forget to reserve your tickets online before heading to Milan so you can ensure that you will not miss this unique opportunity to view an iconic work of Western Art.)
Fellini’s World: Rimini, Emilia Romagna
Besides being known for its wide beaches, lively nightclubs, historical buildings, prestigious Exhibition Center and its University, Rimini is perhaps best remembered as the hometown of director Federico Fellini, who shot many of his famous films here in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. One of these won the Oscar as Best Foreign Language movie in 1973 – Amarcord, a semi-autobiographical comedy-drama about an adolescent boy growing up during the fascism in the Village of Borgo San Giuliano. The title is a local romagnolo dialect neologism for “I Remember.”
If you are in Rimini, you can visit the house where Fellini was born and raised on Via Oberdan 1, which has his library and designs and a little museum on the second floor housing curiosities from his life and films. If you wish to visit his gravestone, a bronze ship’s prow in the water sculpted by Arnaldo Pomodoro, the tomb is located at the main entrance of the Rimini cemetary.
The Hidden Gem: Ferrara, Emilia Romagna
Another city in Emilia Romagna is part of this short list of awarded cities. And once again, thanks to one of the two maestri on the new-realism: in this case it’s not Fellini but his contemporary Vittorio De Sica that uses Ferrara, a rare treasure located in the heart of Emilia-Romagna, as the setting of I Giardini dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Contini’s), which won the award in 1972.
The film is based on Giorgio Bassani’s novel of the same name and his strictly connected to this small yet charming town. Located along the banks of the Po River, the history of Ferrara dates back 1300 years; however, archaeological records and the earliest artifacts from the area reach all the way back to the Bronze Age. Considered by many as Venice and Florence’s middle sister, don’t miss out if you have the opportunity to visit…and keep the secret!
Much More Than Just Florence: Arezzo, Tuscany
How could Tuscany be left out of this list? But surprisingly, it’s not Florence representing Italy’s most famous region in the Oscar’s, but a lesser-known town in the eastern-most area, boarded from the Apennines mountains: the city of Arezzo. It is here that one of the most touching movies ever produced and the last to won the prize for Italy as Best Foreign Movie was set. The moving comedy-drama narrates the story of a Jewish man and his family, and takes the audience on a roller-coaster of emotions from a fantasy romance to unique humor in the streets of Arezzo (the main square, Piazza Grande, appears multiple times leaving the audience in awe staring at its beauty) to the drama of the experience of the Nazi death camp.
Director and main actor Roberto Benigni, considered one of the greatest Italian comedians alive, also scored an Oscar as best actor and went out with a bang with what may be the most memorable acceptance speech ever…you be the judge.
The Fascinating Capital of Sicily: Palermo
Sicily’s biggest city is the set of the touching Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso, 1988) written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. In the movie, a filmmaker recalls his childhood in Sicily when he fell in love with the movies at his village’s theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater’s projectionist.
While part of the movie was also filmed in Rome, where the adult filmmaker resides, the majority of the plot takes place in this magnificent Sicilian city and the town in its province, offering glimpses of the Sicilian life and the particular architectural styles ranging from Arabic to Norman, Baroque, and Byzantine.
In the Heart of Italy: L’Aquila
We close this list with a mention of the city that may be the closest to the heart of Italy, and not just for its central location. The Maestro Federico Fellini filmed his masterpiece La Strada (The Road, 1956) in Ovindoli, a ski resort near L’Aquila. In the movie Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina interprets a care-free girl sold by her mother to a traveling entertainer, Anthony Quinn, consequently enduring physical and emotional pain along the way.
L’Aquila, a magnificent medieval city that sits upon a hillside in the middle of a narrow valley surrounded by the Gran Sasso massif, is a maze of narrow streets lined with Baroque and Renaissance buildings and churches. Well known for its elegant piazzas and fountains, the city recently made the news for a terrible earthquake in 2009. The city is the capital of Abruzzo, the perfect destination for nature and adventure travelers, being the home of about 45 percent of all the wildlife species found in Italy.
The Missing One…
And what about Mediterraneo, some of you may ask? The Oscar-winning comedy directed by Gabriele Salvatores that won the statue as Best Foreign Film in 1992 is set on a Greek island, and not in Italy. But if while you watch it you are suddenly overcame by the desire to escape to a similar island, there are plenty of options waiting for you in Italy and Croatia.
And the winner is… Which one of the mentioned cities would win the Oscar as best of the best? Let us know in the comment section!