Michelangelo Antonioni's Le Amiche (1955)

The lineup has been announced for Titanus: A Family Chronicle of Italian Cinema, a retrospective celebrating the films of the Italian film studio Titanus that will take place May 22-31 in the Walter Reade Theater. Featuring works by filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni, Dario Argento, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, among others, the series will look mainly at the films produced at Titanus from the late '40s to the early '60s, when the studio was arguably in its heyday.

Titanus, which was the equivalent of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox—studios with whom Titanus co-produced several films in the 1960s—was responsible for early works by Antonioni, Argento, De Sica, Fellini, and Luchino Visconti, as well as provided a production home for a number of other notable directors, including Mario Bava, Giorgio Bianchi, Luigi Comencini, Vittorio De Seta, Riccardo Freda, Alberto Lattuada, Camillo Mastrocinque, Ermanno Olmi, Brunello Rondi, Francesco Rosi, and Agusto Tretti.

During that time, the studio was noted for a robust combination of lowbrow comedies and sword-and-sandal epics, which would later be deemed classics. Founded in 1904 by Gustavo Lombardo and run by him until his death in 1951, when his son Goffredo assumed control, Titanus remains in the family to this day, but arguably its peak was the first 15 years of Goffredo’s tenure—a time when soul-searching works by Fellini and Antonioni alternated with gruesome frightfests by Argento and Mario Bava, and transatlantic co-productions occurred long before they were common.

The Titanus retrospective was launched at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, and following the presentation at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, it is then set to travel to the American Cinematheque and the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. Organized by Isa Cucinotta and Dennis Lim for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the program was selected from the Titanus retrospective curated by Roberto Turigliatto and Sergio M. Germani at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, organized in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale (National Film Archive), the Istituto Luce Cinecittà, and the Cinémathèque suisse in Lausanne.

Tickets and a discount package for the series will go on sale Thursday, May 7.


Le Amiche
Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1955, 35mm, 104m
Italian with English subtitles

A rare adaptation for Antonioni, who co-wrote the script adapted from Cesare Pavese’s novella Among Women Only, Le Amiche is widely considered the work in which he first struck on the themes that would define him as a filmmaker. Fashion designer Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) arrives in Turin for the opening of a salon and rescues Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) from a suicide attempt. Adrift in the city, Clelia is drawn into the world of Rosetta and her three affluent friends, all lovelorn and discontented despite their material comforts. Valentina Cortese (the aging diva in Truffaut’s Day for Night) is particularly memorable as the spurned wife of the artist Rosetta pines for. The film was awarded the prestigious Silver Lion at the 1955 Venice Film Festival. New restoration!
Friday, May 29, 4:15pm
Sunday, May 31, 9:00pm

Bandits of Orgosolo / Banditi a Orgosolo
Vittorio De Seta, Italy, 1961, 35mm, 98m
Italian with English subtitles

After 10 short documentaries that surveyed Italy’s poorest workers, Vittorio De Seta made his feature debut with Bandits of Orgosolo, a rough-hewn study of survival in the highlands of Sardinia. Shepherd Michele (Michele Cossu, a nonprofessional and native of the region) ekes out a meager living with his brother until bandits arrive on the island and kill a policeman. Mistaken for a member of their gang and accused of murder, Michele must flee to the mountains where he’s driven to dire acts. Winner of numerous prizes at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, De Seta’s post-neorealist narrative (which he also shot) recalls Visconti’s elemental La Terra Trema, and moved Martin Scorsese to observe: “It was as if De Seta were an anthropologist who spoke with the voice of a poet.”
Saturday, May 23, 7:00pm

Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo
Dario Argento, 1970, Italy/West Germany, 35mm, 98m
Italian with English subtitles

In Dario Argento’s directorial debut, Sam (Tony Musante), an American writer living in Rome, witnesses a vicious knife attack on a beautiful woman (Eva Renzi) inside an art gallery. After the police fail to make any progress in the case—and confiscate his passport, preventing him from leaving the country—Sam becomes obsessed with uncovering the black-leather-glove-wearing assailant’s true identity. His investigations only lead the murderer toward Sam and his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall). Full of POV shots of the killer stalking the city at night, gory slow motion, and one of Ennio Morricone’s most distinctive scores, this giallo classic is not to be missed.
Friday, May 29, 2:00pm & 8:45pm

Bread, Love and Dreams / Pane, amore e fantasia
Luigi Comencini, Italy, 1953, 35mm, 90m
Italian with English subtitles

Middle-aged Antonio Carotenuto (Vittorio De Sica) arrives in the small mountain village of Sagliena to serve as town marshal and promptly takes a shine to local sweetheart Maria (Gina Lollobrigida), called “Frisky” by her male admirers. Maria has eyes for Antonio’s subordinate, junior policeman Pietro (Roberto Risso), who along with midwife-with-a-secret Annarella (Marisa Merlini) complete the zany love quadrangle. A classic example of so-called “pink neorealism”—still mindful of social themes but more whimsical, in line with improving economic conditions—Bread, Love and Dreams provides “La Lollo” with perhaps her most popular role, and offers a juicy acting showcase to legendary director De Sica. Oscar-nominated for its original story (a rarity for a foreign film, then as now), Luigi Comencini’s farce earned the Silver Bear at Berlinale and inspired three sequels starring De Sica as the bumbling police chief.
Monday, May 25, 2:15pm & 8:45pm

Cronaca Nera
Giorgio Bianchi, Italy, 1947, 35mm, 90m
Italian with English subtitles

A mob boss wanted by the police (Gino Cervi) hides out in the home of an associate, aiming to reassemble his gang when the time is right. In the process, he develops feelings for his aide’s sister (María Denis) and begins to reappraise his life, but finds it difficult to extricate himself from his criminal ties. Leading man Cervi, best known for playing the Communist mayor in the Don Camillo series opposite Fernandel, offers a rich and moving characterization. Prolific director Giorgio Bianchi guides this modest but unexpectedly poignant tale of redemption and the cost of moving beyond the past. New restoration!
Wednesday, May 27, 6:30pm

Days of Glory / Giorni di gloria
Giuseppe De Santis, Mario Serandrei, Marcello Pagliero & Luchino Visconti, Italy/Switzerland, 1945, 35mm, 71m
Italian with English subtitles

Noted by Martin Scorsese in My Voyage to Italy but seldom screened in the U.S., Days of Glory marked the first documentary on the German occupation of Rome and Italian resistance in the waning years of World War II. Commissioned by the Allies’ Psychological Warfare Branch, the film was shot over two years by four soon-to-be major figures in postwar Italian cinema, with Luchino Visconti covering the trial of Fascist police chief Pietro Caruso, who organized the Ardeatine massacre of 300 Italian prisoners as reprisal for a partisan attack. With just one prior directorial credit, Visconti was entrusted with eight cameras and captured such eruptions as the murder of a prosecution witness mistaken by the mob for Caruso. A harrowing companion piece to Rome, Open City and a crucial record of Italy’s wartime experience.
Saturday, May 23, 3:30pm

The Demon / Il Demonio
Brunello Rondi, Italy/France, 1963, 35mm, 94m
Italian with English subtitles

Brunello Rondi, best known for his contributions to Fellini scripts (La Dolce Vita, 8½), makes his sophomore directorial effort with this profoundly unnerving treatise on compulsion and superstition. In a southern mountain village mired in religious fanaticism, peasant girl Purificazione (Daliah Lavi) loves Antonio (Frank Wolff) obsessively. When he chooses to marry someone else, she visits a curse upon him, inciting the townspeople to believe she’s a witch possessed by the devil. The film is a clear forerunner to The Exorcist (a crazed Lavi performs the infamous “spider walk” a decade before Linda Blair), but Rondi leaves us to decide if she’s bedeviled by supernatural forces or mental illness. Lavi’s delirious performance is abetted by Carlo Bellero’s stunning black-and-white photography.
Saturday, May 30, 7:30pm

Luigi Comencini's Bread, Love and Dreams (1953)

Evil’s Commandment / I Vampiri
Riccardo Freda, Italy, 1957, 35mm, 77m
Italian with English subtitles

Horror films were banned by Italian Fascists for decades, but when Riccardo Freda pledged to produce a chiller in only 12 days that would squeak by the censors, the first Italian horror film of the sound era was born. A reporter (Dario Michaelis) investigating the serial murders of young Parisian girls (attributed to a killer known as “The Vampire”) becomes involved with an old duchess and her beautiful niece (Gianna Maria Canale). He eventually unearths a fiendish plot involving virgin blood and some truly demented assistants. Shot in black-and-white CinemaScope by Mario Bava, who took over direction when Freda stormed off the set, the film (released under numerous titles, including Lust of the Vampire) anticipates volumes of Euro Horror—with a rapid aging sequence that predates David Bowie’s in The Hunger by a quarter-century.
Saturday, May 23, 9:15pm

The Fiancés / I Fidanzati
Ermanno Olmi, Italy, 1963, 35mm, 77m
Italian with English subtitles

Ermanno Olmi, perhaps best remembered for 1978’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs, achieved early acclaim with his third feature, The Fiancés. As if to bridge the gap from his prior film, Il Posto, Olmi opens with a dance-hall sequence in which a doleful protagonist—factory worker Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini)—faces the weight of his choices. Giovanni has been offered a promotion, but it means relocating from Milan to far-off Sicily for 18 months and leaving behind his longtime fiancée Liliana (Anna Canzi). There he finds loneliness and isolation among the mainland transplants and anxiety over his future with Liliana. Adding Antonioni-esque alienation to essentially neorealist content (using nonprofessional actors), Olmi tenders a work both melancholy and lyrical, which Kent Jones calls “by far his most beautiful foray into modernist territory, simply because it feels so homegrown.”
Saturday, May 23, 1:30pm & 5:15pm

A Hero of Our Times / Un eroe dei nostri tempi
Mario Monicelli, Italy, 1957, 35mm, 85m
Italian with English subtitles

A year before breaking through with his celebrated farce Big Deal on Madonna Street, Mario Monicelli made the black comedy A Hero of Our Times, its title ironically reflecting the impoverished economy and morality of postwar Italy. Alberto Sordi (I Vitelloni) stars as Alberto Menichetti, a hard-charging boor who distrusts everyone he can’t manipulate. Emasculated at work and in the home he shares with his aunt, he resolves to exploit the affections of his widowed boss (Franca Valeri). Based on the best-selling novel by Vasco Pratolini and bolstered by a supporting cast of past and future talents, from Alberto Lattuada (director of Sweet Deceptions, also screening in this series) as the president of Alberto’s firm to spaghetti Western staple Bud Spencer (acting under his real name, Carlo Pedersoli).
Monday, May 25, 6:45pm

The Law of the Trumpet / La legge della tromba
Augusto Tretti, Italy, 1962, 35mm, 85m
Italian with English subtitles

“Tretti is the madman that Italian cinema needs,” proclaimed Federico Fellini, for whom Tretti worked as an assistant on Il Bidone. His first film as director (sadly, he made only four) was The Law of the Trumpet, an absurdist comedy about Celestino (Angelo Paccagnini), a young ex-con who takes a job in a trumpet factory and falls for the lovely Maria (Eugenia Tretti), only to lose her to his boss, Mr. Liborio, upon learning that Maria’s father owns a brass mine. For the roles of Liborio and three other male characters, Tretti cast his neighbor Maria Boto, an elderly woman who explains in a prologue that she’s never seen a film in her life, before imitating Leo the MGM lion. A truly bizarre finale caps this singular work, whose fans included Michelangelo Antonioni. New restoration!
Tuesday, May 26, 6:30pm

Francesco Rosi's The Magliari (1959)

Little Girls and High Finance / Anonima cocottes
Camillo Mastrocinque, Italy, 1960, 35mm, 107m
Italian with English subtitles

Robotti (Renato Rascel), a law-abiding bank employee, discovers that someone has been embezzling money at his branch, but when he brings this to the attention of his superior, he’s offered a million dollars in cash to ignore it. Robotti rejects the offer and is promptly given a pink slip. But after meeting Jane (the stunning Anita Ekberg), he abandons his moral code and starts playing the stock market. At the peak of his success, he gains a majority share of the bank that fired him. Loosely based on a true story, this screwball comedy is underpinned by Rascel’s earnest performance.
Thursday, May 28, 2:00pm & 6:40pm

The Magliari / I Magliari
Francesco Rosi, Italy/France, 1959, 35mm, 132m
Italian and German with English subtitles

The late Francesco Rosi, deemed “the poet of civic courage” for such films as Salvatore Giuliano and Hands Over the City, directed this gritty account of displacement and life in the urban margins. Mario (Renato Salvatori of Rocco and His Brothers), a Tuscan laborer, arrives in Hanover, Germany, in search of work. He soon falls in with a gang of crooked cloth peddlers (“magliari”) led by the charismatic Totonno (screen legend Alberto Sordi in a standout performance), who takes Mario under his wing. Complications ensue when Totonno moves the outfit to Hamburg, where they clash with a rival Polish operation and Mario takes up with a powerful industrialist’s wife (English actress Belinda Lee, who died tragically two years later). Rosi’s genre hybrid explores the abuse of immigrant workers in ways that recall his avowed influences—American social-realist directors Jules Dassin and Elia Kazan.
New restoration!
Tuesday, May 26, 8:30pm

Numbered Days / I giorni contati
Elio Petri, Italy, 1962, 35mm, 93m
Italian with English subtitles

Cesare (Salvo Randone), a widowed plumber, witnesses a man his age suffer a fatal heart attack on a tram. Deeply shaken by this death, Cesare quits his job—and then discovers he too has a heart condition. He resolves to explore the city around him, scrutinizing the social expectations that have guided his life up until this point. Co-scripted by the prodigious Tonino Guerra, who wrote Amarcord and Blow-Up, this melancholy meditation on modern life and consumer values offers some of the most exquisite night photography of Rome ever committed to celluloid.
Saturday, May 30, 1:00pm & 5:10pm

The Professor / La prima notte di quiete
Valerio Zurlini, Italy, 1972, 35mm, 132m
Italian with English subtitles

A hirsute Alain Delon stars as Daniele, a tragically hip poetry and literature professor who travels to Rimini for a four-month teaching assignment with his suicidal wife, Monica (Lea Massari), in tow. During his tenure at the school, Daniele goes out of his way to connect with his students, encouraging them to smoke in class and flirting with the more attractive girls. He spends his free time gambling with locals, and begins an ill-fated affair with one of their barely legal girlfriends, Vanina (Sonia Petrovna)—who also happens to be one of his students. Alida Valli (The Third Man, Suspiria) appears as Vanina’s mother.
Friday, May 22, 3:30pm & 8:35pm

Federico Fellini's The Swindle (1955)

Rome 11:00 / Roma ore 11
Giuseppe De Santis, Italy/France, 1952, 35mm, 107m
Italian with English subtitles

An overlooked entry in the neorealist canon, Rome 11:00 chronicles the buildup to and aftermath of a true-life event that encapsulates the dearth of opportunities in postwar Rome. Two-hundred women answer an ad for a secretarial position that, though menial, offers the hope of self-improvement. As the applicants crowd the staircase waiting to be interviewed, individual stories emerge. But their newfound fellowship evaporates with the disclosure that not all of them will be seen by management, and the ensuing chaos leads to tragedy. Directed by Giuseppe De Santis (whose Bitter Rice portrayed the female workforce in a rural setting), Rome 11:00 offers a vivid cross section of lives still stricken by war years later, from streetwalkers to fallen nobles to the offspring of struggling pensioners.
Sunday, May 24, 2:30pm & 7:00pm

The Sign of Venus / Il segno di Venere
Dino Risi, Italy, 1955, 35mm, 101m
Italian with English subtitles

Sophia Loren had an early triumph as Agnese, a woman born under the titular sign, making her the effortless object of male desire in her town. Meanwhile, her typist cousin Cesira (Franca Valeri) earnestly pines for a husband, but cannot compete with Agnese’s charms. Before directing international hits Il sorpasso and Profumo di donna (the basis for Scent of a Woman), Dino Risi honed his expertise at human comedy with serious overtones on The Sign of Venus, which competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. Featuring Raf Vallone (who starred in Loren’s Oscar-winning Two Women) and Vittorio De Sica in a colorful role as a panhandling poet.
Thursday, May 28, 4:15pm & 8:45pm

Sweet Deceptions / I dolci inganni
Alberto Lattuada, Italy/France, 1960, 35mm, 95m
Italian with English subtitles

Alberto Lattuada, who co-directed Fellini’s debut, Variety Lights, made this perceptive drama that defies coming-of-age clichés. Seventeen-year-old Francesca (Il Sorpasso’s Catherine Spaak) wakes up one morning nursing a crush on family friend Enrico (Christian Marquand), a much older architect. She cuts school and spends the day observing lovers, contemplating whether to act on her feelings, which ultimately lead her to the hillside town where Enrico is restoring a villa. A tender portrait of burgeoning adulthood, not about sexual improprieties but about self-discovery. Spaak’s sensitive performance is matched by a supporting cast that breathes life into each character, however fleetingly illustrated.
Friday, May 22, 6:30pm

The Swindle / Il Bidone
Federico Fellini, Italy/France, 1955, 35mm, 112m
Italian with English subtitles

Fellini’s fifth feature (following 1954’s immortal La Strada) again enlists Hollywood stars in a heartrending portrait of rootlessness and regret. Augusto (Broderick Crawford, Oscar winner for All the King’s Men) is the eldest of three itinerant con men, perpetrating grifts and chasing the good life until a meeting with his estranged daughter revives his nobler instincts. Among the director’s most socially conscious works—Augusto’s victims tend to be poor and gullible—Fellini draws exceptional performances from Crawford, Richard Basehart (La Strada’s Fool), and, in the smaller role of Basehart’s spouse, Fellini’s wife and muse Giulietta Masina. Highlighted by a memorable score from frequent Fellini composer Nino Rota.
Wednesday, May 27, 4:00pm & 8:30pm

Raffaello Matarazzo's The White Angel (1955)

Totò Diabolicus
Steno, Italy, 1962, 35mm, 92m
Italian with English subtitles

The unassailable iconic Italian superstar Totò (nicknamed “The Prince of Laughter”) headlines this black comedy that’s like Kind Hearts and Coronets meets Danger: Diabolik. The Marquis di Torrealta is murdered by an assailant in all black, save for the name “Diabolicus” printed on his shirt. One by one, his siblings (and heirs)—a general nostalgic for the days of fascism, a youth-obsessed black widow, a twitchy surgeon, and a mild-mannered priest—come under scrutiny by the police, but just before any of their suspects can be arrested, Diabolicus strikes again. When the priest gives his inheritance money to the Marquis’s illegitimate son, the plot takes even twistier, more delightful turns.
Monday, May 25, 4:30pm

Two Women / La Ciociara
Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1960, 35mm, 100m
Italian with English subtitles

Adapted from Alberto Moravia’s novel of the same name, De Sica’s heartbreaking story of a mother and daughter during World War II earned Sophia Loren a Best Actress Oscar, the first for a performer in a foreign-language film. Widow Cesira (Loren) and her daughter Rosetta (Eleanora Brown) leave Rome for the relative safety of Cesira’s hometown in the countryside. There, they befriend Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo), an affable Marxist who resists the Fascists around him, waiting out the conflict. After Allied forces take Italy, mother and daughter follow them on their march toward Rome—but a violent, traumatic event forever changes their relationship.
Sunday, May 24, 4:50pm & 9:15pm

Violent Summer / Estate violenta
Valerio Zurlini, Italy, 1959, 35mm, 98m
Italian with English subtitles

Set amid the civil unrest leading up to Italy’s 1943 armistice, Violent Summer stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Carlo, a feckless beach bum and son of a well-to-do Fascist. During an Allied air raid, he meets Roberta (Eleonora Rossi Drago), a mother and naval officer’s widow, who openly criticizes Carlo’s draft-dodging. Despite their (slight) age difference and the protestations from Roberta’s family, the two grow closer. After Carlo’s father flees without a word following Mussolini’s “resignation,” Carlo is forced to enlist to support the Fascist cause. The film’s shocking finale brings the couple’s devotion and the horror of war into sharp focus.
Saturday, May 30, 3:00pm & 9:20pm

The White Angel / L’angelo bianco
Raffaello Matarazzo, Italy, 1955, 35mm, 100m
Italian with English subtitles

King of Italian melodrama Raffaello Matarazzo merges elements of luridness and coincidence with the earthier style of the neorealists in one of his signature films. Continuing the fraught narrative that began in his earlier Nobody’s Children, Guido (Amadeo Nazzari) is now reeling from the loss of his son—a tragedy that has sent the boy’s mother, Luisa (Yvonne Sanson), into a convent. Spotting Luisa’s doppelgänger, Lina (also portrayed by Sanson), affords him the chance to right past wrongs—or repeat the same mistakes. Featuring storms at sea and a stint in a women’s prison, The White Angel is one part Sirk and one part Vertigo, with sensational aspects offset by Matarazzo’s attention to character psychology and fine performances (especially by Nazzari, known for playing the movie star who picks up Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria).
Friday, May 29, 6:30pm