One of the great revelations of the last decade has been the breadth and depth of the Italian popular cinema, at last made available to non-Italian speakers through the subtitling efforts of companies like Raro Video and NoShame, as well as the private initiatives of many public-spirited cinephiles on the net. Thanks to the horror buffs, we’ve made great strides with filmmakers like Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda; Quentin Tarantino and his followers have unearthed such intriguing action directors as Fernando di Leo and Sergio Martino. Now, attention seems to be turning to the “commedia all’Italiana,” the remarkable surge of biting social comedies that accompanied Italy’s economic recovery in the 50s and 60s. Once widely distributed (and commercially successful) in the US, many of these movies have dropped out of circulation over the years, leaving major directors like Dino Risi, Luigi Zampa, Pietro Germi and Nanni Loy woefully underrepresented, but lately Raro, Criterion and Kino have been issuing rare work by Alberto Lattuada, Antonio Pietrangeli, and Marco Ferreri, hopefully with more to follow.
Mario Monicelli (above) may have been the best known of the group when he died in 2010 at the age of 95, but apart from “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” very little of his work (which includes nearly 70 titles as a director) has been visible of late in the US. Criterion has taken a big step forward with “The Organizer,” an atypically sober Monicelli film from 1963, with Marcello Mastroianni as an enigmatic labor organizer who urges factory workers toward a strike in turn of the century Turin. The film is a challenging blend of broad caricature and psychological nuance, of realist social reportage and stylized storytelling (more details here, in this week’s New York Times column). Monicelli’s equally complex “La grande guerra” from 1959 would make a terrific follow-up, but his long career has much to offer.