Valeria Zurlini Essay, Research Paper
BAM Cinematek recently chose to feature the films of Italian Director Valerio Zurlini. Zurlini isn t mentioned in many of the putative histories of Italian cinema, yet he is one of the most noteworthy Italian directors of all time. Zurlini s canon of films were most recently screened at The National Gallery of Art, in February of 2001, and have also been screened throughout Canada, and at The Pacific Cinematheque, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, and Walter Reade Theater within the last two years.
Valerio Zurlini was born in Bologna in 1926 to an affluent family. Prior to directing films, Zurlini studied both law and art history. Zurlini said that studying art helped him to develop an intuitive approach to the composition of images, and that going to the movies on a regular basis instilled in him an understanding of cinematic rhythm, presumably reinforced and deepened by his long-standing collaboration with composer Mario Nascimbene (Moller). Zurlini believed that art alone could provide insight into human nature, inspiration, truth and the possibility of redemption, since art endures long after its creator is gone.
In relation to Italian film history, Zurlini s films fall in between Rossellini, de Sica, and Zavattini s Neorealism and Bertolucci and Belloccio s Young Cinema. Neorealism came in the wake of the Liberation and post WWII democracy. Young Cinema, connected to the student revolt, would occur some twenty years after Neorealsim. As the Neorealists were filming their vision of how the world should be, (Moller) Zurlini was fighting with the Italian Liberation Corps from the fall of Mussolini in 1943 until the Liberation in 1945. Unfortunately for Zurlini, his films would fall in between these political events, and therefore be somewhat ignored outside of Europe.
Zurlini s body of work consists of twelve short films and eight feature length films. four of his feature length films, and one of his shorts would deal with military themes, drawing on his own experiences with the Italian Liberation Corps. Zurlini s films would capture the existentialist vision that Zurlini himself had adopted after the war. Zurlini s desperate vision of life led him to the two fundamental insights that inform all his work: just as death is a certainty, it follows that relationships can never work and that love can t be kept alive- and so it is best to abandon love while awaiting death (Moller).
Zurlini s eight features were made between 1954 and 1976, while his shorts were all made in the 1950 s. His first feature film was the comedy The Girls of San Frediano (Le ragazze di San Frediano) (1954), and was followed by seven more serious post WWII existentialist films. His second film, Violent Summer (Estate violenta) (1959) was a classic coming-of-age story and landmark anti-Fascist film. Next came The Girl with the Suitcase (La ragazze con la valiglia) (1960), an existentialist love story that won the National Selection for Italy at the 1961 Cannes film Festival. Zurlini s 1962 Family Diary (Cronaca familiare) is the second his film based on a novel by Vasco Pratolini. Diary based on the novel Two Brothers, is about a man grieving the death of his brother.
In 1965 Zurlini made the war film Le Soldatesse, about a soldier transporting a group of Greek women. The film Black Jesus (Seduto alla aua destra) (1968) was a fictional account of the Congo rebel leader Patrice Lumumba, and is one of Zurlini s most well known films, because it starred American actor Woody Strode. The 1972 film The Professor (La prima notte di quiete) is the most representative of Zurlini s style, because the film is based on his own desire to return to the world of his childhood, the summers spent in Rimini, places lost in the midst of confusion, time, and memory, (Moller). Zurlini s final film was the 1976 war movie Desert of the Tartars (Il deserto dei tartani) based on the novel by Dino Buzzati.
The film I had the opportunity to screen at the Rose Cinemas, was Zurlini s first feature, The Girls of San Frediano. the film was based on a story written by Vasco Pratolini, about a young man named Bob who gets caught up in trying to juggle relationships with too many women at the same time. The Girls of San Frediano (94 minutes in length) was screened in cinema 2, downstairs, in black and white 35mm, in Italian with English subtitles. The film stars Antonio Cifarello as Andrea Sernesi, who is given the nickname Bob because of his resemblance to the actor Robert Taylor. Bob s girlfriends are Tosca, played by Rosanna Podesta, Silvana, Played by Luciana Liberate, Mafalda, played by Giulia Robini, Bice, played by Corrine Calvet, and Gina, played by Marcella Miriani.
The film opens with Bob, who is a mechanic, working at the family garage. It is in these first opening scenes that we are also introduced to the Sernesi family and the downstairs neighbors they are feuding with. We see Gina, daughter of the feuding neighbors, whispering to Bob from her window. Bob explains he cannot see her that day because of the fighting. Bob goes back to the shop, and gets a visit from Tosca, who makes a date with Bob for later that evening. That night as Bob is on his way to his date with Tosca, he avoids Gina, by sneaking out of his house. As Bob is en route to Tosca, he sees Silvana, who is a teacher at a night school.
Bob immediately enrolls in Silvana s class that night just to meet her. After the class is over he sees Silvana leave with his old friend Gianfranco. Bob then remembers he has to get to Tosca before she is furious with him for standing her up, but along the way a group of his friends call him over to look at a group of dancers rehearsing. Bob recognizes one of the dancers as Mafalda, his old girlfriend. Bob goes to Mafalda and asks why she has left him, and Mafalda explains it is because she knows about his other girlfriends. Bob leaves Mafalda disappointed, and hurries off to Tosca. As expected Tosca is upset that Bob has made her wait all night for him, so Bob lies and says he was injured in an accident on his way to see her. Tosca is pacified for the moment, and they make another date for the beach the next day.
While at the beach Tosca and Bob have an argument, and Tosca leaves him. As Bob is on his way back home alone, he sees a beautiful young women, Bice, get into a fender bender with another car. Bice is obviously at fault in the accident, but Bob comes to her defense, claiming that the accident was the other motorists fault. Bob leaves Bice his phone number, and tells her he ll be a witness for her defense. Bob leaves and sees his friend Gianfranco, they talk about Silvana, and Bob promises his friend he will leave her alone. Later that night Bob goes to the night school to tell Silvana he is dropping out. Bob gives Silvana a picture of a race car driver, and signs his name to it. He tells her that his life is racing cars, and that school is not for him.
Bob then goes to see Bice, and they begin a love affair. Bice is a fashion designer, and she offers him an opportunity to come and work for her. Bob chooses instead to be with Mafalda, and asks her to marry him. Bob thinks he has all his ducks in a row, but is surprised when he comes home to find that Gina, the girl downstairs, has informed both families that they are engaged. The two families throw a festive engagement party, which is interrupted by Tosca and her father, who accuse Bob of taking Tosca s virtue. The engagement to Gina is called off, and Bob is relieved, because now he thinks he can still marry Mafalda. bob goes to Mafalda a house and is stunned to learn that Mafalda has left for Palermo with her dance troupe, because she found out about his engagement to Gina. Desperate, Bob decides that it would be best for him to take the job, that Bice had offered him.
Bob tells her sister that he is leaving with Bice in the morning, and that she is not to tell the rest of the family. The next morning as Bob is prepared to board the train with Bice, he is confronted by Silvana, and then his brother and sister. Bob s brother drags Bob off the train and kicks his but all the way back to San Frediano. In the end bob is left alone, and as the narrator of the film puts it, a victim of his own attractiveness.
The Girls of San Frediano was a delightful comedy, with a plot we ve seen before, but never executed quite as well. It would seem to me that Girls… easily could have been the inspiration for countless tacky American films and television sitcoms, but because Valerio Zurlini is somewhat of an unknown outside of Europe, it is probably best to assume that they all had the same idea, but Zurlini pulled it off best. The Girls of San Fredaino is an excellent opportunity for an audience to see the great range of talent that Zurlini, most noted for dramatic work, was capable of.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to screen The Girls of San Frediano in a theater. Living in Brooklyn, I find it much more appealing to see a film during the workweek in Brooklyn, as opposed to a theater in Manhattan, or at the Brooklyn Museum. BAM is conveniantly located by the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street train stop, which is the exchange for nine different train lines running throughout Brooklyn. I am fortunate, in that I live one train stop away from BAM or short walk down Flatbush Avenue, but for those who don t live so close there is probably at least one train line convenient to them. Besides offering the wonderful programming at BAM Cinematek, there is also the opportunity to see first run films, in a first class theater, while supporting a fine institution like BAM.
Bam Rose Cinema. 1 Apr 2001. Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Film Series: The films of Valerio Zurlini. 17 Feb 2001. The National Gallery of Art.
Moller, Olaf. Autumnal Discontent: Valerio Zurlini, Film Comment Magazine Jul 2000.
Newman, Andy. More Than Just a Movie House; A magnet for Brooklyn s Young Is in Place, but Will It Work? New York Times 12 Nov 1998: 2