Italy's revolutionary movement for national unification, generally known as the Risorgimento, was one of Italian cinema's favorite themes from its very inception. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Italian cinema was, quite literally, born under the sign of the Risorgimento, for what is historically regarded as the first Italian feature film, Filoteo Alberini's La presa di Roma (The Taking of Rome, 1905), was nothing less than a grand, celebratory recreation of the culminating event of the struggle for Italian independence and unity, which was the breaching of the Roman walls at Porta Pia by the armies of the House of Savoy and the subsequent annexation of papal Rome as the capital of a united Italy. Made with the material support of the Italian army, which supplied the men and the armaments, the film was first screened outdoors at the very place where the battle had taken place exactly 35 years earlier, its last and crowning tableau vivant explicitly characterizing the event as an apotheosis.
   In the years that followed Alberini's foundational film, Italian silent cinema returned often to the Risorgimento, especially as ex-emplified in the figure of one of its most legendary protoganists, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Only two years after La presa di Roma, Mario Caserini directed Garibaldi (1907), a brief portrait of the Risorgimento hero, for the Roman Cines company. He soon followed this with Anita Garibaldi (1910), a similarly heroic portrait of Garibaldi's wife and fellow freedom fighter. A year later, having moved to Turin to work for Ambrosio Film, Caserini produced the even grander I Mille (The Thousand, 1911), one of the first Italian full-length features (40 minutes), which utilized hundreds of extras to recreate the exploits of Garibaldi's Redshirts. Luigi Maggi's Nozze d'oro (Golden Wedding Anniversary, 1911), similarly produced at the Ambrosio Film studios and winner of the first prize for a feature film awarded at the International Exhibition of Turin, also narrated the noble battles of the Risorgimento but this time in flashback, as the memories of an old bersagliere (light infantryman) recounted on his golden wedding anniversary. Maggi used this narrative stratagem again in a subsequent film he directed for Ambrosio, La lampada della nonna (The Grandmother's Lamp, 1913), where the birthday gift of an electric lamp prompts a grandmother to recount how things had been during her youth, when she had fallen in love with a young infantryman involved in the Risorgimento struggles.
   With the beginning of World War I, what had been a national celebration of the Risorgimento now became nationalistic as a united Italy lined up against the old enemy, Austria. Consequently, a number of films made during this period, such as Augusto Jandolo's Silvio Pellico (1915) and Brescia, leonessa d'ltalia (Brescia, the Lioness of Italy, 1915), sought to celebrate the bravery and courage of the specifically anti-Austrian struggles of patriots like Silvio Pellico and Tito Speri.
   In the early years of the Fascist period, in addition to the continuing presence of a romantic fascination with the more heroic aspects of the movement, emblematized, as always, by Garibaldi and his red-shirted volunteers, there was also an effort to suggest a historical continuity between the Risorgimento and Fascism in films such as Mario Volpe's Il grido dell'aquila (The Cry of the Eagle, 1923), Umberto Paradisi's Un balilla del '48 (A Young Freedom Fighter in 1848, 1927), and Domenico Gaido's I martiri d'ltalia (The Martyrs of Italy, 1927). A mixture of personal obsession and a pedagogical mission appears to have motivated Silvio Laurenti Rosa's series of films on the Risorgimento: Dalle cinque giornate di Milano alla breccia di Porta Pia (From the Five Days of Milan to the Breaching of Porta Pia, 1925), Garibaldi e i suoi tempi (Garibaldi and His Times, 1926), and another I martiri d'Italia (The Martyrs of Italy, 1928). Although, by all accounts, rather poor films, they attest to a continuing fascination with the movement during this period. Carmine Gallone's La cavalcata ardente (The Fiery Cavalcade, 1925), one of the most interesting films of what was a low period in Italian cinema, was, for all its nationalistic fervor, largely a historical romance that used the Risorgimento as backdrop. However, in 1860 (1933), Alessandro Blasetti succeeded in creating a nationally popular historical epic that fused the private and the public, the personal and the political, in the moving story of a Sicilian shepherd who travels the length of Italy in order to join Garibaldi's forces and return with them to liberate his family, his village, and Sicily from Bourbon tyranny. While 1860 is generally regarded as perhaps the best film ever produced on the Risorgimento, and as something of a forerunner of neorealism in its realistic portrayal of the events, on-location shooting, and use of non-professional actors, it is significant that in its original ending, promptly excised after the war, Blasetti explictly reiterated the idea of a continuity between the Redshirts and the Blackshirts, between the nationalistic ideals of the Risorgimento and the ideology of Fascism.
   The Risorgimento is again both the setting and theme of Enrico Guazzoni's II dottor Antonio (Doctor Antonio, 1937), the adaptation of a novel written in 1855 by revolutionary patriot Giovanni Ruffini (and already adapted several times during the silent period). Mario Soldati's Piccolo mondo antico (Old-Fashioned World, 1941) returns to using the Risorgimento struggles largely as backdrop for a family melodrama while Vittorio De Sica's Un garibaldino al convento (A Garibaldian in the Convent, 1942) again utilizes the narrative stratagem of an extended flashback to look back nostalgically on the Risorgimento as a romantic period filled with youthful hopes and idealistic dreams that, in the event, remained unrealized.
   A fascination with the Risorgimento continued to animate quite a number of films made in the immediate postwar period. The Risorgimento returned as backdrop in films such as Duilio Coletti's Cuore (Heart, 1947), an adaptation of Edmondo De Amicis's classic 19th-century educational novel, and Guido Brignone's La sepolta viva (Buried Alive, 1948). In 1949, to celebrate the centenary of one of the major episodes of the Risorgimento, the foundation of the ill-fated Roman Republic, Mario Costa directed Cavalcata d'eroi (Cavalcade of Heroes, released 1951). In 1952 Goffredo Alessandrini's Camicie rosse (Red Shirts, but also known as Anita Garibaldi) again sought to celebrate the heroism of both Garibaldi, played by Raf Vallone, and his wife, Anita, played with a great deal of fire and passion by Anna Magnani. In the same year, however, Piero Germi's Il brigante della Tacca del Lupo (The Bandit of Tacca Del Lupo, 1952) presented a decidedly less flattering view of the northern army as it attempted to reimpose law and order in the south during the period of unification. A year later, Luchino Visconti's Senso (The Wanton Countess, 1954) set its story of love and betrayal within the historical context of one of the greatest Italian defeats of the Risorgimento, the routing of forces of the House of Savoy by the Austrians at the Battle of Custoza. To celebrate the centenary of Italy's official unification, Roberto Rossellini made Viva I'ltalia (Garibaldi, 1961), a film that, in spite of Rossellini's neorealist heritage, ends up proposing, once again, a relatively hagiographic interpretation of the Risorgimento. Almost as a rejoinder, Visconti returned to the movement with Il gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963), a sumptuous, faithful adaptation of the novel by Giuseppe Tommaso Di Lampedusa which suggested that, for all the bluster, the Risorgimento would end up providing less a panacea for Italy's social and economic inequalities and more a continuation of its old ills. This more ambivalent attitude to the Risorgimento surfaces again strongly in Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Allonsanfan (1974), and the ostensibly liberating northern forces appear in an even more negative light in Florestano Vancini's Bronte, cronaca di un massacro che i libri di scuola non hanno raccontato (Liberty, 1972, but more literally Bronte, a Massacre That the History Books Failed to Recount).
   Subsequently, the more traditional heroic interpretation of the Risorgimento was again put forward in Luigi Magni's In nome del papa re (In the Name of the Pope King, 1977), which recounts the story of two of the last patriots to be executed for the cause of unification at the hands of the papal authorities in 1868, and repeated in Magni's subsequent films Arrivano i bersaglieri (Here Comes the Infantry, 1980), O re (The King of Naples, 1989), In nome del popolo sovrano (In the Name of the Sovereign People, 1990), and La carbonara (The Coal Woman, 2000).
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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