Comencini, Luigi

   Director and screenwriter. Although often characterized almost exclusively as one of the leading practitioners of the commedia all'italiana, Comencini was an eclectic and versatile director whose production ranged widely from murder mysteries and family dramas to the farcical comedies of Toto. The two most constant features of his filmmaking, however, were a wry sense of humor and an abiding interest in children and their view of the world.
   Comencini began writing film criticism while an architecture student in Milan. An early passion for collecting and preserving old films led to a conservation project, carried out with fellow students Alberto Lattuada and Mario Ferrari, which eventually resulted in the establishment of the Italian Cinematheque. After World War II he again worked as a film critic until he was able to finance Bambini in citta (Children in Cities, 1946), a documentary about street kids in Milan living in the midst of the city's war ruins. The work was highly praised when it was screened at both the Venice Festival and Cannes and earned him his first Nastro d'argento. It also brought an offer from Carlo Ponti at Lux Film to direct his first feature, Proibito rubare (Stealing Forbidden, also known as as Guaglid, 1948), a sort of Boys Town set in Naples. The film's unfortunate lack of either critical or box office success prompted Comencini to accept a commission to direct one of Toto's early films, L'imperatore di Capri (The Emperor of Capri, 1949). This lighthearted farce was followed by the very different Persiane chiuse (Behind Closed Shutters, 1951) and La tratta delle bianche (The White Slave Trade, 1952), two dark social melodramas centered on crime and prostitution, both clearly influenced by American film noir. On the strength of his earlier work with children, Comencini was next invited to Switzerland to direct an adaptation of Johanna Spyri's classic childhood novel, Heidi (1953), although the film proved a dismal box office failure.
   Comencini's fortunes would improve immeasurably, however, with his next film, Pane, amore e fantasia (Bread, Love and Dreams, 1953), a rural idyll starring Vittorio De Sica and the budding Gina Lollobrigida in the role of the beautiful country bumpkin that first brought her to public attention. The film was such an unexpected and overwhelming box office success that it immediately prompted Comencini to make its equally popular sequel, Pane, amore e gelosia (Bread, Love and Jealousy, 1954, also known as Frisky). There followed more gentle social satire in La bella di Roma (The Belle of Rome, 1955), Mariti in citta (Husbands in the City, 1957), and Mogli pericolose (Dangerous Wives, 1958) before Comencini made what many regard as one of his finest films, Tutti a casa (Everybody Go Home, 1960). In the biting satirical register of what had by now become known as the commedia all'italiana, the film presented a disconcerting portrait of the chaotic aftermath of Italy's abrupt armistice with the Allies in September 1943, with Alberto Sordi providing one of his most endearing and moving performances as the hapless Lieutenant Innocenzi. After two other caustic comedies set in contemporary Italy, A cavallo della tigre (On the Tiger's Back, 1960) and Il commissario (The Police Commissioner, 1962), Comencini returned to the war period in more dramatic terms with his adaption of Carlo Cassola's famous Resistance novel La ragazza di Bube (Bebo's Girl, 1963). He then agreed to direct the fifth in the series of Don Camillo films, Il compagno Don Camillo (Don Camillo in Moscow, 1965), largely in order to be able to finance L'incompreso (Misunderstood, 1967), another film with children at its center, which earned him his first David di Donatello as well as a nomination for the Palme d'or. Bowing once again to commercial pressures, he next produced a spoof of the spy film then so much in vogue with Italian Secret Service (1968) and the taut murder thriller Senza sapere nulla di lei (Without Knowing Anything about Her, 1969) before returning to the theme of childhood with Vocazione e prime esperienze di Giacomo Casanova veneziano (Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Adolescence, 1969). This exploration of the world from a child's point of view was continued even more systematically in a six-episode television documentary, I bambini e noi (We and the Children, 1970), and then culminated in the work for which he is perhaps most warmly remembered, Le avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio, 1971). The film Comencini distilled from the original five one-hour episodes made for television has continued to be widely regarded as the bestever adaptation of Carlo Collodi's children's classic.
   In the following years Comencini continued to produce a wide variety of films, from bittersweet social comedies such as Lo scopone scientifico (The Scientific Cardplayer, 1972) to the classic murder thriller La donna della domenica (The Sunday Woman, 1976). In the classic style of the commedia all'italiana, L'ingorgo—una storia impossibile (Traffic Jam, 1978) uncovered the social malaise of Italian affluence using the dramatic stratagem of an all-engulfing traffic jam. Comencini's best films from this later period, however, remained those that sought to present the child's point of view, as in Voltati Eugenio (Eugenio, 1980), Un ragazzo di Calabria (A Boy in Calabria, 1987), and his television adaptation of the schoolboy classic Cuore (Heart, 1984). Rather appropriately, his penultimate film, Buon Natale, Buon anno (Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, 1989) was the story of a contemporary retired couple who secretly elope in order to escape the busy lifestyle of their extended families and live out their last days together as anonymous lighthouse keepers. Comencini's final film, Marcellino (Miracle of Marcellino, 1992), was a remake of Ladislao Vajda's 1955 film in which an orphaned boy who lives with monks eventually finds true happiness in the arms of the Virgin Mary.
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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