Commedia All'italiana

   Film genre. Comedy had always occupied a prominent place in Italian cinema, but from the late 1950s Italians began to see on their screens a new and more particular sort of comedy, which soon came to be known as commedia all'italiana, "comedy Italian style." This new comedy was characterized above all by a sharper and more caustic wit and a greater and more acknowledged sense of cynicism. Indeed, Italian film historians have repeatedly suggested that what most typifies this new form of comedy is that it comically inflects themes, characters, and situations that could otherwise easily have been treated in a tragic vein. Ebullient and effusive, continually dramatizing hopes and aspirations, the commedia all'italiana will nevertheless almost always lack that staple of traditional comedy, the happy ending.
   This more incisive form of social comedy is generally taken to begin with Mario Monicelli's I soliti ignoti (literally, "The Usual Unknowns," although more generally known in English as Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958), a film about a bungled burglary attempt in Rome by a motley group of petty thieves who in their absurd pretensions and lovable incompetence represent many fundamental aspects of the Italian character in the postwar period. This was followed by a host of films that comically reflected—and, with amused cynicism, reflected on—the way in which the Italian character was both confronting and incorporating the fundamental social changes being wrought by the socalled Italian economic miracle. It is significant that what are thought to be the classics of the genre, films such as Dino Risi's Una vita difficile (A Difficult Life, 1961), Il sorpasso (The Easy Life, 1962), and I mostri (15 from Rome, 1963), Luciano Salce's La voglia matta (Crazy Desire, 1962), and Vittorio De Sica's Il boom (The Boom, 1963), were all produced precisely during the period in which Italians were racing headlong toward consumerism on the back of Italy's economic boom. Having opened the satirical floodgates, however, the genre's corrosive wit and bemused cynicism could also be used to reinterpret Italian history in a less heroic key, as in Monicelli's La grande guerra (The Great War, 1959), Luigi Comencini's Tutti a casa (Everybody Go Home, 1960), or Luciano Salce's Il federale (The Fascist, 1961). The more stolid mores of provincial, and especially southern, Italy were also sharply depicted and satirically derided in several other classics of the genre, particularly in Pietro Germi's Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961) and Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned, 1963).
   Regularly produced by the same combination of directors (Risi, Monicelli, Comencini, Salce, Ettore Scola) collaborating with screenwriters such as Age e Scarpelli, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Ennio De Concini, Rodolfo Sonego, Ruggeri Maccari, and actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi, Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Sandrelli, and Monica Vitti, the genre flourished profusely until the early 1970s when it achieved what many believe to be its finest and most mature incarnation in Scola's C'eravamo tanto amati (We All Loved Each Other So Much, 1974). Following this high point, however, with Italian society having thoroughly incorporated all the elements which the commedia all'italiana had so mischievously sought to satirize, the genre began to grow stale and decline. After offering one last brilliant rogues' gallery in I nuovi mostri (The New Monsters, 1977), directed collaboratively by Scola, Monicelli, and Risi, the genre presented something like its own epitaph in Scola's La terrazza (The Terrace, 1980).
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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