That's Amore: Italy as muse

That's Amore: Italy as muse


That's Amore: Italy as muse

“I wanted nothing more than to be a foreign filmmaker,” Woody Allen said recently, “but of course I was from Brooklyn, which was not a foreign country. Through a happy accident, I wound up being a foreign filmmaker because I couldn’t raise money any other way.”

Continuing a cinematic tour of Europe on which Allen has spent the better part of a decade making movies in Britain (Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Spain (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and France (Midnight in Paris, which won him the Academy Award for original screenplay), this wandering writer-director landed in Italy for his new film, To Rome With Love.

That film, which will see its release soon, is an ensemble comedy featuring Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni and Allen himself among the Americans and Italians who get mixed up in a series of intertwining adventures and romances.

After toying with titles like The Bop Decameron and Nero Fiddled, Allen changed the film’s name to one that reflected not only his affection for Italy, but also for that country’s proud tradition of cinema and maverick filmmakers who inspired him to make personal movies of his own.

As a teenager in New York, Allen, now 76, said in an interview by phone, “My group was hardly an intellectual group — it was a group of mugs.” But he added, “Italian movies were a great staple of our cultural diet. They were a tremendous influence in terms of showing us that one could make movies about mature subjects with profound themes.”

Allen spoke about four movies by Italian filmmakers that influenced him most profoundly. “They invented a method of telling a story and suddenly for us lesser mortals it becomes all right to tell a story that way,” Allen said.

“We do our versions of them, never as shockingly innovative or brilliant as when the masters did them.”

The Bicycle Thief, directed by Vittorio De Sica (1948): “This, to me, was the supreme Italian film and one of the greatest films in the world. It was out when I was a teenager, in the same era as Stromboli and Bitter Rice, that wave at the time. When you see it, it seems so simple and effortless.

I mean, what could be more simple? A guy has a bicycle, which he needs for his livelihood. It gets stolen, and he goes to find it with his son. The boy’s relationship with his father was part anger, part desperate affection.

It couldn’t help but make an impression on the most primitive level. You didn’t have to think about anything, you just watched the characters and their predicament. It’s flawless; every part of it works perfectly.”

Shoeshine, Vittorio De Sica (1946): “I saw this when I was more grown-up, in my 30s, and it was like a masterpiece that had slipped through the cracks for me. It must be a little-seen film because I never run into anybody who’s seen it.

It starts off as a story of two kids just as friendly as can be, who buy a horse together, and the domino effect is terrible, the way things keep tumbling worse and worse for them.

I do think that certain people do experience an anxiety over being wrongly accused or incarcerated and unable to make contact with the outside world, and things getting worse and worse — being separated from civilisation and legal proceedings. But the poetry of the piece for me was the relationship of those two boys. It went from such simple, mutual excitement, affection, to where they are finally and violently opposed.”

Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni (1966): “It’s certainly not the best Antonioni film and not on par with the other three films I named, but a very charming experience. It’s so beautifully photographed by Carlo Di Palma, and the story was so interesting, even though it unravels in certain ways.

Here’s a life that’s fully vital, full of music and beautiful women and open sex and swinging London at its height. But if you take a moment in that life and stop for a second, and blow it up, what you see is death. And you are really present with David Hemmings when he discovers that.

You’re in that studio with him when he does those pictures and puts them up on the wall and notices something. If you stop all the noise and colour and glamour, and look very, very closely, you have to understand that death is ever-present. That was a very important idea for me.”

Amarcord, Federico Fellini (1973): “I loved The White Sheik and I Vitelloni and La Strada, and of course 8 ½. But Amarcord is one, for me, that I could see every year.

He so clearly recreates his childhood in Rimini, and you’re there in that world, with his mother and his father, with his relatives, with local people, with the local stores, the local rituals of marching around the town square and things that everybody’s done: looking at strangers and seeing that they look like movie stars, and hanging out at the cinema, and ogling at particular women who are the heartthrobs of the neighbourhood.

You are in a world that he recreated, and he recreated it not in a literal, photographic way — he did it in an exaggerated, cartoon-like way — and still, you’re there. You understand all those memories and experiences.”

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox