When you think about Rome in movies, you suddenly face a bunch of titles that brutally take the scene, leaving little space to a whole genre which we could boldly call “romexploitation”. That said, while approaching this list you shouldn’t expect quotations from La dolce vita, cuts from Eat, Pray Love or devoted tributes to La Grande Bellezza. We are going to approach romexploitation from a less traveled path, the one with the hidden gems. Although not every movie of this list is a masterpiece, each one of them depicts Rome with a particular palette, giving a vivid picture of what the Eternal City was, is or will be.
Roma contro Roma, Giuseppe Vari (1964). As promised, let’s start with a cult b-movie which mixes historical drama with… zombies! Except for some scenes, the movie is not literally set in Rome (the main plot takes place in the geographic area of Asia Minor), but the omnipresent theme of the Caput Mundi, openly described as “the Queen of civilization”, endangered by an obscure goddess of terror, puts this movie right on the top of our list. Distributed in the US with the title The War of Zombies, this work is a bright example of the flourishing italian b-movie movement which has been inspiring masters such as Quentin Tarantino among others.
Brutti, sporchi e cattivi, Ettore Scola (1976). Although this brilliant depiction of the roman slums in the early 70s is a little more known, this story is both unique and disturbing, especially if you consider that this often cruel fresco of human miseries doesn’t alter reality to create (both phisically and morally) monstrous characters, but uses real life as it was – and sometimes is – to show how the human condition can be as repulsive and unbelievable as a grotesque decoration. Having become famous both among cinephiles and language loving freaks for its outstanding mix of roman and southern dialects, this movie also contains one of the most sadly hilarious scenes in the history of italian cinema.
Febbre da cavallo, Steno (1976). Enough with the bad feelings, let’s take a look at a title ascribable to the great tradition of Italian 70s comedy. Directed by Steno, a master of the genre, this movie analyzes, with an amused and accomplice look, the world of horse betting in the sunny and easygoing scenario of the roman suburbs. Simply a must.
Un borghese piccolo piccolo, Mario Monicelli (1977). Being proud inhabitants of the Monti neighborhood, we couldn’t miss the chance to include our patron saint Mario Monicelli in this list. This movie, adapted from a book by Vincenzo Cerami and starring a majestic Alberto Sordi, is considered one of the highest peaks of Monicelli’s productions, though it is also one of his most bitter and dramatic works. Having nothing to envy from other movies focused on revenge and its aftermath, Un borghese piccolo piccolo turns out to be extremely disturbing both for the social environment in which it is set (roman middle class with its miseries and its tragedies) and for the dramatic and moral burden it carries, telling the story of a desperate father – once a charmless average man – who loses his only son in a tragic accident.
Amore tossico, Claudio Caligari (1983). This movie has spurred such a cult that actual urban legends were born around it. Directed by standoffish author Claudio Caligari, this work ideally continues the tradition of Italian neorealism, portraying its extreme consequences. Entirely played by non professional actors, literally collected from the worst drug streets of Ostia, Amore tossico offers an unprecedented insight in the world of heroin addiction during the early 80s.
Et in terra pax, Matteo Botrugno (2010). Back to the suburbs with this dramatic story set in the ill-famous slum of Corviale (aka er serpentone, “the big snake”), one of the worst examples of urban architechture of the XX century. The plot itself doesn’t appear to be so original (it is the usual story of a failed redemption and harsh return to brutal reality), but what stuns the viewer in this movie is the clean photography, the genuine and immersive atmosphere of the roman suburbs, the psychological depth of some of the characters, alongside with some good choices concerning the sountrack (as suggested by the title). To us, one of the best movies of 2010 and altogether one of the best movies about Rome made in the last ten years.
And that’s it, our non-exhaustive list of hidden treasures. Needless to say we will get very disappointend if you won’t watch all of those movies and…. visit Rome!
Have your say in the comments. 😉
Buona visione…by Enrico Piciarelli, Italian teacher @ Kappa Language School in Rome