Italian Language Blog

Mario Monicelli Posted by on Dec 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

The film director Mario Monicelli was born in Viareggio (Tuscany) in 1915, began his cinematic career in the early Thirties, and directed his last film in 2006, aged 91! He is considered to be one of the fathers of la Commedia all’Italiana (Italian comedy), and amongst his greatest films are "I soliti ignoti", "L’Armata Brancaleone"  and "Amici miei".

In "I soliti ignoti" (1958) there is a memorable scene in which Totò (the most famous Italian actor at that time) teaches a hopeless group of would be robbers how to crack a safe. The "class" takes place on the rooftop terrace of an apartment block behind some curtains, and when the police come along to investigate what is going on Totò pretends his pupils are a choir rehearsing Christmas carols.

After many more comic peripezie (misadventures) the gang ends up breaking into the wrong apartment, and all they find is an alarm clock, and a big saucepan of pasta e ceci (chickpeas and pasta soup) which they eat with great pleasure!

A remake of "I Soliti Ignoti" directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, and starring George Clooney, was released in 2002 under the title of "Welcome to Collinwood".

Monicelli didn’t only direct comic films, but also focused on the use of satire, and probably my favorite film in this genre is "La Grande Guerra" (The Great War), from 1959, with Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman, two "maestri" of the Italian cinema. The film was Oscar nominated in 1960 as best foreign film, and won the Leone d’Oro al Festival del Cinema di Venezia. The film is a perfect combination of comedy and tragedy, in which the two main protagonists portray cowardly soldiers who would do anything to avoid danger, but ironically end up dying as unsung heroes. See this link for the full synopsis (in Italian):

Mario Monicelli died in Roma on Tuesday the 30th of November, aged 95. He appears to have committed suicide by throwing himself from the window of his hospital room, where he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. The following day, when the news of his death became public, University students who where protesting all over Italy against the new University reforms started singing the main theme from Monicelli’s film "L’Armata Brancaleone" (1966), adopting it as their grido di battaglia (battle cry)Branca, Branca, Branca, Leon, Leon, Leon, Fiii… Boom!

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  1. VInce:

    Salve Serena:

    Does the ‘all’ in ‘Commedia all’Italiana’ translate ‘Comedy as the Italians like it?’ I would think that degli would be used here or just use “Comedia iltaliana”. I’m not sure why alla is used. It sounds like food to me: Scallopini alla Bolognese. I love it!


    • Serena:

      @VInce Salve Vince, the “all'” in “Commedia all’Italiana” means “in the Italian way / manner”, just like “scaloppine alla bolognese” (scaloppine in the Bolognese way), or “risotto alla milanese” (“risotto made in the Milanese way”).

      Saluti da Serena

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