The coffee shop has relocated to Italy for a couple of weeks and I’ve been thinking about why this country makes such a great setting for stories . These are my favourite films that were made or set in Italy. It was a really tough choice! Which films would make your top five?
The Talented Mr Ripley, Anthony Minghella 1999
Tom Ripley is hired by wealthy shipping company owner Herbert Greenleaf to go to Italy and persuade Mr Greenleaf’s playboy son Dickie to come home to America and face up to his responsibilities. Tom finds Dickie and his girlfriend Marge living in southern Italy. He is seduced by their lifestyle and infatuated by Dickie. Tom’s three talents include telling lies, forging signatures and pretending to be other people which all come in handy after Dickie’s death as Tom takes on his persona and opulent lifestyle. But gradually people get suspicious and he is driven to further and further extremes to hide the truth about how Dickie died.
I’m a huge Patricia Highsmith fan and loved the book but Anthony Minghella added his own touch of genius to the story with a superb cast, stunning locations and the addition of Meredith whose appearance at key moments increases the tension and the chance that Tom will be unmasked.
Stanno tutti bene (Everybody’s fine), Giuseppe Tornatore, 1990
When his adult children are unable to make it to a family reunion in Sicily, their father, Matteo Scuro, a retired bureaucrat, takes the train up through Italy (Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan and Turin) to pay a surprise visit to each of them so that he can reassure his wife that they are all fine. But it turns out none of them is living in the way he has been led to believe – and his own story isn’t what it seems either.
This film is poignant, beautiful and full of surprises. Marcello Mastroianni is superb as the main character. A different version of the film was made in 2009 set in America which I really should see but I am so attached to this one!
Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988
In this exquisitely shot coming of age story, Salvatore (‘Toto’), now a famous film director, returns home for the funeral of a man who had the biggest influence on his life. He recounts his childhood relationship with Alfredo through flashbacks. As a mischievous young boy living in the war-torn Sicilian village Toto likes to sneak into the cinema run by an old man, Alfredo, and he ends up helping Alfredo operate the films. When the cinema catches fire, Toto rescues Alfredo but the old man’s sight can not be saved. A new cinema is built when one of the villagers wins the lottery and Toto operates it but he relies on his blind friend for advice on film and love.
Don’t Look Now, Nicholas Roeg, 1973
John and Laura Baxter stay in Venice while John is restoring a church. They are still recovering from the death of their little girl in a tragic accident. They meet two elderly sisters, one of whom is blind but is a clairvoyant. She tells the couple she has seen their dead daughter and that the child is warning them that John is in danger. The wife believes them but the husband dismisses their story. When their son’s school tells them that their son Jonathan is seriously ill Laura, convinced that the old woman has got it right, hurries back to England to be with him but the premonition is not what it seems.
This is such a brilliant story by Daphne du Maurier and although I prefer the story to the film it’s hard to go wrong with Venice as a setting, full of mystery and menace.
Tea with Mussolini, Franco Zeffirelli 1999
A group of elderly ex-pat women enjoy a civilised lifestyle in Florence surrounded by art and beauty. They refuse to accept the growing threat of fascism and put their trust in Mussolini who offers them his personal protection. But when the Allies declare war on Italy his promise turns out to be worthless. Elsa, a wealthy Jewish American who the ladies have despised for her brashness and who she in return has dubbed ‘the scorpioni” decides to help them anonymously. She enlists the help of Luca, the son of her best friend who died, to move them from their uncomfortable conditions to a hotel in San Gimignanofooling he officials into thinking they are following il duce’s orders. Lady Hester, widow of the former Ambassador to Rome, continues to despise Elsa and remains convinced that they have Mussolini to thank for their improved situation. But when America enters the war, Elsa is no longer safe. Luca is infatuated with Elsa and his jealousy of her lover puts her life in danger. Can Luca and “the scorpioni” help Elsa escape and protect the village from the Germans?
This is a brilliantly-cast, compelling story, made all the more fascinating because it is based on Zeffirelli’s true experience.