Last week, we were saddened to learn of the passing, at the age of eighty-four, of the beloved Italian writer and director Ettore Scola. The filmmaker was a luminary of Italian cinema for more than half a century, and his body of work has left an indelible mark on the medium. Beginning his career as a screenwriter in 1953, Scola collaborated with directors like Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi, and Antonio Pietrangeli, penning the scripts for such favorites as Il sorpasso and I Knew Her Well. In 1964 he made his directorial debut with Let’s Talk About Women, and he went on to make more than forty films, including We All Loved Each Other So Much, Passione d’amore, and the award-winning drama A Special Day.
Scola was at the center of the commedia all’italiana, a genre of Italian cinema that emerged in the late 1950s, whose other major practitioners included Monicelli, Risi, and Pietrangeli, as well as Pietro Germi and Pasquale Festa Campanile. Although the films that defined this style were often rollicking comedies, romps, and satires, they also served as vehicles for reflection on political and social issues in postwar Italy. Scola brought a deeply humane touch to his work throughout this period, whether he was delivering a subversive drama about life under fascism (A Special Day) or a jaunty road movie (Il sorpasso). For our release of Il sorpasso, we were lucky enough to sit down with Scola, who spoke about his writing process and the culture in which the film was born. In the clip below, he shares what he calls “the great secret” of the commedia all’italiana, and explains why he believes the films born of this style were so fascinating to international audiences.