The late forties and early fifties produced Italian cinema’s single most important export: the neorealism of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Luchino Visconti, treasured by generations of cinephiles and filmmakers all over the world. In Italy during the same period, though, a quite different style was enthralling popular audiences: the wonderfully florid, impeccably crafted melodramas of Raffaello Matarazzo. This weekend, we’re bringing Matarazzo’s elemental passions to the Criterion Channel with a retrospective featuring six of the sensational, serpentinely plotted hits he made with overpowering stars Amedeo Nazzari and Yvonne Sanson. In a series introduction featured on the Channel alongside such films as Chains, Nobody’s Children, and Torna!, Professor Stefano Albertini explains the extraordinary postwar popularity of such escapist melodrama, which had its aesthetic roots in tearjerking nineteenth-century literature and the expressive extravagance of opera. Albertini also points out that these entirely apolitical entertainments often shared a working-class milieu with contemporaneous works of neorealism—though the movies’ traditionalist values and passionate spirit were geared toward reassuring audiences rather than challenging them.