As Sundance opens its scaled-back and mostly virtual 2021 edition today, Cannes has officially shifted its dates this year from May to July. Both Rotterdam and Berlin made that move late last year, each deciding to roll out their festivals in two phases, with wintertime online events to be followed in the summer with outdoor and perhaps even indoor screenings. Locarno, though, is currently banking on the pandemic being well enough under control by early August to forge ahead with plans for its seventy-fourth edition, and the festival announced that it will dedicate its retrospective to the complete filmography of Alberto Lattuada.
Of the thirty-five titles in the program curated by Roberto Turigliatto, the two most familiar to cinephiles will be Variety Lights (1950), codirected with Federico Fellini, and Mafioso (1962). Lattuada and Fellini were introduced by comedic star Aldo Fabrizi, and the pair first worked together on the screenplay for Flesh Will Surrender, Lattuada’s 1947 adaptation of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s 1891 novel Giovanni Episcopo. Lattuada was a “grossly unappreciated directorial talent,” argued Andrew Sarris in his 2000 essay on Variety Lights, the story of a traveling vaudeville troupe starring both Lattuada’s wife, Carla Del Poggio, and Fellini’s, Giulietta Masina. Variety Lights is “post-neorealism with a vengeance,” wrote Sarris, “given that both Fellini and Lattuada had been drifting away from themes of social significance toward the self-enclosed worlds of quixotic loners, grifters, and outcasts. Lattuada’s gifts for dramatic narrative were joined in Variety Lights for the first and last time with Fellini’s flair for cartoonish satire and lyrical sentiment.”
In Mafioso, Alberto Sordi, who had appeared in Flesh Will Surrender, plays a foreman in a car factory in Milan who takes his family down to Sicily, where he’s tasked with carrying out a hit for the mob. Mafioso is “exemplary of Lattuada’s ability to mix genres and deftly switch tones from comedy (satire, irony, and parody) to drama,” wrote Donato Totaro in Offscreen in 1999. In an essay accompanying our release in 2008—you can watch the film and the supplements on the Criterion Channel—Roberto Chiesi wrote that Mafioso “describes with keen subtlety the poisonous ambiguity between the appearances of an age-old tradition, with pretensions to great dignity and a decorum based on honor and strict morality, and the bloody and inhuman reality that traps everyone in a web of slimy connivance.”
When Lattuada passed away in 2005 at the age of ninety, John Francis Lane suggested in his obituary for the Guardian, perhaps unfairly, that “his reputation was more often boosted by his gifts as a talent scout for sexy young female stars. Among those he launched were Catherine Spaak, Clio Goldsmith, and Nastassja Kinski, and he accepted, with a certain degree of pride, his fame as an adorer of nymphettes.” To be fair, Lane does credit Lattuada for his commitment as an antifascist. As a young architect and cinephile who helped found a film club that would become the Cineteca Italiana, Lattuada arranged a screening, “on the eve of Italy’s entry into the Second World War, of Renoir’s banned anti-war film, Grande Illusion,” which “got him into trouble with the police.” Locarno artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro promises that the retrospective “will effectively allow the best kept secret of Italian cinema to see the light of day: a secret that is paradoxical, fascinating, and still mysterious.”
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