Where to go?
Many famous directors have attempted to create a portrait of Sicily on film. This complex, stunningly beautiful island is inhabited by a proud, hospitable people who, despite a certain reserve, are happy to extend warmth and generosity in equal measure. Here the conspiracy of silence known as “omertà” exists alongside an equally ardent will to fight this silence. Transcribing all these characteristic traits into art is no simple task.
The first great masterpieces were based on the classics: Luchino Visconti turned to Verga to make such films as La Terra Trema (The Ground Trembles) in 1948 based on his book I Malavoglia, and to Tomasi di Lampedusa for Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) in 1963 from the book of the same name. He was determined to capture reality in all its different guises, while peppering it with the local colour and poetry. Thus Visconti selected his main cast from amateur actors living in a typical community, such as Aci Trezza, who spoke in dialect. Secondly, he chose a historical epic that was respected and established in its own right, set in the magnificent, yet already decadent Palermo of the late 19C. Then he illuminated it all with sparkling performances by Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster, and Alain Delon.
In the same vein is the sad and agonising story related in Stromboli terra di Dio (1949). This strong portrait of a woman, filmed against a background of untamed nature, was directed by Roberto Rossellini and starred Ingrid Bergmann. Films about the Mafia are a case apart. Since the making of the films-cum-denunciations – In nome della legge (In the Name of the Law), directed by Pietro Germi (1949) and Salvatore Giuliano directed by Francesco Rosi (1961) – the subject matter and circumstances quickly transformed into an entire genre, which for Italian viewers compares well with the popular spaghetti western elsewhere. This in turn generated a veritable industry of Mafia family epics with the inevitable shoot-outs, clashes, and use of broad Sicilian dialect.
These films were distributed all over the world, giving a somewhat negative impression of the island. However, also belonging to this genre are films of social importance, such as I cento passi (One hundred steps) directed by Tullio Giordana (best screenplay in the 2000 Venice Film Festival), which skilfully recounts the story of the journalist Peppino Impastato, who was killed in 1978 after many years fighting the Mafia.
A very different Sicily appears on the cinema screen: a Sicily that is mournful, but veined with humour, emerges in the magnificent tales retold in Kaos (Chaos), made in 1984 by the Taviani brothers, based on novels by Pirandello (brilliant performances by Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia in La Giara). A poetic view is portrayed in Michael Radford’s Il Postino (The Postman) made in 1994 and starring Massimo Troisi, and in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1989), which received an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1990. An ironic Sicily “– in search of its lost tranquillity” –is shown in the Isole episode (about the Aeolian Islands) in Caro Diario (1993) by Nanni Moretti and in the funny Tano da Morire (1997), a musical about the Mafia, by Roberta Torre. In 2000, Bagheria-born director Giuseppe Tornatore scored a European hit with Malèna, starring Monica Bellucci.