I am always in search of cinema. To be more exact, I’m always in search of those moments and experiences that transcend normal reality and feel like I could be in a movie. And nowhere on earth do I experience those moments more than in Italy. Italy is just more cinematic.
Maybe it’s the warm morning light reflecting off the marble, which is back-lighting the man wearing a linen suit, sitting outside the caffè smoking his cigarette, thinking about his first love.
The soundtrack of the fountain in the middle of the piazza, the church bells in the distance, the hum of a Vespa driving by, and the woman in heels walking on the cobblestone streets.
And when I am stuck with reality, give me some Fellini, Antonioni, Rossellini, Visconti, Sorrentino, Guadagnino. Italian films. Italian Directors. Italian actors. With the occasional film made by a foreigner for good measure.
I once went searching for cinema in Rome shortly after seeing The Talented Mr Ripley when it first came out. I was looking for Caffe Dinelli. It was near the Spanish steps.
I’d wandered up and down Via del Babuino for thirty plus minutes popping into different businesses asking if they knew where Caffè Dinelli was only to be met with blank stares. “Bho! Mai sentito, mi dispiace.” Never heard of it, sorry.
I knew it had to be there somewhere. It was the caffè where Ripley met Marge and Peter. I wanted to have a cappuccino there and for a brief moment, live in that version of Italy.
Caffè Dinelli existed for exactly 72 hours in Rome, in front of the Spanish steps as a set for The Talented Mr Ripley. According to Anthony Minghella, the director, in the fantastic book, Minghella on Minghella, he recounts the story of how a little old Italian lady ducked under the awning and took a seat at one of the outdoor caffè tables as they were painting the set. He went over and said, “Excuse me, can I help you?” To which she replied in Italian, “I’m meeting someone here.” To which he replied, “Well you can’t, this is a set.” She said, “No, no, no, I’m meeting someone here at Dinelli’s at 6 o’clock.” “There is no Dinelli’s here, this is a movie set and we are filming here tomorrow.” But she refused to move and sure enough her friend met her at 6 o’clock, they had a meeting and then left. At least I wasn’t the only one under the spell of a cinematic caffè.
This story perfectly exemplifies what I mean. Italy and cinema are so entwined that a caffè is not just a caffè. A movie set is not just a set.
The movies we like are always deeply personal and I’ve always related most to Italian Cinema. On the surface, it’s a way to be transported and vicariously experience a country that I love, to see the cities and beaches and culture of different time periods.
And on a much deeper level, there is an Italian way of relating to the world portrayed in films that I resonate with. A sense of existential angst perhaps, while at the same time an appreciation of the beauty of life despite the ugliness that might be going on. These are broad generalizations of course and as an American, I am looking at things through celluloid tinted glasses.
I’m looking forward to sharing some films in the upcoming months that have impacted me deeply and meant a great deal to me. First up will be The Great Beauty if you’d like to watch along.