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November 8, 2018

Homage to Carlo Vanzina

Leaving us at 67 years of age this past July 8th, film director Carlo Vanzina was a man who knew how to observe with irony the changes in Italian society. For most if not all of his artistic career, Vanzina worked alongside his brother and screenwriter Enrico developing a specific idea of popular cinema. Their work shifted from being artisanal in nature to becoming progressively more mass-produced, thanks to their ability to tap into television and thus gain a wider distribution and huge popularity.

This shift is not so much an ideological change as a reflection of the trajectory Italian society has taken. The Vanzinian cinema therefore is paradoxically like a documentary, or an anthropological study in this sense. The artisanal Italian comedy genre has observed societal transformations through an ironic lens, at times approximate in its moralism, that still retained the flavor of an idealized province and the nostalgia of a vanished rural world. The fight against modernity by aspiring to the upper middle class gave life to the ceaseless carousel of dreams of wealth. 

Although Vanzina was assistant director to the great Mario Monicelli, he never adopted Monicelli's signature malice and satire. Vanzina, in the background, was fascinated by the animality of human comedy, and of Italian comedy in particular. Wealth was always the pivot on which turned his thoughts on Italian society.

Since their first movies, the Vanzina brothers were poorly reviewed and judged prematurely by critics. Carlo, in particular, was almost never considered to be a real director. There has always been a prejudice against the Vanzina brothers, but their cinematic world was important for shining light on the transformation of Italian society that fell directly on the twenty-year political reign of Silvio Berlusconi.

Even though many of his films were improvised and did not give proper justice to his talent, Vanzina’s enviable energy—that of a true cinematic artisan—permitted him to work to the beat of one film per year. Carlo Vanzina was, in fact, a real director. He always knew how to frame in on an actor, how to create the right atmosphere for exactly the right lines. He knew how to film comedic alchemy between actors, and especially how to mask his own kind melancholy, which in the end was hard to imagine from a character as difficult and prickly as he was.

Vanzina liked many genres: detective, thriller, period pieces, science fiction. At times, he gave the impression (with the complicity of Enrico) that he assumed the task of keeping alive a lost perspective of Italian film.

The best films by Vanzina leave one with an extraordinary longing for all that could have been, for all the successes he might have accomplished, if only there were more time.

To his cinema we pay homage with A Fairytale Wedding.

Antonio Iannotta
Translated by Katarina Svinterud