Thursday, February 2, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part eleven


by Ernesto G. Laura

Similar is the case with Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini, who became popular in the movies thanks to the light comedies of Lina Wertmuller (in which they formed a pair) that are, however, impossible to confine exclusively to the comedy genre. Melato, born in Milan in 1945, has an intensely active background as a dramatic stage actress; Giannini, born in 1942, in La Spezia, in Liguria, but raised in Naples, was an outstanding Romeo in Franco Zeffirelli's 1964 production of ROMEO AND JULIET in Verona. Both first appeared in the movies in important roles, but not enough so for their artistic personalities to be immediately discerned.

A film by Ettore Scola represented the turning-point for Giancarlo Giannini, namely DRAMMA DELLA GELOSIA: TUTTI I PARTICOLARI IN CRONACA (DRAMA OF JEALOUSY: ALL DETAILS IN THE NEWS, 1970) based on the original idea of transferring a super-bourgeois love triangle to characters who are dirty and ragged outcasts, placing the emphasis on human sentiments. The disputed woman was Monica Vitti, Giannini's rival, Marcello Mastroianni. None of the three was a romantic "hero", the two men in particular seemed a little stupid, but it was precisely the disparity between the modest, indeed wretched reality and the lofty words of love uttered that gave rise to the humorousness of the film.

It was however the director Lina Wertmuller who turned Giannini into a reliable mainstay of Italian-style film comedy. MIMI METALLURGICO FERITO (METALLURGICAL MIMI, OFFENDED IN HIS HONOR: 1972) tells about another love triangle, but in a working-class environment, confirming the mimetic talents of Giannini who, starting off as a romantic matinee idol, comes up with flawless impersonations of proletarian figures, adapting himself to manners and dialects that are not his own, in this case Milanese. Mariangela Melato, in her interpretation of a certain kind of sentimental adn sharp-tongued Lombardy woman, strong-tempered, aggressive and caustic, seems to draw upon the heritage of one of the greatest actresses in the Milanese dialect theater, who in the '30s became a famous film comedy star: Dina Galli. Moving from Milan to Rome, Giannini and Melato were directed by Wertmuller in 1973 and in TRAVOLTI DA UN INSOLITO DESTINO NELL' AZZURO MARE D'AGOSTO (SWEPT AWAY BY AN UNCOMMON FATE IN THE BLUE SEA OF AUGUST) in 1974.

Giancarlo Giannini creates an extraordinary character in another Wertmuller film, PASQUALINO SETTEBELLEZZE (SEVEN BEAUTIES: 1975), where, shifting skillfully from the initial farce to tragedy, the story is told of a nondescript "guappo" (second-rate gangster in the local underworld) from Naples who ends up in a Nazi concentration camp. To introduce humor into such a serious subject was a risk which only a few people could pull off, as the director does through the use of a grotesque expressionistic style.

As to Melato, aside from completely dramatic films (DIMENTICARE VENEZIA, FORGET VENICE, by Brusati, GESU, JESUS, by Zeffirelli), mention may be made of her witty appearance as a hair-dresser in LA CLASSE OPERAIA VA IN PARADISO (THE WORKING CLASS GOES TO HEAVEN: 1971) by Elio Petri and in LA POLIZIOTTA (THE POLICEWOMAN), directed by Steno in 1974 on a script by Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati, where she was a woman policeman in a small town who dares to create trouble for the local powers that be, in agreement with a judge (Orazio Orlando).

At the beginning of the decade, 1980-1990, certain model which Italian-style comedy has lived on till now have run their course, like the so-called rosy neo-realism of the '50s. Several directors have passed away, others have changed their narrative style, sensitive to new tastes. The Comencini who in 1980 produced VOLTATI, EUGENIO (TURN AROUND, EUGENIO), a bitterish comedy about the break-down of relations between parents and childre, in which realistic accents are intermingled with symbolic imagery, time present and time past, even some surrealistic touches, is undoubtedly a far cry from the Comencini of 1952, who directed PANE, AMORE E FANTASIA (BREAD, LOVE AND FANTASY).

New directors, new script-writers, new actors have come to the fore; no limitations exist any more on the subjects to be handled. So comedy is in the process of revising and transforming its traditional image. In the new decade before us everything can be different, everything must be original.

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