Cultural Metamorphoses in Contemporary Italian Cinema

by Roberta Di Carmine (Author)
©2018 Monographs VIII, 136 Pages


Cultural Metamorphoses in Contemporary Italian Cinema explores four different areas of study in contemporary Italian cinema: the migrants’ social struggle, the decline of the middle class, the isolation of the elderly, and gender inequality. This book focuses on four films produced between 2007 and 2013, specifically Io sono Li (Shun Li and the Poet, 2011), Giorni e nuvole (Days and Clouds, 2007), Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch, 2008), and Viaggio sola (A Five Star Life, 2013), examining a slice of contemporary Italian cinema to highlight specific socio-economic changes within the country over the past decade. Italian filmmakers Andrea Segre, Silvio Soldini, Gianni Di Gregorio, and Maria Sole Tognazzi concentrate on themes that refer to "metamorphoses" to exemplify several Italian societal changes deeply affected by economic challenges and strongly rooted in male-dominant ideology. These Italian filmmakers reevaluate cultural traditions and societal roles by depicting unconventional narratives and identities in their films and giving "voice to the voiceless."

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Cultural Transformations in European Cinema: Notes on Migration, Gender, Class, and Aging
  • Moving Beyond Margins: Metamorphoses and Cinematic Culture
  • Italian Cultural Studies and Contemporary Cinema
  • Notes on Production and Policy-Making in Italian Cinema
  • Notes
  • Chapter 1. Cultural Plurality in Migrant Cinema: Io sono Li (Shun Li and the Poet, Andrea Segre 2011)
  • Introduction
  • Immigration and Popular Culture
  • Shun Li and the Poet
  • The Plurality of Words and the Universality of Emotions
  • Geographic and Social Marginalization
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2. Economic Crisis and the Shift in Identity in Giorni e Nuvole (Days and Clouds, Silvio Soldini 2007)
  • Introduction
  • Days and Clouds
  • The Italian Middle-Class and the Generational Gap
  • The Breakdown of the Patriarchal Family
  • The Gender Gap
  • The Mutable Nature of Love
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3. Exposing Aging in Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio 2008)
  • Introduction
  • Portrayals of Aging in Western Cinema
  • Mid-August Lunch
  • Female Companionship
  • Echoes of Italian Neorealism in Contemporary Cinema
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4. A Woman’s ‘Five Star Life’: Maria Sole Tognazzi’s Viaggio Sola (A Five Star Life, Maria Sole Tognazzi 2013)
  • Introduction
  • Women’s Cinema: Its Definitions and Ambivalences
  • Women’s Cinema in Italy
  • A Five Star Life
  • Italian Women and Societal Norms
  • Women’s Cinema and Maria Sole Tognazzi
  • The Plurality of Female Subjectivity: Irene and Silvia
  • Shapes of Femininity
  • Notes
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Warm thanks are for all who have helped to complete this project. Among friends and family who have supported me through this adventure, I would like to thank Professor Janice Welsch for providing requested feedback and for listening to me during my moments of doubt. I would also like to thank Meredith Medda and Sheldon Gaskell for their valuable suggestions and help while editing this book. Special thanks go to Maria Luigia Di Carmine for her extraordinary presence, dedication, and reassurances throughout this journey.

I dedicate this book to the people whose life transformations similarly mirror the representations found in the films discussed in this book. They include migrants and their struggles for acceptance and reconciliation with the host culture; women and men who are confronted by life challenges such as those caused by unemployment and economic insecurity; aging mothers and their timeless love for life; and, lastly, the women who make life choices and find a voice for expressing happiness and fulfillment.

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Since the 2000s, contemporary Italian filmmakers have provided wide-ranging cinematic styles and narratives to entertain audiences while showing the contradictory nature of Italian society. At the same time, the scholarly interest in Italian contemporary cinema as an entity,1 as an examination of the legacy of Fascism and neorealism,2 and as a study of key traditions and social topics 3 has contributed to an innovative body of work, expanding traditional interpretations of Italian cinema.4

While Italian cinema’s global popularity continues to increase and gain recognition, its films often highlight the country’s political turmoil and social decline. Exemplary of this receptiveness is Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013), an Italian-French production which earned several awards internationally, including the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2013, for its gripping depiction of a problematic social reality. Sorrentino’s film also reflects a culture that is “blocked, resigned, embalmed in elegant decline,”5 and underscores a narrative and cinematic style which combines the artistic past of Italian neorealism with a thorny socio-political present.6 The film’s protagonist, the aging socialite Jep Gambardella, forms relationships with various morally corrupt members of Roman society, recalling Italian society’s moral degradation in the 1960s ← 1 | 2 → which Federico Fellini famously projected in La Dolce Vita (1960) and Michelangelo Antonioni depicted in La Notte (The Night, 1961). A similarity can also be found in the presence of male stars, respectively Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty and Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita, validating with their performances the films’ celebration of a male melancholy, this latter an aspect that Catherine O’Rawe identifies in Servillo for contributing to the popularity of Sorrentino’s film.7

Without dismissing equally important earlier Italian films, including Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore 1988), Mediterraneo (Gabriele Salvatores 1991) and La vita è bella (Life is beautiful, Roberto Benigni 1997), in contemporary Italian cinema there appears to be an evolving tradition that has emerged into distinct cinematic styles and that has constituted a commentary on the cultural transformations of recent years. Like Sorrentino’s film, Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (2008) highlights socio-political themes. In Gomorrah, an internationally recognized and successful Italian film and a current popular television crime drama series, the power struggle among socially marginalized groups is another reminder of neorealism. Thanks to their successful productions, contemporary filmmakers Sorrentino and Garrone show their creative talent by deliberately combining the artistic traditions of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini while drawing attention to recent changes in society.

Along with exploring socio-economic transformations that have occurred in Italy over the past decade, my book Cultural Metamorphoses in Contemporary Italian Cinema stresses the way such transformations affect subjectivity and identity both on and off the movie screen. It portrays the merging of the past and present as seen on some recent films touching on themes of nostalgia and identity crisis and recalling the heritage left by earlier filmmakers and artistic movements such as neorealism. In this book, I examine Io sono Li (Shun Li and the Poet, Andrea Segre 2011) and Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio 2008) both of which reflect timeless themes, such as nostalgia and memory, echoing neorealist traditions. These films, together with Giorni e Nuvole (Days and Clouds, Silvio Soldini 2007) and Viaggio Sola (A Five Star Life, Maria Sole Tognazzi 2013) also show an overall anxiety and reflect a crisis of subjectivity in today’s society.

The protagonists in all of these films are distinct for ethnicity, race, gender, class and age. Nevertheless, in spite of their differences, they all experience anxiety and self-doubt. They represent models of a crisis of subjectivity in today’s Italy symbolizing Italians who often find themselves floundering ← 2 | 3 → because of a rapidly increasing multiethnic and multicultural society. Through these narratives, the four filmmakers, namely Andrea Segre, Silvio Soldini, Gianni Di Gregorio, and Maria Sole Tognazzi, express their need to represent Italy’s changing socio-economic realities to help encourage viewers to critically view their surroundings and reflect on their own inner selves.

The first chapter of Cultural Metamorphoses in Contemporary Italian Cinema focuses on Andrea Segre’s Shun Li and the Poet (2011) and provides visual depictions and ideological reflections on migrants in cinema. It also exposes the intricate web of social and economic changes inherent in the merging of cultures and ethnic identities. The second chapter explores Silvio Soldini’s Days and Clouds (2007) to draw attention to transformations in class and family structures, further analyzing Italy’s current socio-economic climate. The third chapter presents Gianni Di Gregorio’s Mid-August Lunch (2008), a film that grapples with the aging process and the growing fears and anxieties that arise with it. Finally, the fourth chapter analyzes A Five Star Life (2013) by Maria Sole Tognazzi. Tognazzi’s film examines gender and life journeys and confronts past traditions and values dealing with contemporary concerns.

The representations offered by the four contemporary Italian filmmakers are not meant to represent Italian contemporary cinema as a whole; rather, they exemplify the complex web of cultural changes that occurred between 2007 and 2013. These specific cultural changes include the social realities of national identity and the family that reflect the growing multi-ethnic population; the increasing level of middle-class unemployment; an aging society; and the feminists’ efforts to overcome gendered discrimination and traditional expectations. Furthermore, Shun Li and the Poet (2011), Days and Clouds (2007), Mid-August Lunch (2008), and A Five Star Life (2013) are set in diverse geographical locations, from the northern cities of Chioggia (in the Venice lagoon) and Genoa to central Rome. The films portray Italian society in its diversity, depicting the experience of marginalized migrants, a middle-class couple in crisis, elderly women experiencing social isolation, and women defying traditional roles.

Although the four films were produced several years apart and are from dissimilar genres, all these stories expose a struggling contemporary society undergoing dramatic changes that undermine traditional roles and influence personal achievements. Since the mid 2000s, Italy has emerged within the European Union as a country suffering from the devastating effects of an economic crisis provoked by national as well as global political turmoil. Furthermore, Italian society has been aggravated by a series of factors: the ← 3 | 4 → overwhelming presence of migrants; the fast growing elderly population; the increasing unemployment of the middle class; and the deepening influences of feminist values and lifestyles.

In exploring various aspects of Italian cinema, from the ideological and the aesthetic to the distinct styles of the auteurs, much of the scholarship produced over the past decade has underscored Italy’s uneasy atmosphere in which uncertainty and anxiety about the present and future prevail.8 While recognizing the excellent contributions and the unique approaches of recent scholarship, the analyses of contemporary Italian films proposed in Cultural Metamorphoses in Contemporary Italian Cinema cover topics that relate to socio-economic transformations in Italian society and offer an alternative critique of Italian society. This book aims to demonstrate how these films work to uphold and reinforce a crisis of identity but it also examines how these films might provide moments of potential critique of today’s culture.


VIII, 136
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. VIII, 136 pp.

Biographical notes

Roberta Di Carmine (Author)

Roberta Di Carmine is Professor of Film Studies and Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Film Minor at Western Illinois University. Raised and educated in Pescara, Italy, she received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Oregon and a master’s degree in foreign languages and literatures from West Virginia University. Her essays on film studies have appeared in Wide Screen, Dealing with Diversity, The Councilor: The Journal of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies, and A Companion to Film Comedy, among others. In 2011, she published Italy Meets Africa: Colonial Discourses in Italian Cinema.


Title: Cultural Metamorphoses in Contemporary Italian Cinema
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