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Italy’s Other Women

Gender and Prostitution in Italian Cinema, 1940–1965


Danielle Hipkins

In the period 1940 to 1965 the female prostitute featured in at least ten per cent of all Italian-made films, but she cast her shadow over many more. With reference to the changing social and film industrial context, this book explains why the figure of the female prostitute was so prevalent in Italian cinema of this period and offers a new account of her on-screen presence. It shows that the prostitutes that populate Italian cinema are much more than simply 'tarts with hearts' or martyr figures. Via the constant reworking of the prostitute trope across genres, the figure takes us to the heart of many ideological contradictions in postwar Italian cinema and society: these include the entanglement of rhetoric about political truth with the suppression of postwar guilt and shame, fears about racial contamination, and a preoccupation with non-normative forms of masculine behaviour and desire. The book also shows how the female prostitute is important to Italian national cinema as a 'borderline identity', used to establish, but also destabilize, the hegemony of respectable femininities. It is precisely through her borderline condition, this book argues, that the prostitute 'haunts' gender, sometimes policing it, but more often than not problematizing its very construction.


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Illustrations Figure 1 Mistaken for a prostitute as she walks the streets, student Kira (Alida Valli) maintains the masquerade in order to seduce Leo (Rossano Brazzi) in Noi vivi/ Addio Kira (Alessandrini, 1942). 45 Figure 2 Pietro and Maria comment on the quality of the new dress he has bought her in La peccatrice (Amleto Palermi, 1940), but Pietro’s belief in Maria’s ‘love of finery’ will lead to another fall. 57 Figure 3 A medium close-up shot from within the wardrobe onto Andrei’s (Fosco Giacchetti) face as he realizes that the flat he is searching contains the clothes he has given to his beloved Kira in Noi vivi/Addio Kira (Alessandrini, 1942). 59 Figure 4 The stripes and textures of Paola’s (Elli Parvo) cloth- ing emphasize her sexuality in relation to her sister, Anna (Roswita Schmidt) in Desiderio (Rossellini/Pagliero, 1943/1946). 61 Figure 5 Nando (Massimo Girotti) is aroused by the fetish object that Paola’s knickers represent, ‘così traspar- enti’ [so transparent] he says, in a scene cut from Desiderio (Rossellini/Pagliero, 1943/1946) after its release. 63 Figure 6 The typist (Valentina Cortese) struggles to scrape a living, whilst her prostitute neighbour tempts her to try life on the streets in Roma città libera (Pagliero, 1946). 75 Figure 7 Silvana (Anna Maria Dossena) persuades Luciana (Luisa Poselli) to try on new underwear, to the horror of Luciana’s brother, Sergio (Gino Cervi) in Un uomo ritorna (Neufeld, 1946). 89 viii Illustrations Figure 8 Angela (Carla del Poggio) and Joe ( John Kitzmiller) enjoy a walk...

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