Dino Risi

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Dino Risi was an Italian film director and screenwriter who was a seminal figure in the commedia all’italiana genre. Known for his sharp satires of Italian society and culture, Risi directed over 120 films and television episodes in a career spanning over 60 years.

Early Life and Influences


Upbringing in Milan

Dino Risi was born in Milan in 1916 into an upper-middle class family. His father was a successful pediatrician and amateur violinist. As a child, Risi became an avid fan of American silent comedies by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He was drawn to their humor and sympathetic portrayals of the underdog.

Film Studies Beginnings

In the 1930s, Risi enrolled at the University of Milan to study medicine like his father wanted. But he soon dropped out and convinced his family to let him study film instead. He attended courses and seminars held by left-wing film clubs that exposed him to Soviet cinema and its pioneering editing techniques. This left a mark on his distinctive later directorial style.


Directorial Debuts in the 1940s and 50s


Wartime Documentaries

Risi began his filmmaking career by writing and directing short documentary films during World War II. Working under deep censorship, he crafted subtly subversive films like The Silent Barricade (1942) questioning Fascism. His ability to skirt scrutiny won him administration jobs in the industry after Mussolini’s fall.

Postwar Transition to Comedy

Risi’s directorial break came with poor-selling melodramas until he made his first commercially successful film, Poveri ma belli (Poor but Beautiful, 1957). A light satirical comedy portraying Italians grasping for the “American Dream,” it established his talent for using humor to reflect society. This marked his transition to comedy filmmaking.

Rise in the 1960s Golden Age

Major Successes

The 1960s were Risi’s golden period commercially and artistically. With films like Il sorpasso (1962), a popular “buddy film” that humorously explores generational angst in boom-time Italy, Risi cemented his reputation. His prolific output typified aspects of the Italian Miracle while critiquing its faults.

Leading Voice of Commedia all’italiana

Working with premier screenwriters like Age, Scarpelli, and Scola, Risi spearheaded the new genre of Commedia all’italiana. Blending humor, social commentary, and humanism, these bittersweet comedies portrayed Italians’ anxieties amidst modernization. Risi examined middle-class morality and dysfunction in classics like I Mostri (The Monsters, 1963) and Profumo di donna (Scent of a Woman, 1974).

Social Commentaries in the 1970s and Beyond

Darker Social Satires

In the 1970s, Risi began making darker films reflecting disillusionment with modern life, like La stanza del vescovo (The Bishop’s Bedroom, 1977). As society changed rapidly around him, his comedy became more caustic at times. Yet Risi maintained his humanism and used humor to underscore virtues like compassion.

Final Films and Legacy

Risi continued directing into his 80s with films like Tolgo il disturbo (I’ll Be Going Now, 1990) portraying a dying professor struggling with despair. In 2008, Risi died in Rome at age 91, leaving behind a lasting cinematic legacy. Through comedy, he chronicled Italy’s postwar identity crisis and evolution, highlighting both the humor and hardship of ordinary people’s lives.

In a career spanning over half a century, director Dino Risi was one of Italian cinema’s most seminal voices. Through his poignant satires of Italian culture and society amidst postwar change, he defined the genre of Commedia all’italiana while underscoring virtues of humanism and compassion. Risi’s durable cinematic legacy lives on through his bittersweet, sympathetic films giving insight into Italians’ anxieties and aspirations in a modernizing world.

Dino Risi’s Filmography

Vacanze col gangster (1952):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A young man (Alberto Sordi) on vacation in Rome tries to impress a beautiful woman (Silvana Pampanini) by pretending to be a wealthy industrialist. However, things get complicated when a real gangster (Vittorio De Sica) mistakes him for a rival and kidnaps him.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, helping to establish Sordi as a leading Italian actor.

Il viale della speranza (1953):

  • Genre: Drama
  • Plot: A young woman (Gina Lollobrigida) moves to Rome in search of a better life but struggles to find work and ends up resorting to prostitution. When her lover (Raf Vallone) is sent to prison, she must decide whether to continue on her current path or try to turn her life around.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, earning Lollobrigida an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Il segno di Venere (1955):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A middle-aged man (Alberto Sordi) falls in love with a young woman (Sophia Loren) who turns out to be a prostitute. Despite the social stigma, he decides to pursue a relationship with her, but their happiness is threatened by the disapproval of his family and friends.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, cementing Loren’s status as a rising star.

Pane, amore e… (1955):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A young policeman (Vittorio De Sica) is transferred to a small village in southern Italy, where he must deal with the local customs and traditions. He falls in love with a beautiful young woman (Gina Lollobrigida), but their relationship is complicated by the disapproval of her family and the interference of a local priest.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, inspiring a series of sequels.

Poveri ma belli (1956):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A young man and woman from two different social classes fall in love and get married, despite the objections of their families. They struggle to make ends meet, but their love for each other helps them overcome their challenges.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, helping to launch the careers of its two leads, Renato Rascel and Marisa Allasio.

La nonna Sabella (1957):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A wealthy widow (Peppino De Filippo) moves in with her son and his family, causing chaos and disruption. She tries to impose her old-fashioned values on her modern-minded family, leading to hilarious misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, establishing De Filippo as a leading Italian comedian.

Belle ma povere (1957):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: Three beautiful but poor young women (Sophia Loren, Marisa Allasio, and Virna Lisi) share an apartment in Rome while they search for work. They get involved in various misadventures, including a beauty contest and a scheme to marry a wealthy man.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, showcasing the talents of its three leading ladies.

Venezia, la luna e tu (1958):

  • Genre: Musical
  • Plot: A group of young people travel to Venice for the summer, where they experience love, friendship, and adventure. The film features beautiful cinematography and a catchy soundtrack.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, becoming one of the most popular Italian films of the 1950s.

Poveri milionari (1959):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A poor man (Alberto Sordi) inherits a fortune but must share it with his seven greedy relatives. Chaos ensues as they try to find ways to spend their newfound wealth.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, showcasing Sordi’s comedic talents.

Il vedovo (1959):

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: A wealthy widower (Alberto Sordi) tries to find a new wife, but his efforts are constantly thwarted by his meddling relatives. He eventually falls in love with a young woman (Gina Lollobrigida), but their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of his family.
  • Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, further establishing Sordi as a leading Italian actor.

Il mattatore (1960)

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Plot: This film follows the story of Bruno Cortona (Alberto Sordi), a penniless Southern Italian who moves to Rome in hopes of becoming a successful journalist. Despite his initial setbacks, Bruno’s quick wit and charm eventually help him climb the social ladder, leading to unexpected and often hilarious outcomes.
  • Reception: Critically acclaimed for its humor, social commentary, and Sordi’s performance, Il mattatore became a commercial success and established Sordi as a leading actor in Italian cinema.

Un amore a Roma (1960)

  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Plot: Set against the vibrant backdrop of Rome, this film tells the story of Carmela (Anna Magnani), a spirited and independent single mother, who falls in love with Nello (Marcello Mastroianni), a charming and carefree man. Their love blossoms amidst the colorful streets and bustling atmosphere of the city.
  • Reception: Un amore a Roma was praised for its charming storyline, picturesque cinematography, and the chemistry between Magnani and Mastroianni, becoming a critical and commercial success.

A porte chiuse (1961)

  • Genre: Drama
  • Plot: This film centers on Gianni (Federico Fellini), a film director, who is experiencing a creative crisis while working on his latest project. As he struggles to find inspiration, Gianni reflects on his personal life, exploring his relationships, dreams, and fears.
  • Reception: Known for its introspective narrative, dreamlike visuals, and complex exploration of the creative process, A porte chiuse was a critical success, receiving accolades for its unique storytelling and Fellini’s distinctive style.

Una vita difficile (1961)

  • Genre: Drama
  • Plot: The film follows the story of Silvio Magnozzi (Alberto Sordi), a university student who becomes involved in anti-fascist activities during the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy. As Silvio navigates the turbulent political landscape, he must make difficult choices between his personal life and his commitment to social justice.
  • Reception: Una vita difficile received critical praise for its poignant portrayal of political struggles, Sordi’s powerful performance, and its exploration of themes such as idealism, loyalty, and sacrifice.

La marcia su Roma (1962)

  • Genre: Historical Epic
  • Plot: This epic film depicts the events leading up to the March on Rome, which saw Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy in 1922. Through a grand historical narrative, La marcia su Roma explores the complex political and social factors that shaped Italy’s transition from a monarchy to a fascist dictatorship.
  • Reception: Critically acclaimed for its масштабаный cinematography, detailed historical recreation, and powerful storytelling, La marcia su Roma stands as a significant work in Italian cinema, providing insights into a pivotal moment in the country’s history.

Il sorpasso (1962)

  • Genre: Comedy-Drama
  • Plot: This road movie follows two men from different social backgrounds: Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), a wealthy, carefree playboy, and Roberto Mariani (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a shy and introspective student. As they embark on a spontaneous road trip together, their contrasting personalities clash and they learn valuable lessons about life, friendship, and societal differences.
  • Reception: Il sorpasso garnered critical acclaim for its insightful portrayal of human dynamics, social disparities, and the changing moral landscape of Italy in the early 1960s. It became a commercial success and remains a beloved classic in Italian cinema.

I Mostri (1963):

Comedy. A series of short films directed by Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, Mario Monicelli, and Luchino Visconti. The films explore the social and cultural changes happening in Italy at the time.

Il giovedì (1964):

Comedy. A group of friends’ lives and relationships are explored through a series of conversations on Thursday nights. Director Dino Risi examines the changing morals and values of post-war Italy.

Il gaucho (1964):

Western. Italian immigrant Martin lives in Argentina and defends his newly acquired farm from a group of bandits. Despite the protagonist’s courage, the film’s ending is bittersweet.

L’ombrellone (1965):

Comedy. While on vacation, two friends, one male, and one female, decide to share an umbrella on the beach. The film is a witty commentary on the changing social norms in Italy during the 1960s.

Operazione San Gennaro (1966):

Comedy. An operation ensues when criminal mastermind Professor Pico doesn’t receive the reward he believes he has earned after carrying out a grand heist.

Il tigre (1967):

Crime/drama. A con man robs a restaurant and then befriends the owner’s wife. The film follows the consequences of their complicated relationship.

Il profeta (1968):

Drama. An con man who disguises himself as a priest ends up getting caught in the middle of a mob war.

Straziami, ma di baci saziami (1968):

Drama. Two lovers are torn apart when the woman is forced to marry another man. The film explores the themes of love, passion, and loss.

Vedo nudo (1969):

Comedy. A shy writer working as an elevator operator can see women naked with his “X-ray eyes”. The film follows his comical and often awkward interactions with the women in his building.

Il giovane normale (1969): Comedy. Two young men, one a well-behaved law student, the other a rebellious artist, navigate their relationships with women and explore the concept of normality in Italian society.

La moglie del prete (1970): Drama. A priest’s wife struggles to find meaning in her life and is drawn to a mysterious stranger. The film explores themes of faith, love, and betrayal.

Noi donne siamo fatte così (1971): Comedy. A series of sketches that satirizes the lives of women in Italy. The film is a lighthearted and often hilarious look at the challenges and joys of being a woman.

In nome del popolo italiano (1971):

Drama. A lawyer takes on the case of an innocent man wrongfully convicted of murder. The film exposes the flaws in the Italian justice system.

Mordi e fuggi (1973): Crime/thriller. A detective husband and wife pursue a charming jewel thief. Their professional relationship becomes complicated when they grow attracted to their quarry.

Sessomatto (1973): Comedy. A man’s sexual prowess gets him into trouble with the women in his life. The film is a lighthearted exploration of sexuality and relationships in Italian society.

Profumo di donna (1974):

Drama. A blind retired military officer reconnects with a younger man, finding new meaning in his life. The film is a touching exploration of friendship, love, and loss.

Telefoni bianchi (1976): Comedy. A series of sketches inspired by the popular musical genre of the 1930s and 1940s. The film is a lighthearted look at Italian culture and history.

Anima persa (1977): Drama. A priest falls in love with a woman and is torn between his religious calling and his desire for her. The film is a touching exploration of faith, love, and sacrifice.

La stanza del vescovo (1977): Drama. A bishop decides to leave his position and live amongst the poor in the slums of Rome. The film is an exploration of faith, social justice, and the meaning of life.

Primo amore (1978): Drama. Two teenagers discover love in the midst of a turbulent political and social climate in Italy. The film is a moving story about first love and the challenges young people face when coming of age.

Caro papà (1979): Drama. A young man searches for his father, who abandoned him as a child. The film is an exploration of family, identity, and the lasting impact of a father’s absence.

Sono fotogenico (1980): Comedy. A photographer struggles to find success in his career while navigating the complexities of his personal life. The film is a humorous look at the world of photography and the challenges of finding one’s place in the world.

Fantasma d’amore (1981): Drama. A young woman is haunted by the ghost of her dead lover. The film is a touching exploration of love, loss, and the afterlife.

Sesso e volentieri (1982): Comedy. A group of women in a small Italian town decide to take matters into their own hands when they are fed up with the lack of sexual attention from their husbands. The film is a lighthearted look at female sexuality and empowerment.

Dagobert (1984): Comedy. A father and son con artist duo embark on a series of escapades. The film is a humorous tale about the bonds of family and the lengths people will go to for a laugh.

Scemo di guerra (1985): Comedy. Set during World War II, this film follows the misadventures of an Italian soldier who finds himself caught up in a series of comedic situations.

Il commissario Lo Gatto (1986): Crime/comedy. A police commissioner investigates a series of murders linked to an ancient curse. The film is a lighthearted mystery with a touch of the supernatural.

Teresa (1987): Drama. A woman’s desire for more in life leads her on a journey of self-discovery. The film explores themes of identity, relationships, and societal pressures.

Tolgo il disturbo (1990): Comedy. A man’s life is thrown into chaos when he tries to juggle his relationship with his girlfriend and his job as a private investigator. The film is a humorous look at the challenges of balancing work and personal life.

Giovani e belli (1996): Comedy. A group of young friends in Rome navigate the complexities of love, friendship, and growing up in the 1990s. The film is a lighthearted look at the challenges and joys of being young and in love.



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