Post-War Italian Cinema: American Intervention, Vatican Interests. By Daniela Treveri Gennari. Routledge. 218pp, £65.00. ISBN 9780415962872. Published February 2009
For many people, postwar Italian cinema is characterised by the twin imperatives of Italian neo-realism and Hollywood; it is the moment in Italian cinema's history when films such as Rossellini's Roma, citta aperta/Rome, Open City and De Sica's Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves come to international prominence, while at home Italian cinemagoers are busy viewing John Huston's The African Queen and Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Daniela Treveri Gennari's insightful and well-researched study complicates the image that we have of this familiar but often misrepresented period in Italian film history.
The book's central aim is to chart the significant role that the Catholic Church and the Christian Democrats played in the reception and mediation of American culture in postwar Italy, examining specifically how Italian cinema adopted "the American model" as the means by which to reinvent itself. Italy was a key foreign market for Hollywood at this time and, as the author outlines in some detail, Italian cinema between 1945 and 1960 was subject to a tripartite "tension between economic (film industry), political (Government) and religious (the Vatican) pressures".
Gennari considers the strategies adopted by the American film industry to maximise its presence in Italy but explores in detail - and this is where the book is at its most original - the relationship between Italian Catholics and Hollywood. Their shared mutual concern to contain communism leads to the adoption of ideological positions that appear to coincide, although the Vatican's interests are moral and spiritual in contrast to Hollywood's, which are cultural and economic. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, as Gennari discovers, "American films were considered the most suitable from a moral point of view by Catholics".
Conversely, because of its tendency to dwell on the negative aspects of life in postwar Italy, rather than "optimism and positivity", Italian neo-realism was denigrated by the Catholic establishment, which was keen to endorse "the happy ending, the beautiful stars and the superficial dialogue", while promoting and protecting the stability of the Catholic family. The representation of women was key here, as the book's final chapter demonstrates, arguing that "what the Catholic establishment did not want was for cinema to challenge the status quo of women in society and to subvert their role in society".
This factually dense and historically detailed book is evidently the product of a great deal of research, and as such it is a valuable addition to the existing scholarship on postwar Italian film history; however, it has been let down somewhat by what one can only assume is poor proofreading. There are numerous errors that become ever more frustrating and that at times run the risk of detracting from the book's fascinating content. The use of the definite article is particularly problematic, for example, with frequent instances of omission as well as erroneous inclusion, and while this may be a language issue, it should have been ironed out at the editing stage.
Ultimately, despite these minor frustrations, this is a very useful book, detailing a period in Italian film history that is more complex than has been allowed for in more general historical studies. Gennari's access to original archive material and to important sources, such as Giulio Andreotti, the former Prime Minister, are key to this book's value and to its significance for scholars of Italian cinema and film history more broadly.
Post-War Italian Cinema: American Intervention, Vatican Interests
By Daniela Treveri Gennari
Published February 2009