What about watching an Italian movie tonight?
As I told you in a post I wrote a few months ago, when you are interested in a country or a language, movies are a great learning tool. You can use them to practice your listening and comprehension skills, but you can also use them to learn more about the culture and history of a country.
Finding the time to read a book or study can be hard, especially if you work and have a busy life, but who doesn’t love a good movie? It’s a nice and relaxing way of learning without actually studying. And I love these kinds of things!
That’s why I decided to give you a list of Italian movies to watch. While last time I listed 10 movies that are great to learn about contemporary Italian history, this time I was thinking of making just a list of great movies, no matter their topic or genre.
However, while I was jotting down notes to compile the list, I realized I kept on adding movies by the same director. At first, I thought I should remove some of them, to give you a broader list of movies, but somehow I was not able to make a choice: I simply thought all of them were worth watching!
So I decided to make a whole post about this movie director because he makes great movies, which are not only very entertaining but also portray the Italian life and culture – especially that of provincial Italian towns – in a very detailed and accurate way.
His name is Paolo Virzì and, after writing this post, I came to realize that he is my favorite contemporary Italian movie director, since I really liked all the movies by him I have watched – I still miss a few of them, I need to catch up soon. Here below, you’ll find my favorite movies, which I decided to list in chronological order, so please don’t take it a sort of chart.
La bella vita (Living it up)
This is the first movie that Paolo Virzì directed, back in 1994, which got him quite a few rewards – like the David di Donatello, a very important prize for Italian cinema. It tells the story of a young couple, Bruno and Mirella, who find themselves in a crisis. Bruno gets depressed because he loses his job, while Mirella falls in love with the star of a television show.
It is a bittersweet movie, whose great value lies in its characters: a worker who has to face unemployment, a bored housewife who is charmed by tv and a provincial television showman who behaves as a great star.
Ferie d’agosto (August Vacation)
Ferie d’agosto also won quite a few prizes, when it came out in 1996. The story here is that of two groups of people who find themselves holidaying in the same spot: the isle of Ventotene, on the Tyrrhenian sea. One group is made of journalists and intellectuals, while the other is the family of a man who came into money thanks to a chain of stores.
Those two groups of people – both of which represent a distinct aspect of Italy – couldn’t be more different but are forced to come to terms due to their proximity. In the beginning, they fight and disdain each other, but some events will make them realize they are not so different after all. It is a funny and entertaining movie, which has a serious note as well.
Ovosodo (Hardboiled Egg)
This is the movie which made Paolo Virzì really famous. It is the first movie by him I have seen and still is one of my absolute favorites. Set in Livorno, where Paolo Virzì grew up, it tells the story of Pietro – from childhood to adult age – and the people that changed his life: his teacher, his best friend, and a girl he falls in love with.
What I love about this movie is its light melancholy and the way the director describes the bittersweetness of growing up and becoming adults. A fun note: Ovosodo is the name of a neighborhood in Livorno, which comes from the fact that they wear yellow and white t-shirts during a traditional city tournament.
Caterina va in città (Caterina in the Big City)
Caterina is a shy and naive teenager who moves with her family to Rome from her quiet, provincial town. Her whole life is messed up and she has to face a reality that is totally different from the simple life she was used to. She finds herself pulled between two competing student political groups: a left side and a more right-leaning one. She makes all sorts of new experiences and learns a lot about people and life.
The best thing in this movie is the character of Caterina, who is intense and very smart, as opposed to that of her father, who is a failed and unsatisfied man, who gets more and more frustrated with his life. The movie is really enjoyable and shows bits and pieces of Italian life through the eyes of a young kid.
Tutta la vita davanti (Your Whole Life Ahead of You)
After Caterina, another young girl is the main character in this movie. This time it’s the turn of Marta, who is a brilliant student who has just graduated and is looking for a job. Unfortunately, she cannot find the job she’s looking for and is forced to accept a job in a call center.
This movie is a sad picture of certain work environments and of Italian contemporary work reality. Even if a bit grotesque sometimes, the movie is a harsh yet true account – it is based on a true story – of how full of insecurity and precariousness the labor market has become nowadays, in Italy.
La prima cosa bella (The First Beautiful Thing)
I can’t tell you how much I love this movie, it is probably Virzì’s best movie – or at least my absolute favorite. It is sweet, sad, moving, full of love and full of life. I never get tired of watching it!
The movie – which takes its title from a very popular Italian song – tells the story of Bruno, a frustrated teacher who needs to assist his dying mother, Anna. When he comes back at her place, which he had abruptly left many years before, he reconciles himself with his crazy, cumbersome mother. The movie is full of flashbacks and gives an interesting portrait of Italian culture, from the 70s to our days.
Tutti i santi giorni (Every Blessed Day)
Loosely based on the book La generazione by Simone Lenzi, this movie tells the story of Guido and Antonia, a young couple who decides to have kids but has to face frustration and sadness.
What makes this movie good is the presence of Luca Marinelli, one of the best contemporary Italian actors, which you can find in other great movies like Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot and Non essere cattivo. He was also in the cast of Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty.
Il capitale umano (Human Capital)
This is probably the most serious and bleak movie by Paolo Virzì. While all his other movies – even when they focus on important topics, with an accurate eye for the flaws of humans and contemporary society – still had a light and entertaining side, this one is completely dark.
It tells the story of two families, who will be tied forever when a cyclist is hit by an SUV, the night before Christmas. Actually, this is just an excuse to show the sadness of the lives of the characters and their small-mindedness.
Well, this is a list of all the movies by him I have watched and loved. If I were you, I’d give check them out as they are really nice. I haven’t watched some of his minor movies and his last one, called La pazza gioia (Like Crazy) because I was not too convinced by the topic and also got some controversial reviews. I might give it a try soon, I am still not sure about it.
And you? Do you have a favorite Italian movie director? Why don’t you tell me in the comments below?
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my brand-new program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.