Ferrara: a City for the Cinema

Written by  Paolo Micalizzi
An outlined portrait of three film directors who found their inspiration in Ferrara.
Pupi Avati, Gianfranco Mingozzi and Giuliano Montaldo: three film directors who have taken Ferrara and its surroundings and captured, respectively, their sense of magic, memory, and history.

For Pupi Avati: «Ferrara is a city that seems to have been built specially for my films. An old city, still intact in many ways, but above all mysterious, magical. For someone who arrives there from outside, the sight of the city cloaked in autumn fog is a spectacle that has a soupçon of witchcraft about it». He said this in 1969, when he was in Ferrara filming Thomas... e gli indemoniati, of which the protagonists were a troupe of provincial actors who, terrified by the imminent first night, decide to find out what the future has in store by holding a séance.

A hint of mystery, legend and fable informed the following film, La mazurka del Barone, della santa e del fico fiorone (1974), most of which was shot in the area around Cento with a plot that hinged on a "miraculous" fig tree where Saint Gerolama, after being raped by barbarians in 726 A.D., gave birth to a child. Comacchio and the surrounding district provided the setting for Avati's fifth film, La casa dalle finestre che ridono (1976), while the valleys of Volano form the back-cloth for Le strelle nel fosso (1978) - in which the "strelle" of the title are the Italian version of the dialect expression al strel.
Aiutami a sognare (1981) was also set in the countryside around Ferrara. It is the story of a woman who falls in love, without knowing him, with the pilot of a wartime American reconnaissance plane who used to fly over the Emilia region every evening. The unmistakeable Ferrarese landscape is also to be seen in other works, such as the film for TV Dancing Paradise (1982), the tale of a legendary musician who worked the country dance halls, and Festa di Laurea (1985).

The work of Gianfranco Mingozzi deals with memories of childhood. Although he was born in San Pietro Capofiume - a small town on the river Reno between Bologna and Ferrara - Mingozzi spent most of his childhood in Ferrara. And it was in that city that he shot his first documentary, Via dei Piopponi (1962), the short feature Michelangelo Antonioni: storia di un autore (1966) and the full length feature film La vela incantata (1982).

«Via dei Piopponi» recalls the director, «is a documentary of atmospheres, air, colours, with little in the way of human presence. I planned it to be a dream-like stroll: a return to my childhood whose aim was to rediscover memories and emotions. La vela incantata, on the other hand, is my declaration of love for the cinema and the land I sprang from. It is partly an autobiographical film because I was practically born in a cinema: my bedroom was adjacent to the the wall of the balcony of the cinema managed by my father».

Giuliano Montaldo is interested in re-evoking historic memories of Ferrara. With L'Agnese va a morire (1976) taken from the novel of the same name by Renata Viganò, he tells the story of a heroic but illiterate partisan (Ingrid Thulin) who operated in the surroundings of Argenta and Comacchio areas.

In Gli occhiali d'oro (1987), taken from a novel by Giorgio Bassani, he recounts the story of two "misfits": the homosexual Athos Fadigati and the Jew Davide Lattes, played respectively by Philippe Noiret and Rupert Everett. The film is set in the Ferrara of 1938, just before the regime's infamous race laws came into force. And in Ferrara, città spettacolo (1988) he reviews the most important films created in the Ferrara region to show how the city was - as it still is - an enormous cinema set.

«Every time I return to Ferrara,» says Giuliano Montaldo, «I understand even better why it has always attracted cinema folk. There is something extraordinary about this place, something magical: its climate, colours, and sense of mood combine to make it an ideal city for the cinema».