Mario Monicelli  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Mario Monicelli (May 16, 1915 - November 29, 2010) was an Italian director and screenwriter and one of the masters of the Commedia all'Italiana (Comedy Italian style).



Monicelli was born in Viareggio (Tuscany), the youngest son of the Mantuan journalist Tommaso Monicelli. His older brother Giorgio worked as writer and translator.

He attended studies in the local lyceum, and entered in the film world through his friendship with Giacomo Forzano, son of the playwright Giovacchino Forzano, who had been charged by Mussolini of the founding of cinema studios in Tirrenia. Monicelli lived a carefree youth, and many of the jokes he later shot in Amici Miei were taken from his experience.

His first short is from 1934, made together with his friend Alberto Mondadori. This was followed by the silent film I ragazzi della Via Paal ("Paal Street's Boys"), which was an award-winner in the Venice Film Festival. His first feature length work is from 1937 (Pioggia d'Estate, "Summer Rain"). In the years 1939–1942 Monicelli produced also numerous screenplays (up to 40), and worked as an assistant director.

Monicelli made his official debut as director in 1949, with Totò cerca casa, along with Steno. Since the very beginning his shooting style showed to be remarkably flowing. The duo produced eight successful movies in four years, including Guardie e ladri (1951) and Totò a colori (1952). From 1953 onwards Monicelli worked alone, without leaving his role as a writer of screenplays.

Monicelli's career include some of the masterpieces of Italian cinema. In I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) (1958), again featuring the ubiquitous comedian Totò, he discovered the comical talent of Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni and probably produced the first true commedia all'italiana. While it is more well known in the English speaking world as Big Deal on Madonna Street, the actual translation from the Italian is "the usual unknown perpetrators" (which is similar to the famous line from Casablanca of "Round up the usual suspects")

La Grande Guerra (The Great War), released one year later, is generally regarded as his finest work. For this work Monicelli was awarded a Leone d'Oro in the Venice Film Festival, and had a nomination for the Academy Awards. The film, featuring Gassman and the other superstar of Italian comedy, Alberto Sordi, excelled in the absence of rethorical accents (the tragedy of World War I was still well in Italian's minds in these years) and for its sharp, tragicomical sense of history. Monicelli received two more nominations to the Academy Awards with I compagni (The Organizer, 1963) and The Girl with the Pistol (1968).

Brancaleone (For Love and Gold, 1966) is another masterpiece of Italian cinema. The film tells the story of a Middle Age Italy's poor but pompous knight (played by Gassman) from a humorous point of view. Highlighted by Gasmann the bizarre Macaronic Latin-Italian dialogues devised by Age & Scarpelli, the most renowned writers of Italian comedies, it was followed by Brancaleone alle Crociate (Brancaleone at the Crusades) in 1970.

Amici miei (My Friends), featuring Ugo Tognazzi and Philippe Noiret, was one of the most successful films in Italy and confirmed Monicelli's skill in mixing humour, irony and bitter feelings. The dramatic accents were predominant in the Un borghese piccolo piccolo (A Very Little Man, 1978), but left pace again to comicity and popularesque history with Il marchese del Grillo (1981). Both films featured Alberto Sordi at his best.

Most recent works by Monicelli include Speriamo che sia femmina (1985), Parenti serpenti (1992) and Cari fottutissimi amici (1994), featuring Paolo Hendel.

One of the trademarks of Monicelli's filmography is his knack for describing the tribulations of the everyday man getting infatuated with grandiose ideas (richness via theft, chivalrous idealism, military glory, fascism and so on) and then seeing him failing at every turn, losing his illusion piece by piece (most often in hiliarious ways), yet not all is desperate in his worldview, since the redeeming value he shows as capable of sweetening even the bitterest defeats is friendship, especially male partnership.

Monicelli worked also for television and theatre, occasionally as an actor, and is a noteworthy playwright of his own.

Monicelli collaborated and sometimes launched all the most important Italian actors of the 20th century: apart those above, we can cite here Monica Vitti, Anna Magnani, Giancarlo Giannini, Stefania Sandrelli, Vittorio De Sica, Sophia Loren, Enrico Montesano, Gian Maria Volonté, Paolo Villaggio, Nino Manfredi and Leonardo Pieraccioni.

Upon receiving his Golden Lion for Career in the 1991 Venice Film Festival, Monicelli declared:

Cinema will never die, it was born and cannot die. The cinema hall will die perhaps, but I definitely don't care of this.





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