DINO RISI – OBITUARY
The death of Dino Risi on 7 June passed unnoticed, at least in the mainstream
English language press. His was a name that had largely fallen off the radar in
recent years. Yet at his peak he directed a number of the most popular Italian
films ever made, worked with some of Italy’s finest actors and had at least one
of Hollywood’s accolades accorded to him, a remake of one of his greatest
successes, write Geoff Gardner.
I learned of the death of Dino Risi via the obituary published in the latest
Cahiers du Cinema. Long time critic Luc Moullet devoted two pages to a eulogy on
Risi and his career. It brought back some memories and made me ponder on just
how many of Risi's films remain unseen.
Dino Risi first trained as a psychologist. He drifted into the film industry in
the early forties, and took classes under Jacques Feyder while interned in
Switzerland during the war. He made documentaries and in the early fifties gave
up his psychology practice and quickly established himself as a feature film
director. He specialized in the light comedies so loved by Italian audiences.
The roots of these films trace back to neo-realism and the settings especially
were always quite meticulous in their detail of everyday life. Few of them were
exported but in the 50s in Australia you could see them at the inner suburban
cinemas which catered to the vast pool of recent Italian immigrants. Many,
though not all, however were screened in copies without subtitles and it was hit
or miss for the dedicated followers who lapped up the pleasures offered by
Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni long before they achieved international
"an art house treasure"
In the early 60s Risi became something of an art house treasure. His Il
Sorpasso/The Easy Life (1961) premiered at the Sydney Film Festival and was a
huge hit with cinemagoers who appreciated its sly humour. Risi tapped into
studies of that peculiarly Italian combination of traits - sophistication,
street cunning, and a blithe disregard for the law. Few will ever forget the
moment Vittorio Gassman blithely steals someone else’s parking ticket before
placing it on his own car which in a flash establishes Gassman’s character.
Gassman’s riotous sentimental education of the young and repressed Jean-Louis
Trintignant in the ways of the world set the world laughing.
Risi’s other big critical success, and international hit, was Profumo di
Donna/Scent of a Woman, made in 1973. Again it starred Gassman, one more of the
sixteen fruitful collaborations between the actor and director. The part of a
blind man with a chip on his shoulder, a giant libido and an extraordinary nose
for female scent was dangerous but riotous. Hollywood remade it with Al Pacino
in 1992. Martin Brest’s film, incredibly long for a dramatic comedy at some 156
minutes, was also a critical and popular success. As usual however the original
was a better movie.
As usual with European films, the distribution of Risi’s work outside his home
country was sporadic. Some of it popped up dubbed. Much of it was ignored. That
hardly seems to have mattered to a director who kept working until well into his
seventies. Today very little of his work is available. A check of the Time Out
Film Guide doesn’t have a single Risi title listed as being available for TV or
DVD in Britain and I suspect the same applies in Australia.
"a tinge of nostalgia"
If his death causes anyone anywhere a tinge of nostalgia then it would be
nice if someone got out a selection of his best and assembled them for an
international tour. SBS could help with the subtitling for over the years the
keen eyed viewer had the chance to see more than a little of his best work on
that channel. (Alas no more - those golden years have passed). One film
especially would be welcome, the drama he made with Alberto Sordi in 1960, A
Difficult Life. Whether it has ever been screened here is beyond me but in the
European obituaries it is singled out for high praise. Otherwise I’d just be
happy to see all sixteen of those films he made with the extraordinary Gassman,
collectively probably the actor’s best work when his characteristic jauntiness,
suavity, brilliant comic timing and unassailable ability to deliver dialogue at
machine gun pace were on full display. Throw in the early Sophia Loren pictures
as well and a bit of the cinema’s heaven would be there for all to see.
Risi’s two sons Marco and Claudio have followed him into the film business.
Published July 17, 2008
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December 23, 1916 June 7, 2008
Profumo di donna
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