Films are an important language-learning tool: they present us with alternative points of view from which to admire stories set in other countries. Watching a film means immersing yourself in a different language and culture without having to take a plane, from the comfort of your own sofa. It can be challenging at times but, with the help of subtitles, it’s sure to improve your comprehension and listening skills, not to mention the hundreds of new words you will learn!
Did you know that Italy holds the record for the most Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film won by a country? This come as no great surprise, as Italian filmmakers have always influenced the world of cinema with their dramatic stories, breathtaking scenery and tragic-comic characters.
Non è stato per niente facile, but we have selected 5 of our favourite Italian films to watch for their artistic value and, above all, for their educational value. Ecco qui cinque film italiani da non perdere!
1. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988)
This movie is an ode to the art and the power of cinema. The characters are inspiring and the story is heartwarming, not to mention the beauty of the Sicilian coast and the transcendent music score written by Ennio Morricone.
It tells the story of a friendship between Totò, a mischievous, bright boy, and Alfredo, a mechanic and projectionist. After the Second World War, cinema is the only entertainment for the people of Giancaldo, a small village in rural Sicily. The local parish hall becomes the crossroads where the villagers meet. It is here that Alfredo initiates Totò in the mysteries of the projection machine, teaching him all the skills needed to venture into the world of cinema. Once Totò is old enough, Alfredo advises him to leave his beloved village forever and pursue his dreams elsewhere. Thirty years later, when Totò’s mother informs him of Alfredo’s death, he decides to return to Giancaldo to confront his past and the people who interacted with his childhood. Cosa succederà?
2. La vita è bella (1997)
How could we not include this multi-award-winning masterpiece? The movie centres around Guido Orefice (played by Italy’s national treasure Roberto Benigni), a Tuscan man of Jewish origin, and his family. In 1944, Guido and his son Giosuè are captured by the Nazis and deported to a concentration camp. His wife Dora, despite not being Jewish, is also deported to the same place in order to join them. To protect his son from the harsh reality of life in the camp, Guido turns the tragic situation into a game. Pretending to understand German, he acts an interpreter for the prisoners and translates the rules of the camp as if they were the rules of a fantastic game of chance: if Giosuè follows the rules he will win a real tank!
La vita è bella takes us on an emotional journey into the most appalling moment of contemporary history, yet it tries to find beauty even in the darkest places, leaving us con l’amaro in bocca (with a bittersweet ending).
3. La meglio gioventù (2003)
The longest movie in this list, La meglio gioventù portrays a generation of Italian dreamers who had to come to terms with the changes happening in politics and society. It’s an elegant and positive, yet dark, depiction of Italy with a very melodramatic tone.
The film spans from the summer of 1966 to the spring of 2003, covering the most important events of those years: the Florence flood in 1966, the 1968 protests, terrorism, Tangentopoli (a web of corruption and bribes) and the mafia attacks. The story focuses on two brothers, Nicola and Matteo, as they find their way into adulthood, marriage and middle age. Nicola falls in love with Giulia, who prioritises her political beliefs over everything else in her life, whereas Matteo meets the photographer-turned-librarian Mirella. Despite sharing the same dreams when they were children, the two brothers will find themselves more distant than what they would’ve ever imagined.
4. La mafia uccide solo d’estate (2013)
Considered one of the best movies on organised crime in Sicily, La mafia uccide solo d’estate tells the story of Arturo, the child of a middle-class family in Palermo. We follow him as he tries to win the heart of his beloved Flora, a classmate with whom he fell in love in primary school. Against the backdrop of this tender and amusing story, the terrible episodes that took place in Sicily between the 1970s and 1990s unfold. Arturo is curiously obsessed with the casual presence of organised crime in his city, since the day he pronounced his first word as baby – “mafia!” – much to his parents’ surprise.
The movie talks about the victims of Cosa Nostra – such as prosecuting magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and general Carlo Alberto Della Chiesa – and the courage of the people of Palermo to break through their silence and ask for justice. It’s a comedic, yet touching, satire of organised crime that manages to celebrate the lives of those who fought against it.
5. La grande bellezza (2013)
This is another multi-award-winning movie that conquered the world for its beauty, its poetry and its story. If you’re someone who loves history and architecture, you won’t be disappointed by this movie. The setting of this tragic-comic adventure is Rome, la Città Eterna. The camera glides through the monuments, the streets and the piazzas of this breathtakingly beautiful city. Da mozzare il fiato!
Paolo Sorrentino’s La grande bellezza is the story of a one-time author, Jep Gambardella, looking for new inspiration and, ultimately, for something that could give meaning to his life. In spite of the appreciation and prizes received for his one work L’apparato umano, he did not write any more books because of a creative block from which he cannot escape. Jep works as a journalist and theatre critic who spends most of his time attending the mundane events of the capital. After receiving the news of the death of his first (and only) love, Jep plunges into a deep state of melancholy and reassesses his world, his work and himself.
Ed ecco qua! Have you ever watched any of these films? Let us know what you think. We’re curious to read which five Italian movies you would pick, so leave us a comment below. Grazie di aver letto questo articolo e buona visione!
Want to watch even more foreign-language films? Click here to see our film recommendations for French, German and Spanish learners!