LA CENA DELLE BEFFE
Sog.: dalla pièce omonima (1909) di Sem Benelli. Scen.: Alessandro Blasetti, Renato Castellani. F.: Mario Craveri. M.: Mario Serandrei. Scgf.: Virgilio Marchi. Mus.: Giuseppe Becce. Int.: Amedeo Nazzari (Neri Chiaramantesi), Osvaldo Valenti (Giannetto Malespini), Clara Calamai (Ginevra), Valentina Cortese (Lisabetta), Memo Benassi (Tornaquinci), Piero Carnabuci (Fazio), Lauro Gazzolo (Trinca), Alberto Capozzi (Ser Luca), Alfredo Varelli (Gabriello Chiaramantesi), Luisa Ferida (Fiammetta), Elisa Cegani (Laldòmine). Prod.: Giuseppe Amato per Cines. DCP.. Bn.
Sem Benelli’s play of the same name was first staged in 1909, before being set to music for the stage by Umberto Giordano in 1924. From this, Alessandro Blasetti and Renato Castellani derived their screenplay and the director went on to produce a concise and turbid melodrama, which is surprisingly ambiguous and bloody for the period, despite his claim to have had no particular interest in the material. It has long been remembered for having featured the first naked breast in Italian film history (when Nazzari rips off Calamai’s nightdress), but it is actually preceded by an anonymous extra in Stella del cinema (1931) and Vittoria Carpi in La corona di ferro (The Iron Crown, 1941). Today, the film remains striking for the strong homoerotic tension between the two protagonists, who seem less concerned with conquering the woman than with indulging the destructive impulses underpinning their troubled r lationship. At the time, Amedeo Nazzari was considered the perfect incarnation of the masculine ideal and so it is surprising that he should have accepted such an ambiguous film in which both he and Osvaldo Valenti (in his first significant role) experience what a psychologist might describe as the uncovering of their ‘repressed femininity’. Their unresolved relationship gives rise to a desire to take on the other’s role and the tragic ending is far from the catharsis that the spectator might expect.
A slightly too introspective reading has also burdened the film with a political interpretation: that of the ‘symbolic castration’ of the national male, embodied by both Nazzari and, above all, Mussolini.
This aside, we are left with yet another demonstration of the skill and versatility of Blasetti, who was able to move effortlessly from the historical fantasy of La corona di ferro to the bloody melodrama of Cena, in which the mise-en-scène highlights the contributions of art director Virgilio Marchi and costume designer Gino Sensani. For Italians, it is impossible not to smile at the line “May the plague strike anyone who will not drink with me”, which Nazzari made famous a couple of decades later in a TV advert for a national liquor, which may also have also helped a few people discover the existence of Sem Benelli.