Augusto Genina: an Italian in Europe

Programme curated by Emiliano Morreale
Notes by Paola Cristalli, Stella Dagna, Gian Luca Farinelli, Daniele FurlatiClaudia Gianetto ed Emiliano Morreale


Augusto Genina is one of the least studied of Italian cinema’s important directors. A single, albeit splendid, monograph edited by Sergio Germani and Vittorio Martinelli twenty-eight years ago is practically the only book dedicated to his work. The reasons behind this neglect are above all ideological. In the sound era, Genina’s name was linked to several war films of the Fascist era, a biography of the saint Maria Goretti, a melodrama underpinned by a rich Catholicism, and a film based on a news event which has an official Neorealist work as a rival – De Santis’ Roma ore 11.
However, Genina’s career is full of surprises. He traversed forty years of Italian and European cinema; indeed the cosmopolitan aspect of his work is one of its most evident traits. He exemplifies an international style – European in nature but also closely linked to the already well-defined model of American cinema. In his early years, Genina met the most important figures of the new industrial culture, from Lucio D’Ambra to Maurice Dekobra, and from the legendary Mistinguett to Pirandello, before being welcomed in both France and Germany.
Emerging in a period characterised by the triumph and rapid decline of the divas, Genina seemed to discover his perfect arena dealing with the new female model of the ‘tomboys’ which made a mark on some of the most significant titles of the Twenties. It was inevitable, therefore, that he should encounter Louise Brooks in Prix de beauté – a symbolic film which straddled the silent and sound eras, constituting both a clear watershed and one of the high points of the director’s career. Two jewels of early French sound cinema, Les Amours de minuit e Nous ne sommes plus des enfants, also demand reappraisal. Beginning with that phase, Genina demonstrated a talent not only for directing actors, but also as a talent scout (he launched Jean Gabin in Paris-Béguin and discovered Fernandel in a little variety theatre). He is also a sidelined maestro for figures like Mario Monicelli and Mario Camerini (his cousin and disciple, who does not seem very appreciative of this fact). His versatility also had an impact on two great war films, both shot during the Fascist era but actually diametrically opposed to one another. In Squadrone bianco, what counts is the exotic, colonial adventure and the silence and abstraction of the desert. L’assedio dell’Alcazar, on the other hand, emphasises realism, an anti-rhetoric which, while not necessarily ‘anti-Fascist’, nonetheless brought to Italy the model of the American and European war movie, opening the way to Rossellini’s first feature films.
In the Neorealist era, Genina followed a path blending a high visual style with realist or melodramatic elements in films like Cielo sulla palude – one of his masterpieces – or Maddalena. These are anti-populist films, which describe the peasant world with great ferocity and which, despite their subject, are fuelled by a secular and libertine eroticism. This is also true of his last film, Frou-Frou, a return to his origins, a moving testament of an elderly cosmopolitan director of the silent era: his Lola Montès.

Emiliano Morreale


Photo: Les Amours de minuit by Augusto Genina (1931)