Luciano Emmer 100: The Art of Gazing

Programme curated by Emiliano Morreale
Notes by Marco Giusti, Neil McGlone, Emiliano Morreale, Alexander Payne


Labelled alongside other directors of the Fifties as an example of ‘pink neorealism’, Luciano Emmer made a series of incredibly fresh films during that decade, helping to redefine the aesthetic characteristics of Italian cinema. After the crisis of Neorealism and before the commedia all’italiana, his cinema found an autonomous space: he was the poet of youth and the evolving classes, on the threshold of modernity.
At the end of the Thirties, and barely thirty-years-old himself, Emmer invented the art documentary with a handful of titles beginning with Racconto di un affresco (1938), about Giotto’s paintings in the Scrovegni Chapel. Before and after the war, his talent for describing painting through cinema remained unequalled. His fiction films, beginning with Domenica d’agosto (1950), went in a different direction: not from the pictorial image to the story, but from the story to the gaze, distraction, atmosphere. Emmer’s cinema always captures a moment of transition: a holiday (Domenica d’agosto, Parigi è sempre Parigi, 1951; La ragazza in vetrina, 1960), the entry into adulthood (Terza liceo, 1954; Le ragazze di Piazza di Spagna, 1952) and, more generally and more tenderly photographed, Italy’s entry into the age of affluence. Today aspects of his cinema can be seen as a historical metaphor: his gaze carefully attuned to women, young people and the emerging petit-bourgeoisie; his ‘atmospheric’ sensibility; the propensity for carefully weaving his stories around a fixed period of time. The backdrop of his films of the Fifties is almost always the modern, working class areas of Rome, always bustling (Camilla, 1955, is a prime example) and suspended between city and countryside. Urban space also becomes a means of representing the passage of time.
The director gave up cinema in the early Sixties when the great cinematic modernisms, from Antonioni to Fellini, were becoming established and when the Commedia all’italiana (which Emmer hated) was poised to inherit certain elements of his cinema. A victim of censorship with La ragazza in vetrina (1961), a film which could have inaugurated a new phase in his work, the director instead dedicated himself for the next thirty years to television, and in particular the peculiar form of the carosello, shorts sponsored by businesses, which were the only form of publicity allowed on Italian TV at the time. In his own way, this was his modernity: a place for narrative experimentation, a way of keeping up with the changing country, while the world that he had immortalised during a fragile moment of transition was beginning to disappear.

Emiliano Morreale