A Neapolitan at Cinecittà, Eduardo De Filippo the Filmmaker

Programme curated by Emiliano Morreale
in collaboration with Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II


Eduardo De Filippo was a pillar of 20th-century European theatre, and not just in Italy: heir of the great Neapolitan tradition of theatre (he was the son of Eduardo Scarpetta, the most famous exponent of Neapolitan theatre of his times), De Filippo knew how to bring it up to date, measuring it against twentieth-century themes and forms, starting with Pirandello. There are two phases of his experience in film: the eve and early years of the Second World War, and later from the postwar period to the mid-50s. His encounter with cinema as a director yielded its happiest results during this second stage. The interval between these two periods, from 1945 to 48, was the birth of his theatre masterpieces: Napoli milionaria, Questi fantasmi, Filumena Marturano and Le voci di dentro. There was a rift between him and his brother Peppino, and he was looking for funding for the Teatro San Ferdinando project. He needed film to earn money, but it was also a testing ground. He started by making a memorable film version – shot in studio – of Napoli milionaria, which was also an early reflection on neorealism in crisis. From 1951 to 53, he basically left theatre for cinema; aside from adaptations of his comedies, De Filippo created works specifically for the big screen that went in original directions, anticipating commedia all’italiana (Ragazze da marito and especially Napoletani a Milano) or inventing a new black comedy with unparalleled ferocity (Marito e moglie).

There is nothing theatrical about De Filippo’s films; they have inventive camerawork, an airy or concentrated rhythm, and a fiercer tone than his works for the stage. According to scholars, this was the height of his bitterest period, before he returned to theatre in 1954 as Pulcinella and began a more peaceful phase. It was a short period in film in which this director revealed new paths that had been little explored or explored later on in Italian cinema – a small legacy worth reviving. Later, De Filippo tried his hand at some more eccentric and not always successful films (a kind of apocryphal Fellini, Fortunella, a dreamlike pop comedy, Spara forte, più forte… non capisco) but would find new fertile terrain in television. In fact, he restaged his works for TV, discovering a new national audience and inventing his own personal style for the medium.
An extraordinary showman on stage, Eduardo didn’t have much luck on the big screen (unlike his brother and sister Peppino and Titina, who gave memorable film performances, especially in comic roles). Unlike his siblings he had an acting style that did not transfer well to film. But the impact of his theatre on Italian cinema is enormous: Pasolini and Carmelo Bene would have liked having him in their projects, and Fellini dreamed of giving him the part of Trimalcione in Satyricon. In the end, every time a family gathers around a table in an Italian movie (from Amarcord to Reality by Garrone) there is always a pinch of Eduardo.

Emiliano Morreale