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Amongst Ferrara’s myriad sets
On the trail of the places which have been sets for a long series of films going back to the early years of the 20th century and bringing us up to today. A proposal from FILMa pART cultural association.
From Vancini’s It Happened in ’43, (La lunga notte del ‘43) with Enrico Maria Salerno, to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’ (Il giardino dei Finzi Contini) directed by De Sica, from The Gold-Rimmed Glasses (Gli occhiali d’oro) by Montaldo to Olmi’s The Profession of Arms (Il mestiere delle armi). So many famous films but just the one set: Ferrara
by Dario C. Nicoli
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Dominique Sanda and Lino Capolicchio in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’ (Il giardino dei Finzi Contini) (1970) directed by Vittorio De Sica, from the novel of the same name (1962) written by Giorgio Bassani, set between 1938 and '43 and shot in Ferrara

      The camera scans a semicircle over the cupolas of a surreal city cloaked in fog and rests its gaze at a window. Ferrara, November 1943: the town is adrift, the Salò Republic (Italian Social Republic) has just been set up. Behind the windows that look onto the castle, a very young Enrico Maria Salerno in the role of chemist Pino Barilari makes fun of the passers-by, rebelling against the venereal disease that is corroding him and confines him to a wheelchair. He is the leading character in the film made in 1960 by Florestano Vancini, It Happened in ’43 (La lunga notte del ’43), that tells of the slaughter of a group of partisans by Fascists. Barilari, the only witness to this crime, will die without revealing the names of the assassins in a vendetta against his beautiful, unfaithful wife.

      Ferrara seen through the eye of the movie camera. An original way to look at a city that boasts origins going back to the Longobard Astolfo, which was the first seignory in 1208, with Azzo VI d’Este, and the most modern town in Renaissance Europe, proposed by Massimiliano Gaudiosi and Mariasole Mautone of the cultural association FILMa pART. The trail takes in the places most dear to Italian and foreign directors. The city of Savonarola, Balbo and Giorgio Bassani as seen through the eye of the camera. Because Ferrara, in its role of a film set, goes right back to 1909, when the melologue Parisina was shot, based on an idea by Domenico Tumiati, another native of the town. At the film’s first night, which took place in the castle courtyard, one of the members of the public was Gabriele D’Annunzio. Since then, the set lighting has been switched on once or twice a year in a town that has proved itself to be open and hospitable. And when the town itself is not sufficient, you just have to go towards the Po Delta, where you often come across the lovely “Delizie”, the country-dwellings of the ducal families, and an aquatic environment that evokes tales of past times and offers landscapes of disquieting beauty.

      In 1912 Sotto a chi tocca is shot in the Medieval streets of the town and the success of this comedy was such that during the 15 days it was screened, the queues had to be kept under control by local police. In 1913 Roberto Danesi makes Torquato Tasso and fills the castle with warriors. Then some minor films, until 1942, when Luchino Visconti shoots Obsession (Ossessione) placing his cameras in Piazza della Repubblica, in front of the Ducal Castle, in via Saraceno and at the railway station. It Happened in ’43 (La lunga notte del ’43), is shot by Florestano Vancini in 1960, in some of the city streets, but also in a studio in which the castle is faithfully reproduced. In 1963 Antonio Pietrangeli makes Pina with Sandra Milo and in ’70 De Sica, inspired by Bassani’s novel of the same name, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’ (Il giardino dei Finzi Contini) situating it along via Ercole I d’Este, in the place in which the writer had imagined it. Vancini makes his Bitter love (Amore amaro) in 1974, setting Carlo Bernari’s story in the city in which the director had spent his childhood, instead of in Rome, which would have been more faithful to the original. Piazza Ariostea makes an appearance in the film by Giuliano Montaldo in 1987, The Gold-Rimmed Glasses (Gli occhiali d’oro), again based on a book by Bassani, in which an exceptional Philippe Noiret plays the role of a mature homosexual in the time of the regime. Even Terry Gilliam’s the Baron of Munchausen (1989) sees, on one of his journeys, the castle of Ferrara, the city in which a seriously ill Michelangelo Antonioni shoots Beyond the Clouds (Al dilà delle Nuvole) in 1995. Other titles to remember are Gianni Costantino’s Pale Radish (Ravanello Pallido) in 2001, Ermanno Olmi’s The Profession of Arms (Il Mestiere delle armi) in 2002, Frank Ciota’s Ciao America (2002), Stefano Incerti’s Life as it comes (La vita come viene) (2003), and Vancini’s And laughingly killed him (E ridendo l’uccise) (2004). Plus so many films for T.V., some of which are very recent.

      A sightseeing tour shows off the precious gems: the cathedral consecrated in 1135, the 15th century castle, Palazzo Schifanoia, the Palazzina di Marfisa d’Este, the Palazzo dei Diamanti, a 16th century building decorated with 12,600 sharp marble blocks, the work of Biagio Rossetti, like the imposing walls that girdle the city for about 9 kilometers. Buildings that hint of intrigue, of war and arms, but also of culture, music and art. Pisanello, Veronese, Tasso and Ariosto were welcomed at the Estensi court. There are so many names from the past to remember, and so many artists who have enriched the city and made it known to the world by means of the new arts. The orchestra conductor Claudio Abbado is just one of these.

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