Ehi, ciao! So maybe you’re already learning Italian or perhaps you are in need of a little inspiration to get you started. Whatever the case, bravissimo! Bravissima!
Learning a language becomes even more fun when you realise that you are capable of recognising sounds, words, structures, and patterns by yourself. Well, whether you’ve just started learning, are already confident in the language or you’re just really into art, film and culture, there’s a whole treasure of Italian artistic production out there that you’ll want to get your hands on!
Oh and before I start... I know what you’re thinking. “What if I don’t understand?” The answer is, it doesn’t matter! Just being exposed to a new language helps enrich your vocabulary and get you used to the accent. Plus, in the age of technology we live in, subtitles are our best friend! Here are four Italian films I recommend you watch.
1. La strada (1954)
English title: The Road
Director: Federico Fellini
Plot: Gelsomina, a poor country girl, is sold to Zampanò, a gypsy wanderer, to be his wife and partner. She is sensitive and wants to learn the mysterious secrets of nature. He is animalesque and down-to-earth, barely noticing what he sees or touches. Gelsomina travels around the country with him, becomes his assistant in his circus act, but endures physical and emotional pain along the way.
Trivia: This is the film that gave international fame to Federico Fellini, before the renowned La dolce vita (1960). This is definitely a must-see if you are into black and white films and since the majority of the plot takes place in a circus, you’ll get to learn lots of new words!
2. Suspiria (1977)
English title: Suspiria
Director: Dario Argento
This is the first part of a trilogy (the other two being Inferno (Inferno, 1980) and La terza madre (The Mother of Tears, 2007) directed by Dario Argento, one of the most influential Italian horror film directors. The film is inspired by the 1845 novel Suspiria De Profundis (lit. “Sighs from the Depths”) written by the English journalist and writer Thomas de Quincey.
Plot: Susy Benner is a talented American dancer who moves to Fribourg, Switzerland to join the famous Dance Academy of Fribourg. But, on the night of her arrival, in the midst of a terrible storm, something strange starts to happen…
Trivia: To make your understanding and learning experience even more immersive, why not grab yourself a copy of the book before watching the film? This will help you have a better understanding of the general plot and the characters, even though the film is not a literal interpretation of the book.
3. La vita è bella (1997)
English title: Life Is Beautiful
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Director: Roberto Benigni
The film title is a direct quote from Leon Trotsky’s testament. If you are learning Italian, try to figure out what this means:
Italian: “La vita è bella. Possano le generazioni future liberarla da ogni male, oppressione e violenza e goderla in tutto il suo splendore.”
English: “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.”
So? Did you recognise some words? If so, that’s great! Now’s the perfect time for you to watch the film in Italian. If not, don’t despair! Practice certainly does make perfect. Add these words to your list of new vocabulary and you’ll remember them in no time!
Plot: At the end of the 1930s, Guido Orefice, a jolly and playful Jewish man, is deported, together with his family, to a Nazi concentration camp. Throughout the film, he tries to protect his young son from the horrors of the Holocaust, making him believe that everything they witness is just part of a fantastic game in which they have to face many challenges in order to win a marvellous prize at the end.
Trivia: Roberto Benigni, who both directed and starred in La vita è bella, was inspired by the life and experiences of Rubino Romeo Salmonì, an Italian Jew who arrived at Auschwitz at the age of 24. If you want to dig deeper, you can find out more about his experiences and stories by reading his book Ho sconfitto Hitler (In the End, I Beat Hitler). The film won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival, along with many other awards, making it the top-grossing Italian film from 1997 until 2011. What an achievement!
4. La grande bellezza (2013)
English title: The Great Beauty
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Plot: Jep Gambardella is a journalist and a theatre critic with undeniable appeal. He spends his time in Rome, completely immersed in the beauties of the past that the city has to offer, making him more aware of the dreariness of the present. Halfway through his 60s, he has only written one book, not because of laziness, but simply because of a creative block which he cannot seem to escape. It’s on the day of his 65th birthday when he realises that Rome and its people will inspire him to break out of that creative block that was once holding him back.
Trivia: This film and its title are, in one way, all about Rome. Rome is the great beauty, according to Sorrentino. This is a film you should definitely watch if you’re planning to travel to Rome any time soon. You will see the city through the lens of a director capable of capturing its parties, colours, sounds, foods, and the ways Italians relate to each other. The cast includes some of the most famous and admired Italian actors, such as Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Isabella Ferrari, Giorgio Pasotti and Carlo Buccirosso, to name a few.
Luciano is one of busuu's Localisation Editors. He lives in London but grew up in Rome. His family is bilingual and he speaks English and Italian. He studied Computer Games Design and Story Development in London and his interests include reading, writing, board games, art and food!