Risi's more than fifty films endeared him to Italians and foreign audiences for his talent at showcasing the transition from the post war era into the prosperous economic boom of the 1960s with an ironic tinge typified in many pictures such as his 1956 film Poor but Beautiful (Poveri ma belli).
Indeed, Risi's best-known works reflect Italy and Italians in transition. A Difficult Life (Una vita difficile, 1961) spans twenty years and features comic actor Alberto Sordi as an idealistic writer who struggles with love and success.
One of the most memorable portraits he created is certainly The Easy Life (Il sorpasso, 1962), produced by Mario Cecchi Gori and starring Vittorio Gassman as a pleasure seeker and Jean Louise Trintignant as a shy student traveling around Italy in a sports car during in the prosperous 1960s.
Artistically, Risi is credited with bringing episodic film-making into fashion with films like his collage-styled satire The Monsters (I mostri 1963).
In an obituary dedicated to the director, Italian critic Paolo D'Agostini from Italy's La Repubblica referred to Risi's style of using comedy and recognizable figures to draw audiences as 'a vocation for social neorealism.'
But it was Risi's 1972 film Scent of a Woman (Profumo di donna) about a blind army captain that relied on his sense of smell to identify women and which earned him an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, as well a place in Cannes Palme d'Or competition that year that reinforced his international reputation.
While those awards evaded, the film inspired a US remake in 1993 starring Al Pacino which won the actor an Oscar or best actor.
In 2002, Risi received the Golden Lion for Career achievement from the Venice Film Festival.
Risi was born in Milan in December 1916, the son of a prominent doctor to La Scala opera house. He became an orphan at the age of twelve and was raised by family members.
He studied medicine and switched paths in life after working as an assistant to directors Mario Soldati and Alberto Latuada and Mario Monicelli.
He is survived by his son, the director Marco Risi. The city of Rome will pay tribute to the director Monday at the Casa del Cinema at Rome's Borghese Gardens.