Filmmaker Mario Monicelli, considered one of the fathers the famed ‘commedia Italiana’ genre died in Rome Monday night by suicide, Italian media widely reported. He was 95 years old.
Monicelli left behind a repertoire of almost 70 films and 80 screenplays that included such iconic titles as the 1958 Oscar nominated Big Deal On Madonna Street (I Soliti Ignoti) about a group of bungling thieves and the 1959 Golden Lion winning The Great War (La Grande Guerra) featuring Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman as youths called to serve in WWI, also nominated for the foreign Oscar.
According to media reports, the director is said to have jumped from a terrace at Rome’s San Giovanni hospital where he was being treated for prostate cancer. Italian news sources noted that Monicelli’s father, Tomaso, had taken his own life in 1946.
Despite a sad twist to a life dedicated to entertaining and making people laugh, Monicelli’s passing dominated the front page of every Italian daily, reinforcing how his cinematic representations of Italians have touched several generations.
Italian daily La Repubblica called him an “immense author” and “the most authentic exponent - cynical, disenchanted, yet full of civic passion- of the noble tradition that goes by the name of the ‘commedia Italiana.’”
Critic Paolo Merenghetti of Corriere della Sera said, Monicelli’s work was not only noted for laughs, but for the “social analysis and fluid narratives…his taste for caricature…”
Monicelli is often grouped along with Dino Risi, Stefano Vanzina (or Steno, as he is commonly known in Italy) and Luigi Comencini for raising comedy to its highest level, and Monicelli’s passing closes the parentheses on the genre that helped define Italians – both to themselves and the world. Contemporary comic master Carlo Verdone said, “Monicelli told the story of our country with refined delicacy and irony.”
Italian comedies that in part have their roots with Monicelli and his peers continue to be among the most successful films upon which the local industry largely thrives.
But the films had more than home grown appeal and Monicelli’s films earned plenty of top notch recognition from the industry.
In addition to the double nomination in the foreign Oscar category, his films Casanova 70 (1965) and I Compagni (1963) that featured Marcello Mastroianni were nominated for Oscar’s screenplay category. La Grande Guerra, in addition to the Oscar nomination earned him Venice’s Golden Lion and in 1991 he was brought back for Venice’s Golden career Lion. In 1951 Guardie E Ladri earned best best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival (writte by Piero Tellini).
Known to have a caustic personality, just months before his death he joined young artists as a vociferous campaigner in protest of proposed government cuts to the arts.
Born in Viareggio pn May 16, 1915, Monicelli studied philosophy at Pisa University. His first short film was already in the bag by 1932. He worked with the best and brightest of the Italian film industry’s golden era. It was Carlo Ponti who put him together with Italian funny man Toto, for the 1949 Toto Cerca Casa about the difficulty of finding an apartment.
Other memorable titles include L’armata Brancaleone (1965), The Girl With The Pistol (1968) Monica Vitti’s first comic role. In 1977 he changed tone and made a more tragic timbered film, Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo, in 2006, Monicelli was again behind the camera with Le Rose Del Desert, his last feature. In 2008 and 2010 he worked on two shorts.
Monicelli leaves behind three daughters.