Marco Bellocchio

Source: Cannes Film Festival / DR

Marco Bellocchio

Veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio has revealed details of his new drama series Portobello, which is based on the real-life story of Enzo Tortora, the Italian TV celebrity journalist falsely accused of being a Mafia member and drug runner in the early 1980s.

“He [Tortora] was convicted and sentenced to prison because of a huge judiciary mistake,” Bellocchio said of his subject who hosted hit TV show Portobello but ended up receiving a 10 year prison sentence. “They [the authorities] literally destroyed his family, his life, his professional career - and he died out of sheer grief.”

Bellocchio didn’t know Tortora personally but remembers following the scandal very closely at the time. “It showed up Italian society. It was headline news in all of the major newspapers.”

The director sees parallels between the Tortora story and the events he depicted over 50 years ago in Slap The Monster On Page One (1972), his satirical thriller about the excesses of the Italian newspaper industry. The film screened in Cannes Classics last month in a restored version and is showing this week at the 38th edition of Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna.

“Enzo Tortora was treated as a monster. He was accused of being a drug trafficker, of conniving with the Mafia and also of being a user of drugs, which was not true.”

The screenplay for the series is almost complete and shooting is due to begin in the autumn. Financing and casting details are expected to be announced shortly.

True stories

Bellocchio’s recent movies have dealt in dramatic form with other notable episodes in Italian history. His 2019 Cannes competition entry, The Traitor, told the story of Mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta who turned evidence against his colleagues in a celebrated anti-Mafia trial. His 2023 movie, Kidnapped, which also screened in Cannes competition, was about the notorious case of a Jewish boy Edgardo Mortara seized from his family by the Vatican in the 1850s and raised as a Catholic.

The new drama, though, is being made as a series. “I prefer to make films but the story of Enzo Tortora is so complex, so vast and far reaching that it required to be subdivided into six episodes,” said Bellocchio. “It was a necessity [to make it as a series] in order to embrace the full breadth of the story.”

Bellocchio is 84-years-old but still as prolific as ever. He is one of the few filmmakers still working who is a direct contemporary of figures like Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini. His debut feature Fists In The Pocket (1965) is currently being re-made by Brazilian director Karim Ainouz with a cast led by Kristen Stewart, Josh O’Connor and Elle Fanning.

Speaking to Screen, the Italian auteur struck a philosophical note about the current state of the Italian movie industry and about the reforms to the tax credit system which generated a post-pandemic boom in production in the country.

“The season of Italian film abundance’ is about to end. It is running its course because the Italian government has a big deficit it has to face up to,” Bellocchio said. “Many films were produced [because of the tax credit]. A lot of then were bad but some of them were also quite good!”

Bellocchio will be discussing his life and career with fellow director Sergio Castellitto during an “in conversation” event on June 27 at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna (June 22-30). Pierre-Henri Gibert’s new documentary about him, The First Image – Marco Bellocchio, is screening at the festival as is the restored version of Slap the Monster on Page One.

01 Distribution in collaboration with Minerva Pictures is re-releasing Slap The Monster in Italy on July 4.