We’ve all fantasised about our Fellini fountain moment and bought the Roman Holiday postcard but we know there’s more to life in Rome than cliché romances and wild vespa rides through cobbled streets. Here are our top picks of lesser-known films set in the eternal city:
1. A Cat in the Brain (Un Gatto nel Cervello), 1990
One of his final films, A Cat in the Brain is the brain-child (sorry, couldn’t resist) of Roman filmmaker Lucio Fulci, known to horror fans as the “Italian godfather of gore”. The film is a self-reflective piece in which Fulci himself plays a horror film director becoming gradually more tormented by the blood-drenched narratives of his films and the murders taking place on the streets of Rome that he eventually begins to doubt his own sanity. To underscore the biographic tone of the storyline, the film includes scenes from many of Fulci’s earlier films, many set in Rome. The wrap-around segments were largely shot in and around Rome’s famous Cinecittà Studios.
2. Mamma Roma, 1962
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mamma Roma is the story of an Italian prostitute trying to discard her past and make a better life for herself and her son. Through dark toilet-humor rather than sentimentality, Mamma Roma confronts the struggle to break free from the constraints of social class in a way that is both bleak and beautiful. In addition to the general plethora of religious symbolism, Pasolini’s famous street walking scenes are of particular mention. In these almost abstract shots, Mama Roma is seen leaving her life as a prostitute surrounded by bright lights and people. The second scene shows her miserable fate as she walks the streets of Rome, consumed by their darkness.
3. Night On Earth, 1991
Night on Earth, by American director Jim Jarmusch, is a series of five taxi encounters in five international cities, including Rome. Although just a chunk of a bigger whole, the sequence in Rome is a must-see for anyone acquainted with Italian culture. The ever-eccentric comic Roberto Benigni is cast as the Italian taxi driver who ardently confesses his absurd sins (involving unconventional acts with pumpkins and sheep) to the priest he is transporting across Rome, Night on Earth is a laugh-inducing and at times touching take on urban encounters.
4. Caesar Must Die, 2012
With Caesar Must Die, directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani teeter on the line between documentary and social drama. Working with the theatre director of a prison, the brothers filmed inmates in Rebibbia; a high security prison in Rome’s suburbs as they created an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Caesar. Because the prison is being repaired, inmates rehearse in their cells, reciting Shakespeare in their native, sometimes heavy, dialects. The combination of Shakespearian brutality, symbolism and social commentary on Italian politics is poignant to say the least.
5. The Ignorant Fairies (Le fate ignoranti), 2001
A powerful drama, Le fate Ignoranti follows Antonia, a woman who discovers her recently deceased husband was having affair with a man named Michele. As she gradually delves deeper into Ostiense’s working class district and her husband’s secret life, she becomes transformed. Rome-based Turkish director, Ferzan Ozpetek brings up important themes of sexuality and uses clips from the originally banned 2000 Gay Pride celebrations in Rome for the film’s finale.