1. La Vita è Bella
Life Is Beautiful as the film title translates in English, is a 1997 Italian language film which tells the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice (played by Roberto Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the film), who must make use of his active imagination to help his son Giosuѐ during their internment in a Nazi concentration camp. In the film, Giosuѐ is four and a half years old, but both the beginning and ending of the film are narrated by an older Giosuѐ recalling his father’s efforts and sacrifice for his family. In 1999, Benigni won the Oscar for Best Actor and the film won both the award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Best Foreign Language Film.
2. La Sconosciuta
Made in 2006, La sconosciuta is a psychological thriller, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It’s the hard-hitting story of Irena, a Ukranian woman living in northern Italy who is haunted by a traumatic past, and in the midst of searching for a long lost daughter.
Gomorrah is a 2008 Italian film directed by Matteo Garrone, based on the book by Roberto Saviano. The film centres around the organised crime families in Naples (the Camorra), and offers a very different representation of the mafia to what is often portrayed in Hollywood mob films. Instead of being shown as glamorous and powerful men, we see the mafia as they really are – slave drivers, toxic-waste dealers and terrorists. Gamorrah is a realistic and hard-hitting film, but is a fascinating insight into what still goes on in this part of the world.
4. Porte Aperte
Open Doors as it’s known in English is an award-winning film directed by Gianni Amelio. Set in Palermo in the 1930s, it follows the trial of a man who has committed three murders, and the actions of a judge who is opposed to the death penalty and determined to understand the man and his motives rather than to sentence him to execution. The film is based on a 1968 novel, “Porte Aperte”, by Leonardo Sciascia.
5. Cinema Paradiso
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is a 1988 romantic drama written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It was internationally released as ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and achieved huge success, winning the Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and the 1989 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In the film a famous director returns home to a Sicilian village for the first time after almost 30 years. He reminisces about his childhood at the Cinema Paradiso where man called Alfredo, the projectionist, first brought about his love of films.
6. La Bestia nel Cuore
La bestia nel cuore is a 2005 film directed by Cristina Comencini, based on the novel that she herself also wrote. It was nominated for Golden Lion prize at the Venice International Film Festival and also in the Best Foreign Language Film category in the 78th Academy Awards. It centres around a character called Sabina, who has a stable life with a decent job and a loving partner, but who harbours traumatic secrets from her past that need to be dealt with before she can truly be happy…
7. Romanzo Criminale
Released in 2005, Romanzo Criminale is a crime drama that received international acclaim, winning 15 awards in total. It is based on a novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo, which was inspired by the real-life story of the notorious Magliana gang who dominated Rome’s criminal underworld from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. The film follows the progression of three young men from street criminals to organised crime bosses who are involved in decades of terrorism, kidnappings and corruption.
Mediterraneo is an acclaimed comedy that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1991. The film is set during World War II, and follows the story of a group of misfit Italian soldiers who are tasked with keeping a lookout for enemy ships on a small Greek island. At first the island seems abandoned, but when the Greeks realise that the Italians pose no threat, the townsfolk suddenly appear to re-commence their peaceful existence on the island. The soldiers are unnerved when the ship on the way to collect them is blown up and they realise that they are stranded, but soon they start enjoying life on the island and being left behind doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all!
9. Johnny Stecchino
Johnny Stecchino is a 1991 Italian comedy film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni as Dante, a good-hearted but naive bus driver. A close shave with a car leads him to meet Maria, who develops an instant interest in him and soon invites him to stay at her villa in Palermo. It turns out that Dante bears an uncanny likeness to Maria’s husband, Johnny, a feared Mafioso who has recently upset a few people…needless to say, the coincidence isn’t quite as arbitrary as it first seems!
10. Eighteen Years Later
This 2010 film follows estranged brothers Genziano and Mirko as they drive to Calabria to deliver their father’s ashes to his hometown. The brothers haven’t spoken for 18 years, when their mother was killed in a mysterious accident. After the accident Genziano emigrated to England to set up a successful business and Mirko stayed in Italy working in their father’s auto shop. As they travel across Italy, accompanied at times by a pretty and enigmatic hitchhiker, the siblings revisit various family secrets.