The newly launched Criterion Channel offers a treasure trove of classic films from many countries, but what caught our attention are the Italian films that are presented. The channel offers close to 2,000 titles, but the sections on Italian films are priceless. They focus on art house-style films by legendary directors including Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini, the Taviani Brothers and Lina Wertmüller, to name but a few. See Italian screen goddesses Anna Magnani, Monia Vitti and Silvana Mangano in the prime of their careers. A basic subscription costs just $10.95 per month with unlimited films, rare interviews with the filmmakers and documentaries about the making of these iconic films.
Anyone who has ever taken a class on film-theory is likely to have studied Bicycle Thieves. It has been a model for decades for a reason, serving as a portal to discussions about framing, perspective and tone for generations. One of the most beloved films of all time, De Sica’s 1948 Oscar winner tells the simple story of a hardworking man whose bicycle is stolen, but it does so in such a simple, effective way that it effectively rewrote the rules of film grammar.
There are only a few films that one can point to and say that they literally changed the language of filmmaking. One such is Antonioni’s L’Avventura from 1960. What if someone could just disappear off the face of the Earth? That is what happens to a young woman on a yachting trip, but L’Avventura is no mere mystery movie. It’s more about disillusionment and disenchantment with society, themes he would continue to explore.
As with several filmmakers on this list, picking a single Fellini film is almost impossible, but a good place to start is with the unforgettable visage of Giulietta Masina in the classic film La Strada. She plays Gelsomina, a woman sold to a circus strongman played by Anthony Quinn. La Strada marks Fellini’s transition from neorealism to a more lyrical style. Other Fellini classics on the Criterion Channel include 8½, Amarcord, I Vitelloni, Il Bidone, Juliet of the Spirits and Nights of Cabiria.
Also, check out The Night of the Shooting Stars. Set during the summer of 1944 in a small town in Tuscany, caught between the retreating German forces and the advancing American army, this cinematic fable is one of the Taviani brothers’ most acclaimed films. Framed as a mother’s recollection of her wartime experience to her six-year-old son, the story takes on the quality of a fairy tale. In it, the Tavianis create some of their most lyrical and poetic images.
See these titles and many more unforgettable Italian film classics on the Criterion Channel.