Sunday, November 26, 2023


Redazione Cinemonitor

November 20, 2023

"The cinema of Romolo Guerrieri. Journey into the Italian Genre Film" by Giuseppe Costigliola, in bookstores for "Edizioni Il Foglio", is the first part of a monumental critical biography on a cult author capable of opening up a vision of a particular way of doing, understanding and even seeing the cinema of which there is more and more nostalgia. We talked about it with the critic Giuseppe Costigliola.

What are the characteristics of Guerrieri's work that become paradigmatic for the moment in which his work is inscribed?

Giuseppe Costigliola: I've always felt a strong originality in Guerrieri's approach to genre films. In the mid-Sixties, when he made his directorial debut, he wanted to establish himself as a content director, to create a path clearly distant from the one undertaken by his brother Marino, his first teacher, who for various reasons had confined himself to musicals and comedies: it is no coincidence that he signed his films with a pseudonym, a real identity choice. Romulus had submitted a dramatic subject to Ennio De Concini, one of the greatest screenwriters of the time, who said he was enthusiastic and proposed that he talk about it to Anna Magnani; as I tell in the book, the project did not come to fruition, but he was offered to shoot a western, a genre at the time in extraordinary take-off after the resounding success of "A Fistful of Dollars" by Sergio Leone. In two years, Guerrieri directed three in a row, in each one putting something personal, keeping in mind the masterful example of Leone – who, by the way, was his friend, they had both been assistant directors to Mario Bonnard – but also detaching himself from it. The most perceptive critics today recognize the originality of Guerrieri's approach to the Italian western, especially with regard to the psychological excavation of the characters, the "smoothing" of the figure of the fearless and cynical hero dedicated only to making money or killing typical of Italian westerns, the introduction of a "romantic" vein, this one really peculiar, or even the way in which he represents the female figure, never marginal or instrumental: for example, in "Johnny Yuma" the character of Samantha Felton played by Rosalba Neri is an authentic deus ex machina of the action. The personal imprint that Guerrieri gave to the genre film is even more perceptible in other areas: with "The Sweet Body of Deborah" he codified a certain way of shooting mystery-thrillers, in which legions of his colleagues who had become more famous fished hands down, and the same happened for what I consider one of the few cases of pure Italian noir, "A Detective", in which – in my analysis – he managed to blend elements of polar French with the classic American noirs of the Forties and Fifties, while at the same time keeping in mind the lesson of Pietro Germi. This originality is also evident in terms of content: detective Belli, played by Franco Nero, is one of the first cases of a "rotten" policeman brought to the screen in that type of film, and has marked an imprint followed by many, while in the film the fears and anxieties of post-sixty-eight Italy are perceptible. The discourse can be extended more generally to the crime films shot by Guerrieri in the Seventies, not centered on pure action, but on the psychological excavation of the characters – as much as, of course, it allowed a genre film to be made – and on the social and political issues of the time. I consider it an essential contribution, not always recognized by critics in the sector.

Among the big names of Italian genre cinema, that of Romolo Guerrieri is not so much waiting for a re-evaluation, because the critical favor is beyond question, but rather a rediscovery, on home video or, even better, within the numerous reviews organized in large or small festivals. When it comes to his cinema, the titles available are always limited to "A Detective", "Deborah's Sweet Body", "A Man, a City", and above all "The Divorce"... How do you explain the difficulty of finding many of your titles?

G.C.: As far as festivals and retrospectives are concerned, it's very true, Guerrieri is waiting for a rediscovery, his films should be proposed above all to an audience of young people, who have not had the opportunity to know his work, and in fact my critical biography was born precisely from this need.

With regard to home video, a distinction must be made between the Italian and foreign markets. In the former, as for many directors even more famous than Guerrieri, in fact there are few titles, especially those produced by Mario Cecchi Gori, some of which, however, are out of the market. The Italian home video market is very restricted, it is reduced to very few realities, investments are modest, so few titles come out and in a somewhat random way, in poorly edited and poor quality editions, often without special content. Here we are anchored to DVD, while in many foreign countries editions are produced in Blue Ray and even in 4K. Guerrieri's films that have an appeal abroad have almost all been released: westerns, noirs and detective stories, mystery-thrillers, and they are also useful from a critical point of view because they present interesting special contents, such as that of "Johnny Yuma", in German, by Colosseum. There is also "The Last Warrior", a science fiction film of not excellent quality, which however became a small cult in Germany. The rest of his production, comedies or historical films such as "Salvo D'Acquisto", have a very "national" reality, the same Italian comedy beyond the Alps is not widespread, except for the most famous examples, or in markets such as French or Spanish. As we know, comedy, in all its forms, is more difficult to export.

Brother of Marino Girolami, uncle of Enzo G. Castellari and Enio Girolami, Romolo Guerrieri is part of one of the most famous celluloid families in the history of Italian cinema. How did the family fabric also shape and direct Romulus' career (he is closer to his two nephews than to his brother Marino)?

G.C.: It was fundamental. Romolo Girolami began to breathe cinema as a boy, and went on a set for the first time at the age of twenty, in 1952, as a volunteer assistant director of the film "Noi due soli" by Marino Girolami, among other things an interesting case of comedy with a science fiction side. Marino, a director underestimated by critics, in reality very skilled and profound connoisseur of every cinematographic reality, from the screenplay, to the editing, to the photography, etc., is his recognized teacher, from whom Guerrieri learned the basic directorial technique, then refined with other masters, Bonnard, Campogalliani, Brusati and above all Giuseppe De Santis, of whom he was wanted and appreciated collaborator in the direction in "Italiani brava gente". Romolo has always recognized the importance of Marino in his training, but Marino has also provided him with another type of example: what he did not want to become as a director, since he aspired to create a personal path that would detach himself from the one traced by his brother.

However, the Girolami family were a close-knit family, in the fifties Marino, Romolo, Enzo (the future G. Castellari) and the actor Enio worked together with great fun in several films, in particular those shot in Tirrenia, then home to the Pisorno film factories, the oldest in Italy. In short, the family journey has deeply marked Guerrieri.

What is also striking, in this first volume of a work that promises to be monumental, is the precision of the historical reconstruction, the search for detail, the verification of the sources. Beyond the conversations with Guerrieri himself, how was it structured and what did it draw from your research path?

G.C.: It's a job that took me two years. From the beginning, I wanted to give centrality and pre-eminence to the recovery of memory, because I believe it is essential that the protagonists who made it tell the story of the cinema of such distant times: directors, actors, authors, technicians and workers. For generational reasons, they are disappearing, and it is important to collect their memories while there is still time. My research path is built on their testimonies, in an attempt to reconstruct the relationships and relationships, human as well as professional, that characterized the cinematographic universe of that time. However, I have also tried to cross-reference those stories with the available written sources, academic and otherwise, since memory is a fragile and complex thing, it often leads astray, even unconsciously, and the conversations held with scholars and film enthusiasts have proved fruitful. Essential was the (repeated) viewing of the films, which always present surprises, of which I proposed systematic critical analyses. In this regard, I have programmatically blurred the division between so-called auteur cinema and genre cinema, a critical distinction that in my opinion does not take us far, but rather tends to conceal senses and meanings rather than reveal them. Another compass was History, with a capital "s", that of all of us, within which cinema, as an industry as well as as an art, has been created and evolved. Together with the biographical and artistic events of Romulus, History is the common thread of this book. Sometimes I literally let myself get carried away, driven by a voracious curiosity, fueled by the exciting discoveries I was making during the research, curiosity that I hope readers will also have, especially young people, because, at the end of the day, this book is about how we were.

What are the fundamental films that need to be known in order to understand the idea of cinema and Guerrieri's profession?

G.C.: For westerns, "Johnny Yuma" and "$10,000 for a Massacre", very different from each other, seen in sequence also testify to a growth in directorial awareness and progressive "appropriation" of the genre. Guerrieri's most fruitful phase begins with "The Sweet Body of Deborah" and ends with "Dangerous Armed Freedoms", a scarce decade, from 1967 to 1976. In between are some of his best films, such as "A Detective", "A Man, a City" and "Salvo D'Acquisto". In the second volume of the biography, which I hope will be released soon, and which specifically deals with Guerrieri's filmography, I tried to highlight one of the least cited and appreciated films, "The Stand-in" (1971), a thriller based on a novel entirely built with the flashback technique, an authentic tour de force. Together with "One Man, One City", it is perhaps the film in which the director has had the most free hand from a production point of view.

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