LMU hosts a film festival with drama, absurdism and a heaping plate of Spaghetti Western

By Michael Aushenker

Top left: Gian Maria Volonté in “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion”. Top right: Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in “Marriage Italian Style”. Bottom left: “A Fistful of Dollars” launched Clint Eastwood’s movie career. Bottom right: “Kid Auto Races at Venice” introduced The Tramp.

Top left: Gian Maria Volonté in “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion”. Top right: Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in “Marriage Italian Style”. Bottom left: “A Fistful of Dollars” launched Clint Eastwood’s movie career. Bottom right: “Kid Auto Races at Venice” introduced The Tramp.

To say that the surreal imagery of Federico Fellini, the politics and ambiguities of Michelangelo Antonioni or the flashy, hot-dogging style of Sergio Leone has permeated cinema globally from Hollywood to Hong Kong would be putting it mildly.

Across the 20th century, Italy produced some of the most influential filmmakers of all time.

For three nights starting Monday, Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television presents “Il Cinema Ritrovato: Rediscovered Film,” a small program of restored films from Cineteca di Bologna featuring works by Italian masters Fellini, Leone, Elio Petri and Vittorio De Sica. The screenings —including “Fellini’s Roma” and “A Fistful of Dollars” — star Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren and Clint Eastwood, and are free and open to the public.

For 30 years, Cineteca di Bologna, one of Europe’s most renowned archives for film restoration and preservation, has organized the “Il Cinema Ritrovato” summer festival. The Westchester stop comes as “Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour” whips its way through the United States.

Cineteca di Bologna’s Guy Borlee and LMU School of Film and Television associate professor Richard P. Hadley collaborated to assemble this prime cut selection.

“Having access to the riches of the film past enables our students to learn from some of the world’s greatest filmmakers,” said School of Film and Television Dean Stephen Ujlaki.

Currently teaching courses related to Elia Kazan, Vincent Minelli and Stanley Donen, Hadley said he pushed to include “Fistful of Dollars,” “Fellini’s Roma” and “Marriage Italian Style.”

“I really wanted it to focus on the great Italian movies,” Hadley said.

Monday night, “Il Cinema Ritrovato” opens with Petri’s “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.” The crime drama about corrupt police won the 1971 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film as well as the FIPRESCI Prize and the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Preceding “Investigation” is something from Venice, but not Italy’s Venice: a screening of Henry Lehrman’s “Kid Auto Races at Venice,” a 1914 short shot on Venice Beach that introduced Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp.

On Tuesday, 1964’s “Marriage Italian Style” showcases Mastroianni and Loren at their zingiest in this World War II-era story of an on-off relationship between a cynical businessman and a naive prostitute.

Wednesday’s “Fellini’s Roma” represents the director at his most surreal. Somewhere after his brilliant third film, the losers-stuck-in-a-small-town narrative “I Vitelloni,” Fellini’s style became less linear and increasingly whimsical. Fellini’s 1972 love letter to Rome, his adopted city, arrived well after he had cemented himself as a world-class filmmaker with “La Dolce Vita” and “8 ½.”

“‘Fellini’s Roma’ goes back to Fellini’s childhood. It’s very surreal in places, particularly the Papal fashion show,” Hadley said.

“Fistful,” Leone’s 1964 Western, was the film that not only minted a minor American TV actor from the Western series “Rawhide” into a global feature film sensation, it opened up a can of tequila worms, launching the Spaghetti Western. The offbeat genre stretched beyond Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” trilogy (which also made a star of Lee Van Cleef) and reflected that film title; inspiring an array of Italian-made Westerns of wavering quality, from the solid “Death Rides a Horse” and “Django” series to B-movies such as the Van Cleef- and Yul Brynner-starring “Sabata” trilogy.

“Obviously, this is the movie that made Eastwood a star. I don’t know if it’s ever looked this good,” Hadley said of the restored print of “Fistful.” He added that when Eastwood came to campus recently for his “Hollywood Masters” conversation, Eastwood “said that Leone was very childlike and [Eastwood] was the only one on the crew who spoke English. Everyone else was Spanish or Italian.”

“Fistful” also represented a running dialogue between East and West: its story was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” which itself was a samurai-themed reimagining of American hardboiled detective novelist Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.”

The work of these filmmakers (and their composers: Leone’s Ennio Morricone; Fellini’s Nino Rota, who later scored “The Godfather” movies) and Italian Neorealism such as De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” were “huge influences on films made in the U.S., particularly film noir,” Hadley said. “Fellini had influence on American film, not directly but the idea of the filmmaking as auteur.”

Case in point: Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown,” echoing Fellini’s “La Strada.”

“The great thing about Fellini, he was asked on many occasions to come to the U.S. and make films but he said, ‘What would I make films about?’ He really became the ringmaster of Rome. Once he came to Rome, he really found his subject,” Hadley said.

“Il Cinema Ritrovato: Rediscovered Film” includes screenings at various times Monday through Wednesday at the Mayer Theater on the LMU campus, 1 LMU Drive, Westchester. Screenings are free but an RSVP is required. For complete program information, visit sftv.lmu.edu.