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Ettore Scola

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Ettore Scola: A Pillar of Italian Cinema

Ettore Scola (born in Trevico, May 10, 1931 – died in Rome, January 19, 2016), was a distinguished Italian film director and screenwriter. Among the most prominent Italian filmmakers, he is especially renowned for directing acclaimed films like “C’eravamo tanto amati” (1974), “Brutti, sporchi e cattivi” (1976), “Una giornata particolare” (1977), “La terrazza” (1980), “La famiglia” (1987), and “Che ora è” (1989).

Born in Trevico, Avellino, in 1931, Scola moved to Rome’s Esquilino district shortly after his birth. Growing up there, he attended the Pilo Albertelli classical high school. Even as a fifteen-year-old, he was drawing cartoons for humorous magazines such as Marc’Aurelio and Il Travaso delle Idee. Before graduating from the Faculty of Law at the University of Rome, he was already a young collaborator for Marc’Aurelio. Beginning in the early 1950s, he started writing scripts for Italian comedy films, often partnering with Ruggero Maccari. From the late 1940s, he wrote texts for various Rai radio and television variety shows, including weekly skits performed by Alberto Sordi, like Conte Claro and Mario Pio.

Scola made his directorial debut in 1964, but his first major success came four years later with the film “Riusciranno i nostri eroi a ritrovare l’amico misteriosamente scomparso in Africa?” (1968), featuring Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, and Bernard Blier. He worked with Sordi on only three more occasions: in a couple of episodes of the collective “I nuovi mostri” (1977) and in the films “La più bella serata della mia vita” (1972) and “Romanzo di un giovane povero” (1995). “Il commissario Pepe” (1969) and “Dramma della gelosia (tutti i particolari in cronaca)” (1970) marked a transition into the most significant decade of his career. In 1974, he directed his masterpiece, “C’eravamo tanto amati”, chronicling thirty years of Italian history through the lives of three friends: lawyer Gianni Perego (Vittorio Gassman), porter Antonio (Nino Manfredi), and intellectual Nicola (Stefano Satta Flores), with the first two in love with Luciana (Stefania Sandrelli). The film, dedicated to Vittorio De Sica, also features Marcello Mastroianni, Federico Fellini, and Mike Bongiorno as themselves, as well as Aldo and Lella Fabrizi and Giovanna Ralli.

By now, Scola was an acclaimed master of Italian cinema and an internationally recognized director, creating films like the grotesque Roman comedy “Brutti, sporchi e cattivi” (1976) with Nino Manfredi. The simple and poetic story of “Una giornata particolare” (1977) starred Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. In 1980, he critically evaluated Italian comedy in “La terrazza”, a bitter reflection on a group of left-wing intellectuals in crisis, featuring Ugo Tognazzi, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Vittorio Gassman, and Marcello Mastroianni. In 1981, diverging from social cinema, he crafted a meticulous film adaptation of the 19th-century literary masterpiece “Passione d’amore”, based on Tarchetti’s novel “Fosca”, starring Valeria D’Obici. In 1982, he tackled the French Revolution in “Il mondo nuovo” (1982), with Mastroianni playing Giacomo Casanova.

Scola received critical acclaim and public appreciation for directing “La famiglia” (1987), a comedy that spanned 80 years (1906-1986) of history through the saga of a family, starring Vittorio Gassman, Stefania Sandrelli, and Fanny Ardant. Other significant works include “Splendor” (1988) and “Che ora è” (1989), both featuring Mastroianni and Massimo Troisi. In 1998, he directed “La cena”, again with Gassman, Ardant, and Sandrelli; in 2001 “Concorrenza sleale”, with Diego Abatantuono, Sergio Castellitto, and Gérard Depardieu; and in 2003, the semi-documentary “Gente di Roma”. Unexpectedly, ten years later, he returned behind the camera for the last time to direct the documentary “Che strano chiamarsi Federico”, dedicated to Federico Fellini on the twentieth anniversary of his death, participating out of competition at the Venice Film Festival.

In 2009, Scola was awarded the “Federico Fellini 8½” prize for artistic excellence at the Bif&st in Bari, later becoming its president upon the recommendation of artistic director Felice Laudadio. In May of the same year, he received the David di Donatello Lifetime Achievement Award.

Scola never concealed his left-wing political leanings and was part of the Italian Communist Party’s shadow government in 1989, tasked with Cultural Heritage.

Throughout his career, he won eight David di Donatello awards and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film four times: in 1977 for “Una giornata particolare”, in 1978 for “I nuovi mostri”, in 1983 for “Ballando ballando”, and in 1987 for “La famiglia”. He was a member of the scientific committee of the “Gian Maria Volonté” School of Cinematic Art, a free public school established by the Province of Rome in 2011, recognized as a center of excellence for film professions.

Scola passed away on the evening of January 19, 2016, in Rome, in the cardio-surgery department of the Policlinico. His body lay in state and a secular funeral was held at the Casa del Cinema in Villa Borghese.

He was married to screenwriter and director Gigliola Fantoni (1930-2022), with whom he had two daughters, Paola and Silvia Scola. Both daughters collaborated professionally with their father, Paola as an assistant director and Silvia as a screenwriter. They dedicated the documentary “Ridendo e scherzando” and the memoir “Chiamiamo il babbo. Ettore Scola, una storia di famiglia” to him.

Ettore Scola’s creative journey began in the late 1940s with his initial collaborations with the humorous weekly Marc’Aurelio. This experience was crucial for developing specific expressive skills through cartoons and caricatures and refining a writing method based on the synthesis of sketches and character “typage”.

From childhood, Scola had a particular inclination towards caricature drawing and cartoons. He sketched caricatures wherever he could, solely for amusement. His interests in history and/or literary authors invariably translated into humorous images, as evidenced by the many characters portrayed in varied attitudes and quirks, sketched in the blank spaces of surviving schoolbooks.

These early graphic cells contain the essence of Scola’s humor, which would characterize much of his production.

In his last film, “Che strano chiamarsi Federico”, Scola recreated the Marc’Aurelio editorial office, staging his own memories and showing personalities like Age & Scarpelli, Steno, Ruggero Maccari, Giovanni Mosca, Vittorio Metz, and Federico Fellini at work alongside him.

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