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VENICE 2009 Venice Days / Italy

Documentary captures Vittorio De Sica’s indomitable spirit

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One of Italy’s most renowned, esteemed and influential directors, Vittorio De Sica, is the subject of the latest documentary by Mario Canale and Annarosa Morri, Vittorio D.. As expected, the film evoked lengthy applause at the end of its world premiere screening in Venice Days.

In putting together their film, the directors spoke to De Sica’s family and over 40 actors and directors – including Woody Allen, Paul Mazursky, Mario Monicelli and Shirley Maclaine, to name but a few – and used archive footage from an entertaining documentary made on De Sica in 1960.

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What comes across most is De Sica’s unapologetic, unabashed lust for life. The film covers his personal (his gambling, his relationship with his children) and, naturally, his transition from a film star of lightweight comedies to the one of the fathers of modern, socially engaged cinema.

Perhaps the most touching part of this four-part documentary is the last chapter, entitled “Directing Lessons.” It consists of letters De Sica wrote to his daughter Emi, from the sets of several of his films. Full of observations about cinema, life and work, it best captures the spirit of a man who was an artist in every sense of the word.

At the film’s Q&A, Emi and her brother Manuel said they were very moved to see the film on the big screen. "This is the first time we have seen a documentary on our father that satisfies us and is worthy of him," she said.

Her brother Manuel, a film composer, agreed wholeheartedly, adding: “After 40 years of listening to his soundtracks, hearing the music to Miracle in Milan still gave me goosebumps. Every so often, someone in the film says something silly, though that’s to be expected. But this documentary is the most beautiful ever made on my father, even more beautiful than those made on him when he was alive.”

Despite having a wealth of material to choose from, Canale and Morri were frustrated by certain film clips they could not include. “Sometimes we had to use photos rather than clips that we really wanted,” said Morri, “because certain rights’ holders asked us for €5,000 or €10,000 euros for one minute per minute. And that was not for the masterpieces he made, but for the minor films in which he starred!” Nevertheless, the directors do wonders with their €100,000 budget.

The film was produced by Surf Film and Italian broadcaster La7, which will air the documentary on November 13, at the end of a weeklong television retrospective dedicated to De Sica.

It was picked up in pre-sales by Brazil and Argentina, and the filmmakers are hoping to land the US and other territories when it will be sold at the upcoming MIPCOM television market (October 5-9).

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