A Tale of Two Italian Cities

Appearing within a week of each other in late 2021, two articles in the New York Times featured the Italian cities of Brescia in the Lombardy region and Trieste in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region.  Each city was highlighted for its different experience with and response to the Covid pandemic.

In early 2020, Italy was the first country in Europe to have a major outbreak of the coronavirus.  The Lombardy region, particularly the cities of Brescia and Bergamo, became the epicenter, showing the world just how devastating the pandemic would be.  In the spring, Brescia’s hospitals had more coronavirus patients than any other place in Europe.  And few people in Italy and in the United States will forget the images of army trucks transporting coffins to cremation sites when city morgues became overwhelmed.  Brescia’s mayor recalled it as a “time of real terror.” 

After the delta variant again taxed the local health system beyond its limits, the virus began to wane nationwide.  Under the leadership of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy undertook an aggressive vaccination drive and today has a higher percentage of the population vaccinated than in the United States.  In Brescia, things are beginning to return to normal, and the city has adopted a famous ancient statue as the emblem of its recovery.

“Winged Victory” is a Roman bronze dating from the first century C.E. It was discovered in 1826 during archaeological excavations among the ruins of Brescia’s Capitolium Temple.  It became a symbol of civic identity and inspiration during the city’s 1849 insurrection against Austrian forces.  The poet Giosuè Carducci wrote an ode to the statue that also celebrated Brescia as the “Lioness of Italy” because of its citizens bravery during a 10-day revolt for the cause of Italian unity.

After a two-year restoration, the statue is once again on public view, and President Sergio Mattarella help inaugurate its placement in an archeological park: “This is the time of renewal, also to honor the victims; it’s the time of recovery and to plan for the future.”  Images of and homages to the statue now festoon the city. Brescia’s main vaccination center has looped videos of the statue’s restoration, and one of Brescia’s metro stations features a monumental installation of the “Winged Victory.” 

It is a different story nearly 330 km (more than 200 miles) to the east in the port city of Trieste.  After Italy introduced Europe’s toughest and most expansive health pass, Trieste became the epicenter of protests as vaccine skeptics marched alongside dock workers who shouted that the measure infringed on their right to work.  And now Trieste has emerged as a Covid hot spot linked directly to those protests, which threatens to burden the local health care system. 

Trieste was once a cosmopolitan hub of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and has long had a reputation for independence.  After World War II, the United States and Britain controlled Trieste, not wanting it to fall into Communist Yugoslavia’s hands.  They handed it over to Italy in 1954.  However, an enormous “Welcome to the Free Territory of Trieste” sign in the town center reminds viewers that some still believe that Italy illegally annexed the city.  However, many people in the area do not believe there is historical relevance for Trieste’s new reputation as the center of vaccine skepticism and to its recent infection outbreaks.  They believe the high rate of infection has more to do with geography.  Trieste shares a border with Slovenia and is at a crossroads of Italy, Central Europe, and the Balkans.  While the recent outbreak was strictly correlated to the protests, Trieste is also at the heart of Central Europe where circulation of the virus is extremely high.

Trieste shows how an unvaccinated minority—whether motivated by concerns about freedom, the right to work, or unfounded conspiracy theories—can still threaten the greater public good.  Brescia, on the other hand, symbolizes the rebirth of a city that pulled together.  In 2023 Brescia and Bergamo will share the title of Italy’s Capital of Culture, after other cities withdrew from the competition in order to unanimously crown the hard-hit Lombardy cities.

Posted in Abitudini, Arte, English, Foto, Italia, Lombardia, Storia, Trieste | Leave a comment

Lina Wertmüller (in italiano)

Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spañol von Braueich nata a Roma nel 1928, corrisponde per il grande pubblico al nome di Lina Wertmüller, la famosa regista italiana proveniente da una famiglia cattolica di lontana origine svizzera per parte di padre.  Descrisse la sua infanzia come “un’avventura”. Dev’essere stato sicuramente così, dato che fu espulsa da ben 15 diversi licei cattolici. Fin dalla tenera età, era interessata al teatro e al cinema. Durante la sua carriera ha rivestito vari ruoli professionali in questo ambito, producendo spettacoli in tutta Europa. Una svolta è arrivata quando una sua amica del liceo sposò Marcello Mastroianni; quest’ultimo la presentò a Federico Fellini. All’età di 35 anni, divenne la sua assistente alla regia per il film Otto e mezzo (1963).

Iniziò a dirigere i suoi film a partire dal 1963 e, sebbene ne abbia prodotti almeno 16, è sicuramente nota per quattro di essi, girati degli anni ’70: Mimi metallurgico ferito nell’onore (1972), L’amore e l’anarchia (1973), Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto (1974) e Pasqualino Settebellezze (1975). Come il suo stesso nome, a volte dava titoli lunghi e stravaganti ai suoi film, come il lungo titolo per Travolti.  Detiene il Guinness dei primati per il titolo del film più lungo: Blood Feud (1978) era originariamente Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova.

I lavori della Wertmüller mostrano un grande interesse per la classe operaia italiana, viste come vittime del potere politico. In Mimi metallurgico, il protagonista è un comunista, il cui obiettivo principale è trovare lavoro, ma viene costantemente ostacolato dalla mafia. In L’amore e l’anarchia, il protagonista è un anarchico che vuole assassinare Benito Mussolini; alla fine viene picchiato a morte dai fascisti.

Molti dei film della Wertmüller presentano capovolgimenti di potere in termini di classe, di genere e di ruoli sociali. In Travolti, un’arrogante donna benestante, Raffaella, è in vacanza su uno yacht nel Mar Mediterraneo e parla incessantemente delle virtù della sua classe e dell’inutilità della sinistra politica. Questo fa infuriare il marinaio comune, Gennarino, comunista dichiarato, che non esprime la sua opinione per mantenere il suo posto. Quando vengono abbandonati su un’isola, ha molto da dire e lei diventa sottomessa a lui per sopravvivere.

Nei suoi film compaiono stupro e violenza, violenza verso Raffaella in Travolti. Sebbene la Wertmüller non fosse una femminista dichiarata, spesso presentava donne forti e capaci e uomini sciocchi e inetti. In Mimi metallurgico, Mimi è un uomo semplice che inciampa e si fa strada a tentoni nel mondo. Sia in questo film, che in Pasqualino Settebellezze, la Wertmüller prende in giro il maschilismo. In quest’ultimo film, Pasqualino è un dandy e un teppista napoletano. È offeso dal fatto che un uomo ha trasformato una delle sue sorelle in una prostituta e si propone di vendicare l’onore della famiglia. Eppure, nonostante la difesa della sorella, lui stesso uccide un uomo, violenta una donna in un reparto psichiatrico e abbandona l’esercito italiano. Viene mandato in un campo di concentramento tedesco, dove per sopravvivere fornisce favori sessuali alla comandante, donna obesa. 

I film della Wertmüller sono girati in ambienti diversi: Roma, le isole, bordelli e persino campi di sterminio. I suoi personaggi sono generalmente simpatici, non importa quanto siano inetti, arroganti o criminali, emerge spesso in molti di loro una sorta di frenesia assurda. Il dialogo si colora di dialetto…e tante parolacce.

Nel 1977, Lina Wertmüller è diventata la prima regista donna nominata all’Oscar come Miglior Regista per Pasqualino Settebellezze. Ha anche ricevuto un Oscar onorario nel 2019. Suo marito, Enrico Job (1934-2008), un art designer che ha lavorato a molti dei suoi film, non poteva stare con lei, ma la figlia adottiva, nata nel 1991, la accompagnava alle serate anche come Isabella Rossellini e Sofia Loren.  La Wertmüller è morta di recente, nel dicembre 2021.

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Lina Wertmüller (in English)

Born Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spañol von Braueich in Rome in 1928, the famous Italian film director Lina Wertmüller came from a devout Catholic family of distant Swiss descent on her father’s side.  She called her childhood “an adventure.”  It surely must have been, as she was expelled from 15 different Catholic high schools.  She took an early interest in theatre and film and worked in various capacities producing plays throughout Europe.  A breakthrough came when her friend from high school (which liceo?) married Marcello Mastroianni; he introduced her to Federico Fellini.  She became his assistant director for (1963).

She began directing her own films beginning in 1963 and although she produced at least 16, she is best known for four of them from the 1970s: The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), Swept Away (1974) and Seven Beauties (1975).  Like her own name, she sometimes gave lengthy and whimsical titles to her films.  For example, Swept Away was actually Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August.  She holds the Guinness Book of Records for the longest movie title: Blood Feud (1978) was originally Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova.

Wertmüller’s work shows great empathy for the Italian working class, particularly as victims of the politically powerful.  In The Seduction of Mimi, the protagonist is a Communist, but his main focus is finding work; he is thwarted by the mafia at every turn.  In Love and Anarchy, the protagonist is an anarchist who wants to assassinate Benito Mussolini; in the end, he is beaten to death by the fascists.

Many of Wertmüller’s films feature reversals of power in terms of class, gender, and social roles.  In Swept Away, an arrogant wealthy woman Raffaella is vacationing on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea and talks incessantly about the virtues of her class and the worthlessness of the political left.  This infuriates the deckhand, Gennarino, an avowed communist, who does not voice his opinion in order to keep his job.  When they are marooned on an island, he has a lot to say, and she becomes subservient to him in order to survive. 

There is rape and violence in her films, and violence toward Raffaella in Swept Away.  While Wertmüller was not an avowed feminist, she did often feature strong and capable women and silly and inept men.  In The Seduction of Mimi, Mimi is a simple man who stumbles and fumbles his way through the world.  In both this film and Seven Beauties, Wertmüller makes fun of the male machismo.  In the latter film, Pasqualino is a dandy and small-time hood in Naples.  He is offended that a man has turned one of his sisters into a prostitute and sets out to avenge the family honor.  Yet, he kills a man, rapes a woman in a psychiatric ward, and deserts the Italian army.  He is sent to a German concentration camp, where in order to survive he provides sexual favors to the obese female commandant.

Wertmüller’s films are shot in beautiful settings—Rome, the islands, even brothels and the extermination camp.  Her characters are likeable no matter how inept, arrogant or criminal, perhaps because there is a sort of preposterous frenzy in many of her characters.  The dialogue is enriched with dialect…and many swear words.

Lina Wertmüller became the first female director nominated for an Oscar as Best Director for Seven Beauties.  She also received an honorary Oscar in 2019.  Her husband, Enrico Job (1934-2008), an art designer who worked on several of her pictures, could not be with her, but her adopted daughter who was born in 1991, accompanied her during her acceptance of the honor, along with Roberta Rossellini who translated for her, and Sofia Loren.

Lina Wertmüller died recently, in December 2021.

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