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Director Mario Monicelli dead at 95

Father of 'Commedia all'Italiana' takes his own life

30 November, 11:37
Director Mario Monicelli dead at 95 (ANSA) - Rome, November 30 - Italy on Tuesday mourned the loss of legendary director Mario Monicelli, the last member of Italian cinema's post-war 'golden age', who took his own life Monday night at the age of 95.

Monicelli, regarded as the father of the 'Commedia all'Italiana' (Italian-style Comedy), was known for his caustic wit and his best works skillfully combined laugh-out-loud humour with biting social criticism.

These included his 1958 masterpiece I Soliti Ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street), considered by many to be the best Italian comedy of all time, which was followed the next year by La Grande Guerra (The Great War), which won the Golden Lion at Venice and another Academy award nomination after the one for I Soliti Ignoti.

These and other of his finest works focused on everyday people who are frustrated by their lack of courage to change things they are unhappy with or are held back by their own simple-mindedness.

His last feature film was the 2006 Le Rose del Deserto (Desert Roses), which recalled his own war experience in Northern Africa. It was his 65th in a career spanning more than 70 years.

Moncelli was born in the seaside Tuscan town of Viareggio in 1915. Always fascinated by cinema, he made a short in 1934 then a silent film entitled I Ragazzi della via Paal, from the book of the same name which in English was translated as The Paul Street boys.

This film won an award at the Venice Film Festival and allowed him to make his first feature Pioggia d'Estate (Summer Rain), released in 1937.

After the war he turned to comedy and teamed up with the legendary Neapolitan actor Toto' (Antonio De Curtis) with whom be made a number of low-budget comedies.

Monicelli and Toto' reunited to make i Soliti Ignoti which also featured Vittorio Gassman and Claudia Cardinale.

This film became Monicelli's biggest hit at the time and was later remade twice in the United States - the 1984 film Crackers by French director Louis Malle and the 2002 film Welcome to Collinwood with George Clooney - and was also the inspiration for Bob Fosse's 1986 Broadway musical Big Deal.

Carlo Lizzani began directing towards the end of the 'golden age' - which saw films by Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti- and on learning of Monicelli's suicide said "he was someone who wanted to control his own life to the very end. His death was an act of lucidity".

Monicelli killed himself by jumping from a fifth story window of the Rome hospital where he was being treated for a terminal illness.

Producer Aurelio De Laurentiis agreed with Lizzani and said "I knew him very well and knew his great dignity and his desire to always be independent and autonomous, so I can understand why he did it".

"He recently lost his sight but he remained sharp as a tack and he could not tolerate the idea of having to depend on someone," De Laurentiis added.

Actress Stefania Sandrelli, who is also a native of Viareggio and made three films with Monicelli, said "knowing Mario, his was an extreme act of freedom, anticonformism and curiosity. In his iron-willed certainty there was always doubt, in his smile there was always compassion".

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