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Film at Summer Classics

A Closer Look at Italian Cinema

Perhaps no single nation has done more for the development of cinema over the past 100 years than Italy. From the cinematic innovations of neo-realism to the lush visual landscapes of Federico Fellini’s masterpieces and from the radical formalism of Michelangelo Antonioni to the intense and passionate psychological insights of Visconti and Rossellini, Italian cinema has consistently been at the forefront of the most important developments in filmmaking.

Over the course of this three-week program, we study the range of thematic, stylistic, social, political, and aesthetic qualities of a 65-year period of Italian cinema through a close examination of the greatest films made by the country’s greatest directors. In doing so, we also develop a technical understanding of the style and vocabulary of cinema, while simultaneously learning to recognize each film as a distinctive work of art. Along the way, we become better viewers of film and deeper thinkers about the cinematic art form.

Students may enroll in any one, two, or all three of the seminar weeks. Each week presents a self-contained, individualized curriculum, and all three weeks taken together offer a survey of the history of Italian cinema. Participants should view all movies before arriving on campus. Copies of the films and a suitable viewing area are also provided by the college for students' use on campus before each class. Classes meet Monday–Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. If you need assistance viewing the films prior to arrival on campus, please contact Summer Classics at santafe.classics(at)sjc.edu. Tuition for a Film at Summer Classics seminar is the same as other Summer Classics seminars.

Films are screened mornings and evenings. One afternoon session daily: 2–4 p.m.

Week 1 / July 7–12

Italian Neo-Realism

David Townsend and Krishnan Venkatesh

What is the foundation of human dignity? Is there any point at which life is no longer worth living? Explore three Italian films that challenge us to address these questions and others. Arguably one of the greatest films ever made, Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) brings to life post-war Rome, shattered but resilient. By employing concise, observant understatement, it tells a simple story with tremendous power. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957) features one of cinema’s most unforgettable performances, Giulietta Masina as the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold. Tree of the Wooden Clogs (Ermanno Olmi, 1978), set in rural northern Italy around 1900, follows a group of peasant families through their daily dilemmas during a period of revolution. By the end of its three hours you feel as if you have lived for several decades among its cast of non-professional actors.

See the full Week 1 Seminar Schedule

Week 2 / July 14–19

Italian Cinema and Politics

Rebecca Goldner and Krishnan Venkatesh

Do we have an unbreakable moral core, or is there always a breaking point? In the ocean of political pressure and social transformation, do we swim or drown? Three stylistically different films engage these questions and raise many more. General della Rovere (Roberto Rossellini, 1959) stars Vittorio De Sica as a con man forced by the Nazis to impersonate a general in the resistance. Rocco and His Brothers (Lucchino Visconti, 1960), filmed in operatic neo-realism, is a complex epic about a family’s disintegration after migrating to the big city. Finally, Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) features many allusions to Plato and a deep consideration of moral dilemmas and the nature of politics. It is also one of the most visually extraordinary films of all time, and every expressive frame rewards contemplation.

See the full Week 2 Seminar Schedule

Week 3 / July 21–26

Italian Cinema: The Good Life

Seth Appelbaum and David Carl

Our tour of Italian cinema ends with works that span 1960 to 2010 and explore visions of “the good life.” We begin with two from 1960: Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and L’Avventura, by Michelangelo Antonioni, who was influential in the development of international cinema. Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso, made two years later, offers an investigation of the comic and tragic elements of the exuberant Italian penchant for fast cars, beautiful women, expensive wine, and fine dining. We finish with a look at Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, from 2010—a quiet, philosophic, and deeply poetic mediation on a radically different view of the good life, one that highlights cosmic harmony and the timeless cycle of nature.

See the full Week 3 Seminar Schedule