Sunday, May 10, 2009

Italian Cinema Style: Part One -- The Designs

My good friend and Chicago interior designer Nora Marra remarked the other day how foreign films often look better than American ones. Designs are simple, colors appear brighter and of course, the locations are always more exotic. Even the music sounds better. Or maybe European cinema simply takes us away from our current reality. Whatever the reason, I couldn't agree more.

Italian films of the late fifties/early sixties and those filmed in Italy in the past decade tend to be my favorites.  They are part adventure, part travelogue and always filled with atmosphere, style and yes, la dolce vita ("the sweet life"). 

Here are a few sets of distinction...

What woman doesn't want to run away, renovate a house and fall in love in Tuscany? Based on Frances Mayes best selling novel of the same name, the house of Under The Tuscan Sun (2003) is worth the price of admission alone.

"What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain.
 The house protects the dreamer."

Details from the writer's desk

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) gave us a look at the interiors and gardens of Italy in the late fifties. Along with Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon and Jude Law, Italy becomes a fourth character of the film. 

A garden courtyard in southern Italy

Guestroom by the sea

"So bourgeois"

Production designer Phillip Messina and wife, set decorator Kristen Messina created lavish interiors from scratch for the scenes of Oceans Twelve (2004).  The image by the title is the Toulour character's mansion overlooking Lake Como in the city of Bellagio (as you may recall, the Bellagio casino was the scene of the heist in Ocean's Eleven). 

Death, seduction and betrayal take a backseat to the house and interiors of  Up at the Villa (2000):

La Dolce Vita (1960): The definitive sixties Italian film is considered famed director Federico Fellini's masterpiece. Over eighty interiors, nightclubs and locations were constructed and it is reported that Balenciaga's sack dress was the inspiration behind the film.

Next blog post will cover Italian locations on film. 

Photo Credits: Margaret Herrick Library, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Brothers, Kristin Messina, Universal Pictures, V&A, Pathe Consortium Cinema.


  1. Speaking of films from the late 50s/early 60s set in Italy - have you ever seen The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone with Vivien Leigh???? Wow. Don't even think of watching the Helen Mirren remake.

  2. Yes loved the original. The remake was...well a remake but Mirren is incredible in anything.

  3. I would just like to mention my friend, Academy Award winner Bruno Cesari, set decorator of the Academy Award nominated "The talented Mr. Ripley", man of great taste and wondeful human being. May he RIP.

    Francesco Fonda, Rome, Italy.

  4. Loved his work on Ripley and thank you so much for writing!