The Italian Almanac

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Mario Monicelli

Italian Movies - November 24

Legendary Italian director Mario Monicelli returned to movie theatres with a new film - the 65th in a career spanning more than 70 years. Le Rose del Deserto (Desert Roses), a poignant comedy set in Italian-occupied Libya during the Second World War, came out in 200 cinema houses.

The film follows the fortunes of a group of young Italian soldiers posted to a hospital in the Libyan desert. Following Italy's defeat by the Allies, the soldiers' relatively peaceful existence is ended by the arrival of German troops, when they are given a taste of 'real' war.

The movie, which was shot in the Tunisian desert and cost nine million euros to make, stars top Italian actor Michele Placido and Israeli model, TV presenter and actress Moran Atias. The ever-active Monicelli said at a press conference ahead of the film's release that it was an "ironic comedy with parts that are bitter and even dramatic - the typical Italian comedy".

Monicelli, who lives in downtown Rome, is regarded as the father of the 'commedia all'italiana', his best works skillfully combining laugh-out-loud humour with biting social criticism. He regularly worked with Italy's great postwar actors, including Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Marcello Mastroianni and Neapolitan comic genius Antonio De Curtis, better known as Toto'.

His masterpiece is the 1959 classic I Soliti Ignoti (Big Deal), considered by many film critics to be the best Italian comedy ever. Starring Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale and Toto', it is the tale of the perfect crime which goes wrong because of the ineptitude of the novice criminals. The movie earned Monicelli an Oscar nomination and was recently remade as a Hollywood blockbuster called Welcome to Collinwood, with George Clooney.