Florence’s beauty, and its outlined spaces enclosed in a valley surrounded by hills, has been the setting for many films. Hollywood first landed in Italy in the 50’s and 60’s with international stars and directors.
The choice becomes difficult and the risk of leaving out some productions is great. Nonetheless, to have a little excursus one can start with 1949’s “Prince of Foxes” (Il Principe delle Volpi, in Italian). This is a film with a historical base, directed by Henry King and starring Tyrone Power. A gloomy drama that attempts to rebuild Cesare Borgia’s Italy. The film is characterized by a profusion of costumes and various sumptuousness, and, where adventure and love follow one another in various cities including Florence, the place where many fierce fights were taking place throughout the 500’s.
In 1950, we have another American film, “September Affair” (translated into Italian with Accadde in Settembre – It happened in September) with Joseph Cotton. Here, Piazza Duomo and Piazza della Repubblica are the scenery for a passionate and contrasted love affair.
I also like remembering “Darling“, Schlesinger’s masterpiece, with Julie Christie. A 1966 film, in which the Medicean villa of Poggio a Caiano, with its scenic double staircase, is shown in the official trailer. The blonde Julie moves from the swinging London to the architectonic perfection of the 500’s.
Great moviemaking returns to Florence in 1976 with Brian De Palma’s “Obsession” (Complesso di Colpa, in Italian – Guilt complex) where San Miniato al Monte’s church covers a crucial role in a story that is dense in mystery and sinister premonitions. Florence appears in an unusual light, mysterious, enclosed in the small streets in the center, in a cold and grey winter climate. Colors and its usual Renaissance iconography are very far from what is represented here.
Another great scene takes place on the hills of Florence. This is the one with Al Pacino and Marthe Keller in “Bobby Deerfield” (Un attimo, una vita, in Italian) of 1977. A noble villa is the place in which harmonious beauty, the perfect proportions of the Renaissance home, and the love story intertwine.
We need to reach the 80’s to find a lesser stereotyped Florence.
The film that is mentioned by everyone, and is potentially the most beautiful, is Room with a View (Camera con vista, in Italian) by James Ivory, the most iconic director that one can find. The film is adapted from E. M. Foster’s novel with the same title and it was released in 1985. Helena Boham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and Julie Sand star in the film and the incomparable Maggie Smith masters the role of the chaperon aunt.
The famous scene at the window was recreated in the studio. The window that really existed was located in the “Pensione Simi” on the Lungarno delle Grazie, where the British author had stayed for a period of time. The film recreates the cosmopolitan atmosphere of foreign guests that were choosing the city as the location of the grand tour. Piazza Signoria is the set of one of the most important scenes in the film, where a fight that ends in a murder takes place. Knives and blood explode with wild violence. This acts in juxtaposition to the harmony of the Loggia dei Lanzi where the protagonist finds shelter. She is very touched by this event but she is also quite stricken when she realizes that human beings can hold such extreme and dangerous passions, which were completely repressed in the British upbringing. The countryside of Settignano offers another great setting for a scene. Here, a profusion of flowers, olive and cypress trees in the context of a spring nature witnesses the birth of the love story between the two young protagonists.
Great success and a great representation of Florence.
Another novel, this time written by Henry James, is at the base of Jane Campion’s masterpiece “The Portrait of a Lady” (Ritratto di Signora, in Italian). The film was released in 1996 and in it stars a young Nicole Kidman and, an always unsettling, John Malkovich. The city regains its Renaissance perception. In fact, it is in the fifteenth century monastery above the hill of the Forte Belvedere where the daughter of terrible Mr. Osmond lives. One of the scenes takes place in a convent’s cloister, where one can see the garden of delights and meditation that was so dear to Florentine architecture. Nonetheless, the latter is transformed into a labyrinth where the young Isabel Archer finds herself entangled as if in a spider web.
In the last years, Florence was the set of a film of enormous success, “Hannibal“, of 2001. Hannibal Lecter’s events are transposed in Florence and Palazzo Vecchio is transformed in gallows. Here, a descendant of the noble Pazzi family is brutally killed by being hung and quartered, as it happened to his ancestor who conjured against the Medici family. Rivers of blood.
Can Florence be the proper setting for similar atrocities or to the horror genre? Yes, it can.
This is because the city has unmistakable contrasts, chiaroscuro between images and secrets, and hidden rooms and dark palaces. The same are shown in “Inferno“, released in 2016. This is the last film adapted from one of Dan Brown’s novels. Here one can see some of the most classical Florentine locations, such as the Boboli gardens, the Hall of the fivehundreds or Vasari’s corridor where the famous Dr. Langdon’s chase takes place.
Now we are waiting for Tarantino to realize a western movie…this would be nice.