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Paolo Taviani, whose brother and directing partner Vittorio died earlier this year, presented the honor to a tearful Scorsese, saying, “You have always been a friend to my brother and me.”
“Scorsese is one of those directors who belong to the less frequented category of authors who, with their films, help us to understand who we are,” said Taviani.
The ceremony featured a montage of Scorsese’s films and a special talk with the director about the Italian films that changed his life. Federico Fellini, of course, was on his list, and he chose The Nights of Cabiria (1957) as the movie that defined his formative years, calling it “a spiritual rebirth.”
Scorsese spoke more in-depth about a previous project he was going to make with Fellini, executive producing a documentary on Fellini’s version of film production. “In the early ‘90s, unfortunately he passed away [before we could start], but we had the possibility of making with Universal his version of a documentary on production,” said Scorsese. “He had a series of scripts on how a production is made. One, you have the production itself. Then you have the actor, then you have the cinematographer. He was going to make a Fellini film on each one.
“For example, a very important thing in the production, one that we were getting the money for, that was when you go location scouting, wherever you go, at a certain point of the day, you go to the location that has the best restaurant,” explained the filmmaker. “Even though you’re not going to use the location, go see it, everybody eats, and everyone is fine. It’s very important for filmmaking.”
Of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone (1961), Scorsese said, “I grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York, and the first time I saw people I grew up with on film was On the Waterfront (1954) by Elia Kazan. But that was on the other side, a studio film. These were the people I connected with.”
“I learned a lot about music in film from Pasolini,” he added. Scorsese mentioned how he was influenced by Pasolini to convey in Casino (1995) the feeling of, “They had paradise, and then they were expelled.”
Scorsese said that when he had a television at home in 1948, he was 5 years old, and Italian Neorealist films were always playing. “One existed with these films. They were part of your life,” he said. “They gave me another idea of what cinema could be. To us, it was real life, not a film.”
He also praised Roberto Rossellini’s The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966), saying, “Literally, you learn what the time was like from the detail.” Scorsese said the film was a big influence for his own The Age of Innocence (1993), as was Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), which he praised as “lush” and full of “deliberately meditative” pacing.
Scorsese said he was influenced by the satirical style and wit of 1961’s Divorce Italian Style in shooting Goodfellas (1990).
And speaking of Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano (1962), he said, “Rosi shows you the facts, yet somehow the facts are not the truth. The roots of the corruption go deeper and deeper, the tragedy of the South, thousands of years of suffering.” Scorsese said the film was especially relevant for him as his grandparents had emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1910. “I always wondered why they didn’t trust any institutions. I had never seen anything like this on a screen,” he said speaking of the “explosive” emotion of the film’s characters.
Scorsese also praised Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952) as “the pinnacle of neorealism.” And he spoke of how Ermanno Olmi’s dissolves in Il Posto (1961), including a closet full of a dead man’s clothes dissolving into empty hangars, influenced the many dissolves he used in Raging Bull (1980).
The filmmaker also spoke of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962) using “composition as narrative” and “redefining cinematic language.”
On Wednesday, Scorsese will present a special restored version of St. Michael Had a Rooster, the Taviani brothers’ film about an imprisoned anarchist, and will meet with cinema students in Rome.
The Rome Film Fest continues through Sunday.
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