The death of Italian director Paolo Taviani marks the end of a leading pair of committed cinema

Of the Taviani brothers, Paolo was the youngest, the one who fell with the heavy task of surviving his eldest, Vittorio, who died on April 15, 2018, before joining him on Thursday February 29, 2024, following a “brief illness”, at the age of 92. This pair of inseparable Tuscan filmmakers, a two-headed entity united under the same surname, wrote an important page in modern Italian cinema, with a work of around twenty feature films born in the intellectual and artistic ferment of the 1960s.

Figures of the Marxist left, they embodied the persistence of an idea, that of an engaged and poetic art, capable of reflecting on history and its political conflicts, including when transalpine production went through a zone of turbulence at the end of the 1970s, then in the desert of the 1980s, crushed by Berlusconian television.

Paolo Taviani was born two years after Vittorio, on November 8, 1931, in the small Tuscan town of San Miniato. After the war, they studied in Pisa and ran the local film club, captured by Paisa (1946), by Roberto Rossellini, chronicle of the resistance and flagship of neorealism. The pair was initially a trio, the brothers taking their first steps alongside the Pisan director Valentino Orsini (1926-2001). With him, they put on militant plays, then moved on to documentaries, with San Miniato, Luglio, 1944 (1954), about massacres committed by the Germans in their hometown, co-signed by Cesare Zavattini, the pop screenwriter of neorealism. They will shoot seven of them, until the beginning of the 1960s, before moving on to feature films.

The first Taviani film without Orsini, The Subversives (1967), announcing the student protests to come, probes the ideological turmoil of the time, by imagining the reaction of four young characters at the funeral of Palmiro Togliatti, founding member of the Italian Communist Party. With Saint Michael had a rooster (1971), according to Tolstoy, they reflect on the limits of utopia. The film also inaugurates a series of literary adaptations, which will go through Luigi Pirandello (Kaos, Sicilian tales, in 1984, Kaos II, in 1998), Goethe, with their version of Elective affinities, in 1996, and again Tolstoy (The Sun even at night1989).

A prosperous decade

Their penchant for historical allegory is pronounced with Allonsanfan (1974), where Marcello Mastroianni in the skin of a Lombard aristocrat during the Italian Restoration, in 1816, engages in anarchist activities, which expose him doubly, on the side of power as well as his rebellious comrades.

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