During the coronavirus lock-downs, we have to keep our minds healthy as well as our bodies. For anyone loving Italy, its lifestyle, its history or just love anything Italian, here are some suggestions for films and documentaries and series to watch on Amazon Prime either for free or rental.
Rita Moreno and James Gandofini add to the humor of this Italian-American comedy about a family pizzeria barely staying in business. Perhaps a stereotypical view of Italian-Americans, but the funny characters make it worth watching.
Let Yourself Go (subtitles)
A self-involved psychoanalyst's tightly ordered world is thrown for a loop by two women: Claudia, a high-spirited fitness instructor who tries to give him a makeover, and Giovanna, his ex-wife who lives next door and still does his laundry. Definitely worth spending time with these characters.
Io Sono Gaetano (subtitles)
Gaetano has just turned 60 and, in the family clan to which he belongs, hasn't managed to make it any further than the boss's driver. He dreams of leaving the mafia, of retiring to the countryside, but it's not that easy to get away from the mafia. His wife, the boss's sister, doesn't think much of Gaetano's dreams.
Il Mio Giorno (subtitles)
Matteo, is a 70 year old man who decides to end his life but not before throwing a party for his last day. Relatives and friends try to persuade him to change his mind, while he is supported in his decision by a young woman, employee of the funeral service agency he contacted. A surreal, dark comedy.
Enchanted April (rental)
Four dissimilar women in 1920s England leave their rainy environments to vacation in an Italian castle. Two of them are struggling to make the best of unhappy marriages, one is an elderly but elegant prude, and the fourth is Lady Caroline Dester, a young, wealthy, chic flapper. Beautifully filmed in Portofino, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Alfred Molina elevate the acting in this treasure.
What do you do when your father confesses on his death bed that you have a brother? Two brothers - one American, one Italian, who've never met - take a road trip from Rome to the picturesque region of Molise on a journey to spread the ashes of their late father in the small town where he was born. We loved this little film and watching as these newfound brothers clash and then come together.
The Big Night
One of our favorite films about two Italian brothers who come to the U.S. and open a restaurant. Their high cuisine isn't understood by the typical American patrons who wonder why the spaghetti doesn't come with meatballs on top. So they hatch a plan to have a big opening night with celebrities while offering one of their most special recipes. Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm and Isabella Rossellini are a wonderful cast for this Italian classic.
One Hundred Steps (subtitles)
Peppino Impastato was a quick-witted boy growing up in a Sicilian village in the late 1960s. He lives in a family with Mafia connections, one hundred steps away from the house of Tano Badalamenti, the Mafia boss. As he becomes of age, Peppino denounces the whole Mafia system by using a small local radio station to broadcast his political pronouncements in the form of ironic humor. A battle of right versus might and La Famiglia against family.
Lost in Florence
What seems like just a romantic film is actually a great vehicle to watch a spectacular, historic sport--Calcio Fiorentino in action. The main character is an American ex-football player who joins a team playing an archaic form of soccer native to Florence since the sixteenth century. If you like sports, you'll love this film.
Rome (Series, 2-seasons, in English, very adult content)
This has to be one of the most compelling docudrama series since I Claudius. It's amazingly historic in detail and in the pagan culture in Rome 2000 years ago. This is a must-watch for anyone who loves the history of Italy and Ancient Rome. Binge-watching this one might take more than a week.
Cinema Paradiso (rental, subtitles)
The story follows a film director's coming of age in a small Italian town. His best friend is the aging film projectionist in the local Cinema Paradiso who helps him learn about love, compassion, jealousy, patriotism and family. This has to be one of the best Italian films ever made.
Seven Beauties (rental, subtitles)
One of Italian filmmaker, Lina Wertmeuller's best. Giancarlo Gianini stars as a petty thief living off his seven unattractive sisters. He deserts the army during World War II and is then captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp, where he does anything to survive. Through flashbacks, we learn about his accidental murder of one sister's lover, his imprisonment in an insane asylum, and his volunteering to be a soldier to escape confinement. Although this film shows the horrors of living in war-torn Italy, it is has some of the funniest scenes ever. Any Italiophile must see this film.
Letters to Juliet
A light rom-com, this film follows young romantic Sophia (Amanda Seyfried) as she hunts for the author of a letter placed behind a stone in Juliet's House's wall in Verona many years earlier. She convinces the much older Claire to go on a quest with her to find the love of her life, while she looks for a love of her own. It's a fluffy film, but with the Vita Bella that we all look for in a film made in Italy.
Under the Tuscan Sun
This film Single-handedly made the hilltowns of Tuscany more crowded that they need to be with divorced American women trying to emulate the author's lifestyle. Still, it's a pleasant romp through Tuscany, Rome and the Amalfi Coast as the main character tries to find herself while renovating her run down Tuscan villa. Diane Lane and the ever-appealing Lindsay Duncan star.
This film stars Marissa Tomei, Robert Downy Jr and Bonnie Hunt. Tomei's character thinks she is destined to find her soulmate after having first a ouija board and years later, a physic tell her the name of Mr. Right. Tomei and Hunt travel to Italy in search of this perfect man, only to discover real love. It's our favorite because of the scene at La Bocca della Verita where Tomei and Downey recreate the famous scene from Roman Holiday.
The ultimate 1953 Rom-Com, Audrey Hepburn stars as a royal princess out to see Rome on her own with Gregory Peck guiding her as he hides the fact that he's a reporter trying to get her story. Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, but the real star for us is the scene at La bocca della Verita. This film also shows how few tourists were in Rome in the 1950s with many scenes shot at famous Rome locations.
There you have it. A lit of films that should keep you occupied and in good spirits during your own lock-down. So, turn off the news for a while. Gather a loved one close--but not too close--and enjoy these great films.
Andrà tutto bene...
--Jerry Finzi, GVI
I first discovered Nonna Paola while surfing through videos on my smart TV's YouTube app. Immediately, I called over my wife and son and we lost ourselves in laughter for the next hour or more as we played video after video.
This diminutive Calabrian nonna puts up with the provocations, jabs and teasing of her Australian comedian son, Greg, as he records videos of her reactions to the the world around her: telemarketers, smart phones, "sooshi" ("Do I eat-a the paper?"), politics, and priests. In one episode she asks her son to play Metallica in the car. In another, she explains how she bottles and labels her own holy water. One of my all-time favorites is when her son catches her drying chili peppers in the washing machine's spin cycle!
The mix of a loving, prodding son and a thick-accented energetic Nonna is hysterical. The videos has made Nonna Paola a YouTube sensation, with nearly 24,000 subscribers with some of her videos reaching over half a million views!
In many ways (especially in stature) she reminds me of my maternal Grandmother: the way I would always tease her about her "boyfriend", the Pope; trying to put a helmet on her and telling her "today is the day" I was taking her for a ride on my motorcycle; and I perpetually blamed her tomato sauce (overloaded with onions and peppers) as the reason my appendix almost killed me when I was 12 years old.
Their videos are addictive, but I'm trying to pace myself for when I really need to take my mind off of everyday problems of life. When I need it, I'll load up their video channel on Youtube and laugh at the way Nonna fights back at her son by calling him "Dick-a-head", soothing my soul with laughter...
A few of my Nonna Paola favorites...
I you want to learn about Italy, food, life and humor, then Two Greedy Italians is for you. It is a BBC television series that was broadcast on BBC Two in the UK. The series follows charming chefs Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio as they travel back to their homeland for the first time in 15 years... to see how their Italian society and food has evolved over the years. There is also an accompanying cook book called Two Greedy Italians: Carluccio and Contaldo's Return to Italy that you can find on Amazon. A second series entitled Two Greedy Italians: Still Hungry was also produced. These two old chefs have it all.... experience with food, life and great charisma. Lovable, passionate and damned funny together!
(Click the photo at left to see the DVD set on Amazon)
Click the photo below to watch a sample video of Two Greedy Italians