In our last post, we initiated our series on TV shows, films, and books set in Italy with a discussion about Spanish Steps and the delectable series by the same name that recounts the Tuscan family’s rise to power that is so intimately connected to Florence and the Renaissance.
This week, we're focusing on films that highlight the grande bellezza (great beauty) of Rome. Where else would we begin when talking about movies set in Italy?
All of these films are good and juicy when it comes to brilliant cinematography of The Eternal City’s architecture, and each has its own aesthetic angle. Each film is unique with respect to the other facets of Italy that shine through, such as the country’s incredible natural beauty, its alluring way of life, its celebrated works of art, or its millennia of history. With ingredients like these, any movie set in this fascinating country can’t help but be loaded with mouth-watering cultural richness.
In a future post, we’ll get into the real mouth-watering subject of Italian cuisine. For now, here are a few films set in Rome to whet your appetite for a future trip to Italy.
We’ve listed the movies in chronological order according to the period in which they’re set, starting with Ancient Rome. We hope you enjoy our take on which aspects of Italy they embody most evocatively.
To Whet Your Appetite for Italy: Films Set in Rome
Set in Ancient Rome, this modern marvel of filmmaking starring Russell Crowe is a visual feast, perfect for getting an idea of what Ancient Rome must have been like, especially the Colosseum. While the ruins of the Colosseum are impressive, it is nice to have an image of how the arena might have looked in its glory days before you come to see the remains.
In contrast to the hubbub of Ancient Rome and the gory realities of the games, Gladiator woos us with gorgeous shots of the Italian countryside that would make anyone want to run deliriously through fields of golden grain. No surprise, seeing as these scenes were filmed in Tuscany, in the splendid rolling terrain of the Val d’Orcia.
Set in the 1950s, this black and white classic film starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck takes you back to Rome of a slightly different era, but the way of life in the city today hasn’t changed dramatically. Well, you can’t sit on the Spanish Steps to eat a gelato anymore — that’s one big recent change — but tearing around town on a Vespa and sitting at an outdoor cafè to sip an espresso or aperitivo are still hallmarks of life in Rome (or anywhere in Italy, for that matter). To glean the essence of The Eternal City, this is a great one to watch.
ANGELS & DEMONS
Set in modern times, this prequel to The Da Vinci Code (based on the novel by Dan Brown, directed by Ron Howard, and starring Tom Hanks) is a smorgasbord of Vatican delicacies. You’ll get an eyeful of the magnificent monuments and works of art scattered throughout Rome as well.
The fun thing to keep in mind when watching this film and all the intimate, detailed scenes inside the Vatican is that the production team did not actually have permission to film inside the Vatican! With its plotline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene having had children together, The Da Vinci Code ruffled some feathers in the Catholic Church and Dan Brown quickly became persona non grata regarding any future filming requests. Video footage and photos were obtained in a clandestine operation, where camera crew entered the Vatican as if they were tourists.
THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA)
A contemporary portrait of Rome, The Great Beauty is a cinematic feast that bestows the viewer with an up-close-and-personal look at the magnificence of The Eternal City, particularly its lavish nightlife. If the resplendent cinematography doesn’t send you reaching for your stilettos and booking a flight, it will at least make you dream of heading out into the shimmering, romantic wonderland of Rome at night. As we follow our protagonist, we will find, as he does, that the clubs and parties and high life can’t hold a candle to the true grande bellezza: the “timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty” that is Rome itself.
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