Comedy Italian style is not...

just comedy films made by the Italian film industry. It is its own special movement in Italian film that finds its roots 500 years ago in the 16th century when actors and actresses began putting on street-side theatre shows of improvised performances based on scenarios in what is now called commedia dell'arte (comedy as a profession or an art). A common trademark of the style was the use of archetype characters usually denoted by the usage of masks and certain traits and behaviors. Some troupes would perform for courts and in halls if they were recognized well enough, but most of the time the show was performed for "free" on the roadside. Sometimes the shows were supported by donations from a hosting town or city and the troupe would "pass the hat" around for donations from the crowd turning this side show into a proper profession.[2] Actors and actresses would perfect certain characters and be able to play in these improvised scenarios base on the archetype characters. When comedy Italian style was beginning to move into film, directors built off of these "masked types" of characters using satire to speak on current issues of the time. Commedia dell'arte Scene in an Italian Landscape [5] For example, in Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce Italian Style), Director Pietro Germi uses the stereotypical southern aristocrat character in a plot to divorce his wife by killing her because divorce at the time was illegal in Italy. All of these films have a sad undertone due to the misfortune of the lead characters, and we laugh when they fail or blunder because it is funny. They have high hopes for the future, but in the end are left without their hope achieved or their longing fulfilled, just like how the ended up the same way. Although the critics generally rated the the first comedy films poorly because of the superficiality of the jokes or simplification of the situation, the general population empathized well with the character types and came to enjoy this new genre of Italian cinema. Italians could understand where these characters were coming from, why they made those decisions, and laugh along with the outrageous outcomes.[1]
During the 1970s, comedy Italian style started taking a turn to a more grotesque overly exaggerated comedy and satire. We can see this in some clips of The Seduction of Mimì when he goes back south and tries to kill his wife or when he goes and sleeps with the wife of his wife's lover just to avenge his honor. In each of these films and many others, the audience can see these character stereotypizations of common type of people in Italy, only with the worst traits exaggerated. More modern comedy films continue to take a stab at contemporary issues like the LGBT movement, government corruption, and the modern family.

History & Culture

At the end of the war...

Italy experienced a massive economic improvement often referred to as 'boom economico'. With the help of the Marshall Plan, industry in Italy began to take off and by 1986 Italy had a higher GDP than Great Britain at $599.8 billion [3]. Even though Italy was going through this economic boom that promised to help everyone, there were still classes of workers that were not seeing any increase in their standard of living. Noi donne, 15 May 1945, front cover [4]Workers were unionizing and even resorting to violence at times in the workplace. Some comedy Italian style films like Big Deal on Madonna Street spoke to this issue. In a time right when Italy was experiencing this large economic boom, our lead characters are planning how to complete a heist because they are still struggling to find money... and some of them, love.
Films leading up to and including the 1970s included commentary on the role of women and divorce. During this time, discussion on divorce and women's choice in abortions became more prevalent. News magazines, like Noi Donne, released articles about about 'why not divorce?' and 'what about love?'. By 1970 the discussion on divorce was well underway, and Italy passed its first divorce law in 1974.[4]
The first Italian republic ended in the 1990s with "Mani Pulite", the investigation into political corruption in Italy. Political dealings and relations never really die and still exist into the beginning of the Second Republic. Although the old parties died with the First Republic, the time during the 90s was still marred with allegations of deceit and corruption, and Italian films did not shy away from commenting on the new status quo. The new status quo that seemed liked a new mask on the old status quo.
In the 1940s, Italy's film industry was in the era of Neorealism. Because of the perceptions of Italians during the war, many filmmakers, including well known filmmakers like Rossellini, were making films about the Italian Resistance War showcasing Italian resistance to fascism. These films wanted to point out social issues and, in this case, it was that all Italians appeared favorable of the fascist regime. However, many Italians, including women and children, were helping support resistance troops. Comedy Italian style, built off of the commedia dell'arte technique and inspired by the neorealist filmmaking, merged these two movements together to create a fun, tragic, and enlightening genre of film.