The Socioeconomic Context and Commedia all Italiana

To what extent can this statement be applied to Pietrangeli’s La visita?

In order to approach the statement by Günsberg, it is indispensable to clarify that, what was and when took place the boom in Italy, as it will enable us to understand the socioeconomic context and identify possible reasons to which, it resulted in a sharp focus of the commedia all’italiana, on the relationship between people and goods and the way goods mediate in relations of gender and class according to Günsberg. It will also be essential to define the commedia all’italiana for analysing to what extent this can be applied to Pietrangeli’s La visita.


The socioeconomic context of the boom in Italy, also called the ‘miracolo economico’, was due to a fast growth in income pro capita in Europe as a result of a fast development of steel industry, an increment in car production among others, incurring in an incredible growth from food and textile to the consumer goods, especially domestic electric appliances. Offering the market, a new range of products; such as the Fiat ‘600’ (being Italy’s first mass-produced car) fridges, washing machine and televisions. On the other hand, there occurred important social changes during the period of 1940-1960, in which women acquired the right to vote, and they were the workers and consumers and also they were the protagonist of education and sexuality, not less important the process of migration from the North to the South of the country.

The economic miracle began in 1951, reaching its maximum growth between 1958-1963. The wealth, created by the socioeconomic changes in the late 50s to early 60s, produced economically a new middle class and socially a crisis of values. According to Christopher Duggan; the ‘miracle’ had also its negative effects on the Italian society and did not spread evenly throughout the whole country, being concentrated in the north-west and parts or the north-east, “Creating migrations from South to North, changing gender roles”.

Therefore, the great wealth in Italy, not only lead towards a boom in its economy but also, develops a consumerist society in which Italians aspired to have a better standard of life.

Under this socioeconomic context, as Günsberg explains; “can be found the golden era ofcommedia all’italiana(1958-64), depicting a new society where Italians had a slow adaptation to fast changes.

Commedia all’italiana, pictures Italian fast and deep social changes, satirizes changing social values. It also approaches the socioeconomic problems of post-war Italy from different angles, portrayingas Fullwood explains; ‘husbands trying to keep up with the consumerism of their wives, the representation of consumption of middle-class, central characters driving expensive cars and modern homes with designer luxury interior’. As well as, the juxtaposition between the city and the town, the dualism between North and South and the migration to cities of the North where work were mainly concentrated due to the expansion of industries, as many Italians wished to have access to the welfare of the economic miracle.

In the case of the film La Visita (1963), the spectator can appreciate some of these issues, in particular; the struggle of lower classes, when aspiring to consumerism, in the case of Adolfo, who constantly is shown in the film to be worried about his finances in comparison to Pina, when talking about each other’s income. Adolfo explains to Pina, who lives in the South in San Benedetto Po, that a person who lives in Rome should have a wage of 150.000 liras to not be poor. Thereafter, he says that, his wage is of 82.000 liras. He does not introduce himself as a poor man but, the message is in his speech. Adolfo is portrayed throughout the film, as a person, who seems to have to budget its expenses. He has stopped smoking, because it would cost him 70.000 liras per year or when he talks about eating in cheap restaurants, he also calculates the amount of words that Pina used in her advert to find a partner and tell her how much it has costed her.

Another subject treated in the film is how purchasing power and economic well-being influence the personal relationships. A clear depiction of this can be found in the exchanges of letters between Pina and her candidates after posting on newspapers and advert to find a partner. One of them asks her about how many meters her garden has and how much money she has saved, also becoming important for Adolfo, to an extent that he ends up asking her about how much money she has saved.

Pina has a good economic situation and wants to show Adolfo what she has, as if doing so, would represent who she is. When Adolfo arrives at Pina’s house, the camera moves around her house going into a sequence of her well-equipped kitchen with fridge, white tiles floor, her dining room where she has the last model television, cow print seaters. However, there are some messages about acquisitiveness as having a negative impact in people’s lives, as example can be pointed the message on the chocolate wrap: ‘It is better to be poor but loved, than rich with heartache’, or even the scene where she is singing ‘Some people who love many things and they lose themselves around the world’, which could be analyse as a reminder of values to a society sank in consumerism as result of the economic boom and the internal conflict that it could cause, a mise-en-scèneintensified by the intra-diegetic of Pina singing.

The economic miracle produced several social changes in Italy, which were mentioned in the introduction of this essay. However, I will deeper on the consequences of such changes. One of the results; is the detachment of the stereotypical vision of women who equate her as a female mother, as a large percentage of women entered the workforce, managing to be economically independent and therefore opting to have an independent life rather than being married and having children. This situation is very well portrayed in La visita, when Pina is looking at a magazine, the sceneis filmed chiaroscuro and the camerawork focus on the magazine with a close-up on the publicity about a fashionable man; ‘che tipo d’uomo e’ di moda’ and wedding dresses in which Pina just flicks through. However, an extreme close-up where the camera frames the advert, is used to show the publicity about woman going on holiday; ‘Pensiamo alle vacanza, le barche e la moda’.A women thinking about holiday and fashion reflects the change in woman mentality and its new role in society, deconstructing the stereotype of woman, in terms of being economically dependent on their husbands, getting married and having children. In like manner, Pina drives her own car and, unlike other Italian comedies, his car is not a luxury car, but it represents more than her purchasing power, it is linked to her freedom of mobility. Pina is portrayed as a woman, who uses her beauty and wit to avoid problems, away from commodification of female sexuality.This sense of freedom come across from the very beginning of the film, when it opens with a long shot of a train in motion and thereafter, a series of scenes of people using cars and motorbikes with a medium-long shot on Chiaretta riding her Vespa. It is clearly a time progress in which, unlike other film makers, it is the woman mainly who drives these vehicles. And, as mentioned previously, vehicles were commonly shown in films driven by men to indicate as Rushing explains; ‘the exteriorized form of a male subject and the Italian male psyche in general’. Cars as an icon of male power, in which according to Günsberg; ‘In periods of rapid economic development, such as the boom period of classic commedia all’italiana, consumption is taken to excess as consumerism, with the car a particularly central fetish and icon of successful masculinity in the comedies of this era’.

Pietrangeli has inverted the gender roles in La Visita, as throughout the film the spectator can observe Adolfo, as the one who wants to live out of Pina and not vice versa, in contradiction to the patriarchal identity. There is also another scene when Pina and Adolfo go in a boat for a ride, reinforcing a change in traditional gender roles as it is Pina who is rowing the boat while Adolfo relaxes. The film seems to be constantly challenging the old role model of women, especially if we consider Pina’s age and her lack of concern for this fact. She is in her early 40s and not only is not married but has a clandestine relationship with a married truck driver. Her status of woman does not seem an impediment to fulfil her desires.

On one hand, the relationship between people and goods is well portrayed in La visita. Pietrangeli portrays social consumerism, despite the plot takes place mainly at Pina’s house, there are close-ups scenes of new white appliances, vehicles and commodities and references to media consumerism. To give a few of many possible examples; when Pina is flicking the magazine, the conversation between Pina and Adolfo about the programme il carosello, (an Italian television advertising show), in her last model television. However, Pietrangeli approaches the subject from a different perspective to commedia all’italiana, in which according to Fullwood; ‘films displayed flashy cars or designer homes disseminating consumerist images’.It is at this point that the relationship between gender and class and the relationship between people and goods undergoes an exchange. Pietrangeli uses the publicity in his film Lavisita but replaces the symbolic image of the car with the house and, therefore by doing so, achieves the change of roles, since the house of Pina would symbolize what the car symbolizes for men. Perhaps, the idea of Piera Detassis about ‘zona franca’, in which ‘this ‘zona franca’ is constructed through a cinematic style in which resists imposing the sort of fixed meaning on images of the women which characterizes society’s attitudes to their permitted social roles’, making La visita unique in its genre.

The film also depicts the incongruity between modernity alongside the problem of adaptation to its fast changes. As a clear example, it can be pointed when Adolfo does not know how to use the recording machine and ends up recording himself threatening the parrot or perhaps, when neither Pina or Adolfo know how to use the lawnmower that Pina bought from a farmer store. On the other hand, on the way goods mediate in relations of gender and class in the film, it is Pina who takes the place of a successful man where the car is replaced by her well modern equipped house, in terms of material possessions. In conjunction, her job and her possessions will allow Pina to be independent and have freedom to decide her future. This idea of freedom is highlighted at the end of the film with a camerawork in movement and a close-up ofPina driving her car. This final scene has been described by Fullwood as; ‘The car represents movement and thus is symbolic of her choice to remain free’.

If we consider Günsberg’s claims about that ‘the predilection of commedia all’italiana for male protagonists means that the comedy of consumption centres not on female characters, but on the effects of feminine consumer demands on masculinity’.Or the statement of Comand; ‘Le donne non sono certo protagoniste nella commedia all’italiana’.Then, the statement by Günsbergreferring to ‘The socioeconomic context of the boom resulted in a sharp focus of the commedia all’italiana on the relationship between people and goods, and also, in particular, on the way goods mediate in relations of gender and class’, cannot be applied in La visitaif we focus on the relationship between Pina and Adolfo.

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Throughout this essay, it was demonstrated that Pina's role is portrayed as opposed to the role portrayed of woman when talking about the commedia all’italiana.Despite the film is about a romance, the difference resides in Pietrangeli’s plot and the assigned role to its characters. Both Pina and Adolfo do not meet the stereotypes of the Italian comedy. Adolfo is presented as Mariapia explains; ‘una figura di un maschio antieroico, debole e femminilizzato’, and Pina embodies; ‘una donna solida e sola, compiacente e tuttavia capace d'imporsi. Attratta dalle sirene della modernita, attenta agli obblighi della tradizione’.Nonetheless, the film approaches the beginning of women getting awareness in society during a process of social transformation and, its impact on man identity.

Let’s not forget that the economic transformation that Italy went through was in a country of patriarchal traditions.

La visita, places woman at the centre of the comedy, portraying the problem with gender’s balance and modernity. Pietrangeli himself explained the importance of woman in his film: ‘nel processo di transformazione sociale in cui, da vent’anni a questa parte, assitiamo in Italia, l donna ha incontestabilmente un ruolo da protagonista’.

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