With Italy still bearing the brunt of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic—its famous monuments empty and modern hospitals overwhelmed—perhaps it’s best to remember the country on film.
There’s a resurgence in interest in old Hollywood, especially the memorable romances set in Italy. David Lean’s Summertime (1955) and William Wyler’s Roman Holiday (1953) are two of the best examples.
Both set in an iconic city — Venice and Rome — with a romantic, whimsical atmosphere that makes you wish you were having the adventurous vacations the leads are. The newer Summertime with Katharine Hepburn is in rich technicolor; Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn remains in vintage black and white. Obviously a trip to anywhere in Europe would not be ideal or appropriate right now, but maybe this kind of escapism through film could help ease the pain.
Sheltering at home this past weekend, I revisited one of my favorite modern films set in Italy, Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy (2014). It’s the second in the “Trip” series starring comedic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized depictions of themselves. The movies take place in different landmarks throughout Europe (so far England, Italy and Spain) where Steve is commissioned by a newspaper to write about the restaurants of each region. Rob tags along on the road so his buddy won’t get bored, and provides many hilarious impressions of celebrities and public figures.
Italy has been my favorite of the duo’s episodic, scenic adventures, as I think it has the best jokes and moments. All three comedies are very entertaining and clever, partly as you assume Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon are making use of the locations to have some fun. But it’s also clear that the filmmakers have genuine appreciation for the countries’ history and geography. An example of this is with the sweeping, orchestral music score during establishing shots and transitions.
Trip to Italy is still very funny, though now, with everything going on, watching it does leave a bittersweet feeling. When 9/11 occurred, a lot of movies filmed in New York City went through a brief period of being somewhat taboo. Both Vanilla Sky (2001) and Spider-man (2002) were asked to edit out imagery of the Twin Towers before release (with the former’s director, Cameron Crowe, refusing to do so).
Similarly, we could see a period of new sensitivity to geographical regions like Italy in the aftermath of the virus.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.