Films Set in Rome

Michael Leader

Over the last ten years, Woody Allen has slowly made his way around Europe, taking cinematic short-breaks in London, Paris and Barcelona like a septuagenarian InterRailer. Now, in To Rome With Love, it's the Italian capital's turn for a neurotic makeover. However, the Woodster is far from the first filmmaker to bring the historical city to the silver screen...

1. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)

Anita Ekberg’s late-night dip in the Tivoli fountain is undoubtedly Rome’s iconic film moment, showing on screen that, by 1960, Italy had moved on from neorealism to a more glamorous, glitzy style of cinema. However, Federico Fellini’s tale of excess, paparazzi and Marcello Mastroianni’s soul-searching journalist suggests that post-war reconstruction brings with it a different, existential kind of angst.

2. Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)

Released barely five months after VE Day, Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist masterwork used the recent memories of Nazi Occupation as inspiration, crafting a morality tale that, starting from ground-level touchstones and compelling, human characters, provided an overview of Rome that encompassed faith, resistance and survival in the fading face of fascism.

3. Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino, 2008)

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008 - and with good reason - Il Divo is Paolo Sorrentino’s ultra-stylish film of the messy political life of Giulio Andreotti, a smooth operator who served multiple terms as Italy’s Prime Minister. As it peeks behind the scenes of the Roman government, and surveys the tangled web of corruption that leads to both the Mafia and the Vatican, Sorrentino imbues politics with the aesthetic power - not to mention the graphic violence - of a crime epic.

4. Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)

If you’re going to shoot a glorified, black-and-white picture postcard ‘lived, loved and filmed in Rome’, then you can’t go wrong with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck swanning about on a Vespa. One of the quintessential rom-coms, Roman Holiday garnered Hepburn her first - and only - Oscar, as a perky princess who elopes with Peck’s expat reporter.

5. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)

In post-war Rome, owning a bicycle could change your life. So when Antonio Ricci’s bike is nicked, his livelihood disappears along with it. As Antonio and his son search the capital, Vittorio De Sica presents a sorry survey of late-1940s Rome, where a good man can be pushed to the limit by unloving circumstance.

6. Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)

Reportedly rushed into production after star Kirk Douglas missed out on the lead role in Ben-Hur, Spartacus boasts a suitably starry ensemble cast, including Tony Curtis, an Oscar-winning Peter Ustinov and Laurence Olivier, whose simmering statesman Crassus at one point remarks ‘If there were no Rome, I'd dream of her.’ Director Stanley Kubrick, a master in the making even at the age of thirty, barely broke a sweat.

7. We Have A Pope (Nanni Moretti, 2011)

What happens when the new Pope has a crisis of faith, and goes for a walkabout through the streets of Rome? Nanni Moretti’s 2011 papal satire plays with the city’s religious heart with near apocalyptic ramifications, but if We Have A Pope taught us anything, it’s that cardinals are a competitive bunch, especially if there’s a volleyball court around.

8. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella, 1999)

Rome provides a deliciously decadent backdrop for Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s slow-burning thriller, which sees a tangled web of lies, impersonation and murder develop amongst the high-class expat community, played by the brightest young things 1999 had to offer, including Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett.

9. Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000)

It may look a little ropey after 12 years, but one of the highlights of Ridley Scott’s sword-and-sandal tearjerker was the recreation of second century Rome in glorious CGI. From a spectacular flyover, to the overwhelming throng of a packed-out Coliseum, Gladiator showed us Rome as it hadn’t been seen for almost 2000 years.

10. Mission: Impossible III (J.J. Abrams, 2006)

We admit, JJ Abrams’ spy movie threequel is arguably the worst of a bad bunch, but one point where it came alive was in a thrilling heist sequence, where our assembled heroes infiltrated the Vatican itself. All they needed were exploding cars, prosthetic face masks, and Maggie Q in an improbable, impractical - dare we say impossible - dress.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @Nevskyp 

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