Walter Ruttmann, Acciaio (1933


Acciaio by the German director Walter Ruttmann tells the story of Mario and Pietro, two men employed in a steel mill in Terni (Umbria). When Pietro is killed in a work-related incident, suspicion is cast on Mario due to the pair’s violent rivalry over a woman, Gina. After a long period of guilt, Mario returns to work and resumes his love story with Gina.

Main Principles

  1. The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality

  2. Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle


Acciaio was based on a script (Giuoca, Pietro!) by Luigi Pirandello. Mussolini’s entourage commissioned the film and chose the German director Walter Ruttmann to broaden the horizons of the Italian cinema industry in the international sphere. As a documentary director, Ruttmann infused Acciaio with his own stylistic background, meaning it only remotely resembles the Pirandello script inspiring it. Due to this semi-documentary style, Acciaio is one of the films made in the Fascist era that might be regarded as a precursor to Italian neorealism. Shot mostly on location in Terni, it praises industrial machinery as representative of an effective social order. The aesthetic dimension of Acciaio foregrounds a metaphorical dialogue between industrial machinery and social engineering, with the protagonists’ melodramatic rivalry performing a minor function. This anti-rhetorical, anti-individualistic, and anti-romantic set is meant to promote the collective creation of new myths of modernity to be spread in Fascist society.

Diegetic and non-diegetic sound plays a central role in giving the pace to the film’s narrative. A contrapuntal arrangement of sonic and visual dimensions is emphasised through an accurate montage in which the juxtaposition of shots, the composition, the use of angles and lights as well as the rapid editing work convey an uneasy tension between man and machine. In the final sequences, when Mario returns to work at the steel mill, this tension is defused by the interspersion of some frames focusing water canals and a waterfall. Life within the steel mill stands as a metaphor of the state, which has to be driven by ethical principles able to connect people with Fascist goals. Accordingly, Acciaio shows that features such as technical prowess, dynamism, rationalism, and modernisation are integral parts of the Fascist spectacle, which encompasses and attunes personal stories to perform collectively a polyphonic hymn managed by the totalitarian state.


Bondanella, Peter. 2009. A History of Italian Cinema. New York: Continuum International.

Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta. 1997. Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Garofalo, Piero, 2002. ‘Seeing Red. The Soviet Influence on Italian Cinema in the Thirties’. In Re-viewing Fascism: Italian Cinema, 1922-1943, edited by Jacqueline Reich and Piero Garofalo. 2002. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Gianmarco Mancosu