Gioacchino Forzano, Camicia nera (1933)
Camicia Nera stands as the quintessential Fascist film. It was directly sponsored and produced by the Istituto Nazionale LUCE, the Fascist institution responsible for the production and distribution of propaganda films and other visual materials. The film is about an Italian blacksmith who is injured during the First World War in France and suffers from amnesia. The return of the blacksmith is shown against a background of social turmoil ignited by socialists and their general strikes. However, Mussolini’s rise to power saves Italy from the chaos of social disorder and Littoria, one of the new cities built by the Fascist state, gives the blacksmith and his family a new opportunity to thrive and prosper.
The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts
Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths
Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity
An emblematic passage of Camicia Nera sees the marching of Fascist troops interspersed with shots of Italian cities and monuments. Military songs accompany the scene eliciting a strong emotional response from the audience who see the Fascist revolution assuming a tangible form on screen. This scene is the turning point of the film: the chaos, frustration, and weakness characterizing the first part are exorcised by the epiphany of Fascism which regenerates not simply the Pontine Marshes (where the protagonist with his family will lead their new life in line with Fascist principles), but Italian culture and society as a whole. Accordingly, land reclamation, together with Italy’s recovery from a social and cultural ‘swamp’, functions as the film’s backbone and the recovery of the protagonist from his amnesic condition represents his new awareness of his role within the Fascist ethical state.
A closer look at Camicia nera seems to confirm that the vicissitudes of the blacksmith’s family are a narrative device used to exalt the Fascist regime. Indeed, the fascist point of view is dominant since the very purpose of the film was to praise all the purported achievements of the regime from 1922 to 1932. Accordingly, it might be best understood as a staged propagandistic documentary/drama celebrating a decade of Fascism in Italy, rather than a fictional film. The second part of the film especially is punctuated by intertitles listing figures, facts, and achievements of Fascism until then. This pedagogical function reaches its climax in Mussolini’s speech that ends the film. All these stylistic and rhetorical choices make Camicia nera a prime example of how Fascism attempted to popularize its mythological universe; therefore, Forzano’s message was that if Italians were prepared to reclaim their historic culture and join the totalitarian revolution, Fascism would improve their spiritual and material wellbeing.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. 2001. Fascist Modernities. Italy, 1922-1945. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bo Frandsen, Steen. 2001. ‘"The war that we prefer": The Reclamation of the Pontine Marshes and Fascist Expansion.’ Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2 (3): 69-82.
Brunetta, Gian Piero. 2009. The History of Italian Cinema: A Guide to Italian Film from Its Origins to the Twenty-first Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Griffith, Clive J. E. 1995. ‘Italian cinema in the Thirties: Camicia nera and other films by Giovacchino Forzano.’ The Italianist 15 (1): 299-321.