Mario Camerini, Gli uomini che mascalzoni (1932)
Camerini’s Gli uomini che mascalzoni is a comedy set in Milan. The protagonist Bruno (Vittorio de Sica) is a bold young chauffeur who falls in love with Mariuccia (Lia Franca), an attractive shop-assistant who works in a perfumery. Bruno uses his employer’s luxury car to impress her on their first date. However, a turn of events leads to mutual incomprehension and Bruno and Mariuccia’s love story seems ill-fated. Eventually, Bruno admits his faults and asks Mariuccia to forgive him. They rediscover their love and finally get engaged.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
Gli uomini che mascalzoni is one of the most famous examples of Italian comedy under Fascism, the film for which Camerini is best remembered and which enshrined him as one of the biggest names of Italian cinema at that time. Moreover, this film features Vittorio De Sica as a protagonist, in the role that would make him a star. Camerini later acknowledged that De Sica’s performance went on to influence his directorial work in this film. The comedy is set against the background of a city, Milan, whose urban and social landscape was undergoing rapid modernization. Therefore, Gli uomini che mascalzoni as a whole explores the impact of modernity on Italian social roles and traditions because the quarrels and misunderstandings between Bruno and Mariuccia are encompassed in a broader narrative that celebrates the impact of Fascist modernity in Italy. Such an idea of modernity certainly featured totalitarian political traits but was also keen to portray the everyday life of individuals. In so doing, the Fascist modernity surfacing in Camerini’s film connects personal histories to the broader picture of fascist anthropological and social revolution, in which everybody has their own organic role. This element surfaces in the use of cars as symbolic objects: Bruno could not afford the luxury cars he drives as a chauffeur and that he uses to impress Mariuccia; however, as soon as he gives up the ‘false’ illusion of social rising, he regains both Mariuccia’s heart and he finds his own inner peace. Bruno’s acceptance of his social role is epitomised in the scene featuring Mariuccia and Bruno sitting happily together in Mariuccia’s father’s cab.
The film adds an amusing nuance to the life and histories of ordinary working-class people in fascist Italy. Alongside the tropes and content typical of the petit-bourgeois underpinning of the film, Camerini makes a remarkable attempt to infuse a sense of poetry into this realistic narrative. Together with Blasetti’s Sole and another Camerini’s film (Rotaie), Gli uomini, che mascalzoni features some aesthetic innovation such as on location shooting, highly mobile camera techniques as well as some vivid editing strategies. Gli uomini, che mascalzoni therefore stands out from the context of the Fascist film scenario of the period and it helped to revitalize the Italian cinema industry of the mid-thirties.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. 2001. Fascist Modernities. Italy 1922-1945. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Celli, Carlo. 2001. ‘The legacy of Mario Camerini in Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.’ Cinema journal: 3-17.
Ricci, Stephen. 2008. Cinema and Fascism: Italian Film and Society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.