Mario Soldati, Piccolo mondo antico (1941)

Luigi Chiarini, La bella addormentata (1942)

Alberto Lattuada, Giacomo l’idealista (1943)


Piccolo mondo antico is set in the mid-nineteenth century in the northern regions of Italy that were fighting to set the Lombardo-Veneto free from the Austro-Hungarian empire. The aristocratic protagonist Franco falls in love with Luisa, a middle-class girl. An intricate plot describes the vicissitudes of the couple, who must deal with Franco’s grandmother’s attempts to impede their marriage. A troubled affair similarly characterizes Chiarini’s La bella addormentata, in which the maidservant Carmela is first seduced by an unscrupulous notary and then risks abuse at the hands of a malicious spinster. Eventually, Carmela is saved from this threatening situation by Salvatore, to whom she declares her love a moment before her untimely death. Giacomo l’idealista also ends with the death of the female protagonist, Celestina, after a difficult romance. She falls in love with Giacomo, a young professor who has fallen upon hard times and who is compelled to work for the wealthy Magnenzio family. Giacomo and Celestina’s relationship is however thwarted by the son of Count Magnenzio, Giacinto, who is also in love with Celestina and aggressively harasses her.

Main Principles

  1. The Legitimization of the Artist/Intellectual's Participation in the Public Sphere

  2. The Role of Cosmopolitanism in the Modernization of the Italian Artistic Field

  3. Citizen’s Media Manipulation: Entertainment, Escapism and Consensus


These three films are prime examples of the genere calligrafico (or calligraphist cinema), an umbrella category that emerged in the early 1940s to describe a series of films characterized by complex narratives and multiple cross-references to other cultural products. It is thus no coincidence that Piccolo mondo antico and Giacomo l’idealista are cinematographic adaptations of two novels by Antonio Fogazzaro (1895) and Emilio de Marchi (1897) respectively whilst La bella addormentata is the cinematographic version of the drama of the same name by Rosso di San Secondo (1919). These three films portray the love and goodwill of lower-class protagonists who fight to preserve their morality in situations of injustice created by upper-class immodest and ruthless characters. Moreover, the dramatic death scenes of a main character (Franco’s and Luisa’s daughter Ombretta in Piccolo Mondo Antico, Carmela in La bella addormentata, and Celestina in Giacomo l’idealista) give a romantic nuance to the films which sublimate the love among the characters.

The cultural products that inspired these films were produced before the March on Rome; accordingly, these film adaptations might be regarded as indirect response, and a form of resistance, to the oppressive cultural atmosphere of the Fascist ventennio. The calligrafici films sought to offer Italian audiences not a form of escapism but, within the broader context of late thirties in which the telefoni bianchi and some proto-neorealist films were circulating, can be said to represent the will to counter the monolithic, totalitarian organisation of society and culture pursued by Fascism. Moreover, the high level of stylistic accuracy, the complexity of the narratives, and the sophisticated references to other artistic and literary products rendered the calligrafici markedly distinct from contemporary productions and situated them within broader, international cinematographic horizons.


Barattoni,Luca. 2012. Italian Post-Neorealist Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Martini, Andrea. 1992. La bella forma. Poggioli, i calligrafici e dintorni. Venice: Marsilio.

Reich, Jacqueline and Piero Garofalo. 2002. Reviewing Fascism: Italian Cinema, 1922-1943. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Gianmarco Mancosu