Raffaele Matarazzo, Treno Popolare (1933)


Treno Popolare was director Raffaele Matarazzo’s first feature film. The treni popolari were services established in 1931 to bolster the development of tourist travel throughout Italy, with their cheap tickets encouraging the mobility of low and middle classes. The plot of the film revolves around the portrayal of an ordinary day of a treno popolare operating between Rome and Orvieto and features a series of hilarious adventures of summertime traveller groups, offering a cross-section of Italian society under Fascism.

Main Principles

  1. The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization

  2. The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities


Before Treno popolare, Raffaele Matarazzo directed several documentaries celebrating the Fascist regime based on his experience working at the press office of the fascist Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro in Rome that organized the treni popolari trips. Therefore, his first feature film was inspired by a human and social environment that Matarazzo had experienced first-hand. As far as stylistic traits are concerned, Treno popolare is characterized by the fact that it is entirely shot on location rather than in studios, anticipating a practice that would be extensively developed in the neorealist phase of Italian cinema. Even if the comedy component is predominant, it is blended with a more documentary-style approach, which surfaces clearly in the very first scenes that portray people queuing to buy tickets for their trip. The choice to open and close the film with documentary-style scenes embed the plot in an authentic social and historical context, whereas the humorous escapades of the protagonists in the central part of the film deal more with the demand of entertainment from the Italian audience. However, the combination of these two elements (documentary and comedy) reinforced the notion that within the Fascist state individual leisure and collective aspirations are inextricably connected and are open to everyone. With its realist and popular (but not rural) narrative, Treno popolare offers an insight into how Italy sought to deal with the tension between Fascist and international forms of modernization. On this point, Matarazzo conceived of his film as a way to indoctrinate Italian audiences as well as to showcase to foreign audiences how Fascism was changing Italy. Accordingly, Treno Popolare’s plot and style convey a form of national modernization driven by the State, which stands as the agent that reframes and harmonizes collective experience and individual lives within its totalitarian horizon.


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Ben Ghiat, Ruth. 1996. ‘Envisioning Modernity: Desire and Discipline in the Italian Fascist Film.’ Critical Enquiry 23 (1): 109-144.

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.

Hay, James. 1987. Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy. The Passing of the Rex. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gianmarco Mancosu