Vittorio Taviani, Who Made Acclaimed Films With Brother, Dies at 88
Posted April 18, 2018 3:53 p.m. EDT
Vittorio Taviani, who with his brother Paolo directed films acclaimed in Italy and beyond, including “Padre Padrone,” which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1977, died on Sunday in Rome. He was 88.
He had been ill for some time and had also been battling the effects of a car accident several years ago, his wife, Carla Vezzoso Taviani, said.
The Taviani brothers, in one of cinema’s more enduring partnerships, told stories of suffering, struggle and power in a filmmaking career that began in the 1950s and continued into the current decade.
The last movie the brothers directed together was “Wondrous Boccaccio” in 2015. Vittorio Taviani’s health prevented him from splitting directing duties with Paolo on “Rainbow: A Private Affair,” released last year, but he did share the screenwriting credit. His brother survives him.
The roughly 20 features they made together influenced a younger generation of Italian filmmakers, including Giuseppe Tornatore, whose “Cinema Paradiso” became an international hit in 1988.
“Since I was a young boy, I’ve watched every film by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani,” Tornatore said by email. “I loved their style and their way of combining a sense of politics with one of poetry.”
Vittorio Taviani was born on Sept. 29, 1929, in the Tuscan town of San Miniato. His father, Ermanno, was a lawyer, and his mother, the former Jolanda Brogi, was a teacher.
The main early exposure to culture for him and Paolo, who is two years younger, came not from movies, but from trips to Florence to see Verdi operas. One day in Pisa just after World War II, though, everything changed for them.
“By chance we happened to pass a local movie theater,” Taviani recalled in a 1986 interview with The New York Times. “And the people coming out were muttering, ‘Don’t go in, it’s an atrocity!’ So naturally we were curious. And there on the screen was everything that had happened to all of us just a few months before.
“Seeing it unreel before us was glorious and tragic,” he continued, “and we realized at once that film was the one means we had to understand our own reality. The movie was Rossellini’s ‘Paisan,’ and from that day on we knew that the cinema was the road for us.”
Neorealism was in vogue, thanks to the films of Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and others. That genre had faded by the time the Tavianis began working in the movie business in the mid-1950s, first behind the scenes, then directing documentaries. But when they began making features together in 1962 with “Un uomo da bruciare” (“A Man for Burning,” directed with Valentino Orsini), a drama about a union organizer, they were envisioning a variation on the filmmaking that had first caught their attention.
“We wanted to take the legacy of neo-realism and add to it the grandeur of the spettacolo — the panoramas of John Ford, the melodrama of Giotto’s frescoes,” Taviani said.
Although the brothers worked with top stars like Isabella Rossellini and Marcello Mastroianni, their films often used unknown actors. They drew on history and literature — their source material included Tolstoy, for “San Michele aveva un gallo” (“St. Michael Had a Rooster”) in 1972; and Luigi Pirandello, for “Kaos,” in 1984. They would mix panoramic shots with close-ups in which, as one review put it, “you can play connect the dots with the actors’ pores.”
Their formula for co-directing their more than 20 films was simple: They would alternate scenes, and when it was one brother’s turn to direct, the other would not actively interfere but would keep vigil at the video monitor.
“We have a very acute nonverbal, telepathic communication,” Taviani told The Times in a 2013 interview. “If the one at the monitor starts to scratch his head, the other understands. So we have a silent meeting, we correct it, and then we go off again.”
Ideas would often be exchanged and scripts discussed while they walked their dogs together in a Rome park.
“In the sun or the rain or the snow we keep walking,” Taviani said in a 1986 interview with The Times, “and talk about whatever comes into our heads — movies, dogs, beautiful things, horrible ones, the things that make us angry. At some point a story might emerge from an anecdote or a memory, or a page from a book, and eventually we realize it has to be written down.”
Tornatore, for one, was envious.
“They thought in exactly the same way, almost as if they were the same person,” he said. “Like all directors who understood their prodigious mental organization, I envied them. Who wouldn’t want to have a brother with whom to share the difficulty of making films, without the work suffering even the most minimal stylistic incoherence?”
The brothers had directed a half-dozen features and received some showings at international festivals when, in 1977, their big break came with “Padre Padrone,” a film about a shepherd whose brutal father deprives him of an education but who goes on to become a well-regarded linguist nonetheless.
The film won the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, as well as the festival’s International Critics Prize. Janet Maslin, reviewing it in The Times, called it “vivid and very moving, coarse but seldom blunt, and filled with raw landscapes that underscore the naturalness and inevitability of the father‐son rituals it depicts.”
Among the brothers’ better-known later films are “La notte di San Lorenzo” (“The Night of the Shooting Stars,” 1982), a somewhat autobiographical tale about an Italian village at the end of World War II, and “Cesare deve morire” (“Caesar Must Die,” 2012), a fictional film about a production of “Julius Caesar” staged in a prison, for which the brothers cast real inmates and ex-convicts.
In addition to his wife and his brother Paolo, Taviani is survived by his children, Francesca, Giovanna and Giuliano Taviani; another brother, Franco; and three grandchildren.
After the release of “Caesar Must Die,” Vittorio Taviani, 83 at the time, was asked about future films.
“We’re sure that another one will come along, just as we’re sure about death,” he said. “I’m saying that in a beautiful realistic sense, considering our age.”