Sergio Rigoletto. Masculinity and Italian Cinema: Sexual Politics, Social Conflict and Male Crisis in the 1970s

By Malaguti, Andrea | Italica, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Sergio Rigoletto. Masculinity and Italian Cinema: Sexual Politics, Social Conflict and Male Crisis in the 1970s


Malaguti, Andrea, Italica


Sergio Rigoletto. Masculinity and Italian Cinema: Sexual Politics, Social Conflict and Male Crisis in the 1970s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

In his book, Sergio Rigoletto investigates the complex and articulated idea of masculinity represented in film in the 1970s when the patriarchal tradition was mostly intensely questioned in

Italy. In those years, the problematic outlook on sexuality and the acknowledgement of the political dimension of sex promoted by the feminist movement also affected how films portrayed male characters.

Men in crisis are the object of the first chapter ("Male Crisis: Between Apocalypse and Nostalgia") in films like Marco Ferreri's L'ultima donna (1977) and Ciao maschio (1978), Salvatore Samperi's Malizia (1973), and Fellini's La citta delle donne (1982). In Ferreri's films, the young male characters differ from the models of masculinity handed over by the patriarchal tradition and long for a pre-Oedipal intimacy with their empowered female partners (to the advantage of the latter); but their male bodies' urges are obstacles to it. Between empowered women and bruised men there can be no relationship; the only solution is castration (or destruction anyway). The fancied reconciliation with the feminine may otherwise go through the image of the nurturing mother (pregnant Ornella Muti in Ferreri's Il futuro e donna). Eroticization of maternal love through the mother proxy is therefore the backbone of Malizia, a story of the 1950s, where the tame, inoffensive, and non-confrontational stepmother is the object of nostalgia. Similar nostalgia pervades Fellini's City of Women. The male gaze is still recognizable in Snaporaz / Marcello, but also powerfully destabilized by the confrontational women around him.

The Oedipal confrontation between generations, one of the main aspects of the whole youth movement of 1968 and its relationship to the nation's Fascist past, is the object of the second chapter ("Contesting National Memory: Male Dilemmas and Oedipal Scenarios"). In Bernardo Bertolucci's two films of 1970, The Spider's Stratagem and The Conformist, the oedipal conflict can be an effective probe to understand what is still left unsaid about Fascism, Rigoletto contends. In the first one, Athos Magnani eventually makes his father's fame (and scheme) crumble from the inside and, at least onscreen, creates the conditions for other formerly silenced subjects (women) to emerge. The two opposite masculinities of father and son (impersonated by the same actor, Giulio Brogi) represent the opposite poles of repression and liberation in the history of Italy between the 1930s and the 1970s. In The Conformist, a similar dialectic is resumed in one character, Marcello Clerici, who embraces repression by trying to conform to the heterosexual model imposed by Fascism, but cannot fully disavow his homosexual desire, which comes out at crucial points of the story. Fascist heteronormativity intertwines the ideological constructions of both gender (Judith Butler) and nation (Benedict Anderson), supported by the illusions and undermined by the conflicts that The Conformist fully represents.

The interrelated aspects of gender and genre (the success of the latter is often due to the expectations on the former) is examined in the third chapter ("Undoing Genre, Undoing Masculinity"). The overturn of the heterosexual dominating male finds its tragic version in Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, where the omnipotent detective reveals his regressive and childish violence, and its comic one in Wertmuller's The Seduction of Mimi, where the male role of the seducer is debunked by a jumble of subversions of decency (bodies, jokes, situations, etc. …

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