Tonino Guerra: The Poet of Italian Cinema

Tonino

Tonino Guerra: The Poet of Italian Cinema

For those who are not familiar with Italian cinema, his name might seem irrelevant. However, this man was the inspiration behind a plethora of famous directors such as Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Greek legend Theo Angelopoulos.

Born in Santarcangelo di Romagna, in northeast Italy, Tonino Guerra was a survivor of WWII. Little is known of his childhood, but his biographies recount that while interned in a prison camp in Germany – when he was around 22 years old – he used to tell stories to his fellow companions. Then, after the war, he published the tales in a book called Gli Scarabocchi (Scribblings).

Around a decade later, during his 30s, Guerra moved to Rome and to then become a  school teacher. There, he met political filmmaker Elio Petri, the assistant to Giuseppe De Santis, and started to collaborate in distinct productions during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

One of his first prominent tasks as a screenwriter for Michelangelo Antonioni’s L'Avventura (1960). In the preface to his published screenplays, Antonioni wrote, “Tonino is a poet who writes in dialect. . . . [Tonino and I] have long and violent arguments . . . and that makes him all the more helpful.”

Guerra went on to collaborate with Elio Petri and Vittorio de Sica. He co-authored Petri's first two films, both small jewels, L'Assassino (The Assassin, 1961), and I Giorni Contati (Counted Days, 1962), and also worked on the script for Vittorio De Sica's Marriage Italian Style (1964), with a mind-blowing and inspiring Sophia Loren in the leading role. In the following decade, he wrote three films with Federico Fellini, including Amarcord (1973), which drew on their shared memories of growing up in the Emilia-Romagna region.

In the second part of his career, his collaborations with Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopoulos sealed his reputation as a writer with a profoundly poetic sensibility, a hand-in-glove fit for directors who specialized in existential matters and the mysteries of interior life. The pair worked together for more than 20 years until The Dust of Time (2008).

Tonino Guerra died on March 2012 in his birthplace.

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