5 movies to learn Italian

You’ve finally decided to learn Italian. Congratulazioni are in order. But rumor has it you’re already tired of Italian grammar? Thankfully, you can immerse yourself in Italian cinema. 

Over the past 70 years, Italy has produced some cinematographic gems which have become cultural touchstones – and that’s not just the Campari speaking.

Movies of all genres  – in their original version, with subtitles or without – are a fantastic way of brushing up your Italian and learning about Italian culture. Watching a great Italian movie will also expose you to authentic Italian speech and will help you improve both your oral and written expression.

We’ve compiled a list of 5 Italian movies featured in our online Italian course Saga Baldoria.

La dolce vita, Federico Fellini (1960)

La dolce vita (1960), directed by Federico Fellini (1920-1993) and starring Marcello Mastroianni (1924-1996) and Anita Ekberg (1931-2015). 

The movie won the Palme d’Or at the 13th Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for best costumes. It is considered one of Fellini’s masterpieces and is one of the most popular works in movie history. 

The surname of one of the characters, Paparazzo, is the origin of the term paparazzo/i, used to describe invasive and pushy photographers.

Who can watch it? La dolce vita is a great point of entry in the Italian language and culture for intermediate to advanced learners. The stunning shots of the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum also make it well worth the watch.

Did you know? The movie introduced three terms into the English languages: “Felliniesque” as an adjective to describe something quirky or surreal; “paparazzi” as a term to describe intrusive photographers and “la dolce vita” used to describe an indulgent lifestyle.

Fantozzi, Luciano Salce (1975)

The film Fantozzi (1975) was directed by Luciano Salce (1922–1989), who is famous for his comedies, and features the actor Paolo Villaggio (1932–2017).

Created by Villaggio himself, the character Fantozzi is the protagonist of a hilarious series of stories and films, and is also one of the best-loved characters in Italian cinema.

The first Fantozzi film also features Villagio’s wife, Pina (Liù Bosiso, 1936–) and their ironically “ugly” daughter Mariangela, played by the actor Plinio Fernando (1947–).

Who can watch it? This Italian phenomenon should definitely be watched in its original version, as most of the fun will be lost in translation otherwise. Beginner learners, beware.

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La vita è bella, Roberto Benigni (1997)

One of the more recent iconic Italian films is directed by and stars Roberto Benigni (1952-), La vita è bella (1997). The film tells the story of Guido Orefice, a likeable, playful Jewish man trying to shield his son from the horrors of the Holocaust by telling him everything he sees in their concentration camp is part of a game.

The movie received much critical acclaim and won three Oscars. On the night of the award ceremony, Benigni was awarded his prize by Italian actress Sofia Loren (1934-). When she announced La vita è bella had won the prize for best foreign film, she joyfully cheered out “And the Oscar goes to… ROBERTOOOOO!”, and Benigni stood at the back of the audience’s chairs as he celebrated his win.

Who can watch it? Beginner and low-intermediate learners of Italian will come to love (and hopefully understand) this movie. Dialogues are easy to follow – but switching on subtitles will make things easier.

Il caimano, Nanni Moretti, 2006.

The movie Il caimano (2006) i directed by acclaimed Italian director Nanni Moretti (1953-).  

Starring Silvio Orlando (1957-), Margherita Buy (1962-) and Jasmine Trinca (1981-), the movie tells the story of a trashy movie producer going through a period of crisis in both his personal and professional lives. His only salvation is the script of a young director who wants to make a movie about Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi (1936-) entitled Il caimano.

The movie sparked controversy, with politicians even calling for its release to be postponed until after the elections for fear that it might influence the electorate.

Who can watch it? Watching Il caimano will make it possible for learners to gain a few insights into Italian politics and learn some new vocabulary words. What are you waiting for?

La Grande Bellezza, Paolo Sorrentino (2013)

The film La Grande Bellezza (2013) was directed by Paolo Sorrentino (1970-). It won the Academy Award for best foreign film. Imbued with sadness, the film focuses on the mediocrity of the modern era and contrasts it with the grande bellezza (great beauty) of Rome, the Eternal City.

The film opens with a quote from the novel Viaggio al termine della notte (Journey to the End of the Night) by Céline: “Viaggiare, è proprio utile, fa lavorare l’immaginazione. Tutto il resto è delusione e fatica (…)” (Travel is truly beneficial, it fires up the imagination. Everything else is disappointment and effort…), allowing the viewer to interpret the “journey” of the character Jep Cambardella, played by renowned actor Toni Servillo (1959-).

Who can watch it? This movie is suited for advanced learners of Italian, as it features rapid and colloquial speech. In any case, La Grande Bellezza offers stunning shots of Rome, especially at sunset, making it worth the watch.

Bonus: Grand Hotel Excelsior, Castellano e Pipolo, 1982.

Grand Hotel Excelsior (1982) is a comedy by directing duo Castellano (1925-1999) and Pipolo (1933-2006).

The movie was the brainchild of Vittorio Cecchi Gori (1942), who convinced his father Mario Cecchi Gori (1920-1993) to produce a movie starring four leading Italian actors they had under contract at the time, namely Adriano Celentano (1938-), Enrico Montesano (1945-), Carlo Verdone (1950-) and Diego Abatantuono (1955-).

The movie was shot at the same time as the 1982 World Cup, with the cast and crew fitting in shooting around the national team’s match schedule.

Who can watch it? Over a 115-minute timespan, learners of all levels will add new vocabulary related to the hotel and hospitality industry to their lexicon.

Today’s clips are also featured in the “dessert” section of our Saga Baldoria online Italian lesson. Each lesson contains an authentic sample of Italian culture to finish off your daily exercises in style. These include excerpts from cinema, series, songs, and more.

Think you can handle more Italiano? Look no further. Try our online Italian course Saga Baldoria for free for 7 days!

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