Rome on the Big Screen

Rome has been the backdrop for many movies over the years and is often used (and sometimes exploited) by some directors for their films. Regardless of how the city is used, these films can provide a wonderful glimpse of Rome, especially the older films. Take the film, Roman Holiday, with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn — this movie uses the locales of Rome to such a large extent. While the actual city itself is probably not hugely vital to the plot that plays out between the major characters, the city certainly does provide a special ambiance.

The Mouth of Truth (La bocca della verità) scene, arguably one of the most important scenes in the movie, probably would not have made sense other than in Rome. The use of ancient sculpture and locale certainly contributed to the plot of the movie, in which the main characters create different personas in order to hide the truth of who they really are. What I enjoy most about this film is being able to see Rome as it was over 50 years ago as the Princess meanders around Rome and see the various piazzas, Spanish Steps, banks of the Tiber, and the Trevi Fountain. It looks so quiet compared to the Rome of today with definitely much less traffic.

However, not all films paint Rome to be this wonderful, rosy place. While Roman Holiday is a romantic comedy which uses Rome to its full advantages, other films, such as those of Pier Paolo Pasolini, use Rome’s seedier and darker side for cinematic purposes (such as Mamma Roma and Accatone). I find that it is important to see all aspects of the city because in the end, it leads to a greater appreciation. There are dozens and dozens of movies (and television shows) that take place in Rome. Many of the scenes in Roman Holiday were filled on location – not just in a recreated set (although if the scenes aren’t on location, then they were shot close by in the Cinecittà studios). Seeing the movie and then experiencing the city yourself as it is now will give you an appreciation of how the city has changed (and not changed) as well as provide a greater understanding of just how beautiful, enchanting and captivating this city really is.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Rome has been used in film, I would suggest these two books:

  • Rhodes, John David. Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. (Rhodes discusses Rome’s urbanism, providing a historical context to Pasolini’s use of Rome in his works, and he discusses Rome and how Pasolini applies it in his films. Quite an enjoyable book – be sure not to skip the introduction)

  • Di Biagi, Flaminio. Il cinema a Roma: guida alla storia e ai luoghi del cinema nella capitale. Roma: Palombe editori, 2003. (This book is out of print but available at many libraries across the US – probably find a used copy on the out of print book market; This is an excellent source which discusses the various movies which use Rome and areas of Rome in its films)