Sicily, with its traditions, its multi-millennial history and its landscapes is a land of contradictions, even in its geographical aspect, able to alternate sometimes radically different landscapes.

The cinema throughout the years has provided a quite interesting and equally varied picture of the Island and its people. Sicily has been an endless source for settings and stories that so often have drawn on its richest literary heritage. Indeed, still maintaining their own identities, these two expressive forms have been increasingly related in depicting this beautiful Island.

Cinema in Sicily has produced unforgettable works of art starring the most celebrated International and Italian actors dealing with a range of themes and genres: from love to mafia and comedy.

The best Italian and International filmmakers here found the perfect setting for their stories. Distinguished names like Visconti, Germi, Rosi, Taviani and recent oscar winners Tornatore, Benigni and Amelio, through their works remarkably contributed to promoting the culture of this country across the world.

Sicily has provided insipiration for praised movies such as:

La terra trema (The earth trembles) by Luchino Visconti, filmed in Acitrezza, Catania, in 1948.

Salvatore Giuliano, 1962, by Francesco Rosi, about the famous bandit life, starring Salvo Randone, Frank Wolff and Pietro Cammarata. The movie was entirely set in Sicily, mainly in Montelepre, Palermo, the bandit’s hometown. The Madonie mountains form a major backdrop to the movie, notably, the Montedoro, where the bandit had his safe shelter. Some scenes were filmed in Castelvetrano, Trapani, where Giuliano spent his last years and was found dead. Places were carefully chosen, as the director himself admitted, in order to gain an emotional involvement in the events narrated.

Il Siciliano (The Sicilian), by Michael Cimino, 1987, was to be a later, more fictitious adaptation of the story. The movie, featuring Christopher Lambert as Giuliano, was filmed in Sutera, Caltanissetta, this city being much alike Montelepre and the author wishing to maintain confidentiality about the production. 

Genoa’s director Pietro Germi (1914-1974) set some of his movies in Sciacca, Agrigento, specifically 1949’s In nome della legge (In the name of the law) and 1964’s Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and abandoned). Several locations appear on both the movies resulting in an interesting intrigue of scenes and stories.    

Oscar Prize Nuovo Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore was shot in 1988. The film showed Tornatore’s affection for cinema, it emphasizing the power and the magic of this form of art while cross-refererring to such celebrated works as La terra trema and Catene (Chains). A number of shots, especially those referring to the protagonist’s childhood, were filmed in the lovely Cefalù, Palermo. 

L’avventura (The Adventure), 1960, by Michelangelo Antonioni, was filmed in the Aeolian Islands, at Lisca Bianca. The island, first the meeting place of the two protagonists, soon becomes a place of loss. A wealthy woman (actress Lea Massari) disappears while on a yachting trip there; her lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and her best friend (Monica Vitti) begin an affair in the resulting vacuum.

The Ragusa area has also been a favorite setting for filmmakers. Roberto Faenza’s Marianna Ucria, in 1996, an adaptation of the omonymous novel by Dacia Maraini, was mostly filmed at the Villa Fagotto, near Chiaramonte Gulfi, a scenery that would reappear in Nicola Simone’s Colpo di Luna starring Nino Manfredi.

In 1993, director Gianni Amelio made Il ladro di bambini (Stolen Children) featuring Enrico Lo Verso, Valentina Scalisi and Giuseppe Ieracitano. The amazing beach and sea shots were filmed in the Ragusa shore.

Other worth-seeing works include:

Maurizio Sciarra’s La stanza dello scirocco (Sirocco) from a novel by Domenico Campana, starring the famed Giancarlo Giannini and Catania’s actress Tiziana Lodato, with scenes filmed in the Castello of Donnafugata (interior), and Monterosso Almo; L’onorata Società by Riccardo Pazzaglia, 1962, featuring a well-known cast of actors such as Vittorio De Sica, Domenico Modugno and Rosanna Schiaffino.

Mention must be given to the many Sicilian actors that through the big screen have contributed to make their Island famous across the world.

The earliest of them is undoubtely Catania’s comic actor Angelo Musco (1872-1937). He scored popular successes playing as a fool in commedia and operetta and acted in several Nobel Pirandello’s plays or dramas: Liolà (Liola), La giara (The oil jar) and Il berretto a sonagli (Cap and bells). Among his movies are: L’eredità dello zio buonanima, 1934, by Amleto Palermi and produced by Capitani Film; L’aria del continente, 1935, by Gennaro Righelli, inspired by Nino Martoglio’s works; Fiat Volutas Dei, 1935, by Amleto Palermi; Pensaci Giacomino, in 1936, by Gennaro Righelli, drawn from Pirandello’s masterpiece.

Giovanni Grasso was another leading Sicilian actor (1873-1930). He grew up in a family of  puppeteers. Especially remembered is his acting in Sperduti nel buio, a silent movie by Nino Martoglio in 1914. The movie is about two vagabonds, the blind Nunzio (Grasso) and Paolina (Virginia Balistrieri), a girl disinherited by her father, the Duke of Venice, and exploited by gangsters. Nunzio eventually manages to save the girl. 

Turi Ferro (1921-2001) is one of our much praised actors. Mainly known as theatre actor he was also committed to cinema, playing in Un uomo da bruciare by the Taviani brothers and Valentino Orsini in 1965; Malizia (Malicious) by Salvatore Samperi in 1973; Il lumacone, 1975, by Paolo Cavara also starring Agostina Belli and Ninetto Davoli; Il Turno, 1981, by Tonino Cervi also starring Laura Antonelli, Vittorio Gassman and Paolo Villaggio; in Novella Siciliana, 1988, by Wolf Gaudlitz also starring Hilmar Thate and Massimo Bonetti.

Unforgettable is Palermo’s comedy team of actors composed of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia, giving life to over one hundred movies. 

The cinema owes much to Sicilian literary tradition, that to some extent has influenced all the film makers here mentioned.

Giovanni Verga, an outstanding Sicilian novelist and playwright, and primary exponent of Verismo literary movement, have inspired many films. His Storia di una Capinera was made into a movie by Giuseppe Sterni in 1917, by Gennaro Righelli in 1945 – starring Marina Berti, Claudio Gora and Tina Lattanzi – and, more recently, by Zeffirelli. Most famous is the cinematographic adaptations of La Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry). The action passes in a tiny village near Catania in Sicily. Turiddu, conscripted, having served in the army for two years, returns to find that his promised wife, Lola, has forgotten him and has married the carter, Alfio. Out of spite, he woos an orphan girl in the village, Santuzza, and betrays her. Lola, jealous, receives him again as her lover and he deserts Santuzza. She, about to give birth to a child, begs him to marry her, for she still adores her betrayer, when he scorns her and goes off again with Lola. The girl, mad with jealousy, hastens to tell the carter of the relation his wife has with Turiddu; a barbarous duel with knives follows, and Turiddu is killed. The work was made into a movie twice in 1916, by Ubaldo Maria del Colle and by Ugo Falena. Two more adaptations followed in 1924 by Mario Gargiuolo and in 1939 by Amleto Palermi starring Isa Pola, Carlo Ninchi, Doris Duranti and Leonardo Cortese.

In 1948, Luchino Visconti adapted Verga’s well-known novel I Malavoglia (The Malavoglia Family) into his La terra trema (The earth trembles), telling the story of ‘Ntoni Valastro and his family of fishermen.

The nobel prize Luigi Pirandello became increasingly interested in cinema. He wrote articles and held numerous conferences on the subject. Director Walter Ruttmann based his Steel on a subject by the writer. Liolà was made into a movie in 1964 by Alessandro Blasetti and starred Ugo Tognazzi,  Pierre Brasseur and Giovanna Ralli; Kaos was adapted in 1984 by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani who casted Margarita Lozano, Massimo Bonetti, Franchi and Ingrassia. Steno filmed L’uomo, la bestia e la virtù casting famed actors like Totò, Orson Welles and Viviane Romance. Il fu Mattia Pascal (The late Mattia Pascal) was adapted by Marcel L’Herbier in 1925 and by Mario Monicelli, more recently in Le due vite di Mattia Pascal.

Other interesting cinematographic adaptations were made of Leonardo Sciascia’s A ciascuno il suo, in 1967 by Elio Petri, starring Gian Maria Volontè, Irene Papas and Gabriele Ferzetti; Il giorno della civetta, in 1968, by Damiano Damiani starring Franco Nero, Claudia Cardinale and Lee J. Cobb; Porte aperte by Gianni Amelio in 1990 featuring Gian Maria Volontè, Ennio Fantastichini and Vitalba Andrea; Una storia semplice by Emilio Greco, 1991, a BBE International-Bonivento Production, starring Gian Maria Volontè, Ennio Fantastichini, Ricky Tognazzi and Massimo Ghini. Sciascia himself recognized his debt to cinema which in turn thanks him for having provided amazing mafia, political and social intrigues.

Vitaliano Brancati, a well-known writer, critic, playwright and screen writer, is another important son of Sicily. Born at Pachino, Siracusa, he published  the tale Il vecchio con gli stivali, later adapted into the well known Anni difficili by director Luigi Zampa, shot in Modica and Ragusa, starring Ave Ninchi, Umberto Spadaro and Massimo Girotti. Zampa also adapted Brancati’s Anni Facili in 1953 and L’arte di arrangiarsi in 1955, showing one of the earliest examples of political and social satyre. Noteworthy is Paolo il caldo from a novel by Brancati, directed by Marco Vicario and starring Giancarlo Giannini, Rossana Podestà, Gastone Moschin, Marianne Comtell, Ornella Muti, Fermi Benussi, Neda Arneric, Riccardo Cucciolla, Adriana Asti, Vittorio Caprioli and Lionel Stander. Finally, there is the celebrated Il bell’Antonio, starring the unforgettable Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale and Pierre Brasseur, directed by Mauro Bolognini, 1960. This is a darkly ironic portrait of Sicilian machismo. A Sicilian playboy becomes temporarily impotent on the night of his wedding, and has to suffer the scorn and ridicule of his neighbors.

Gelosia directed by Fernando Poggioli in 1943 is an adaptation of Luigi Capuana novel Il marchese di Roccaverdina. It starred Luisa ferida, Ronaldo Lupi and Elena Zareschi.

The famed Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Luchino Visconti ( 1906-1976) was drawn from Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel and starred such actors as Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale. The movie is a portray of the Sicilian society at the time of the Italian Unification in 1961. It tells of the social and political changes of the time through a wedding proposal involving a poor aristocratic, Tancredi (Alain Delon) and a well-off and gorgeous girl of the rising middle-class, Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). A picture of the Sicilian society of the day.

Diceria dell’Untore was adapted from a Gesualdo Bufalino’s novel by Beppe Cino in 1990, and starred Franco Nero, Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere, Fernando Rey, Remo Girone, Salvatore Cascio, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Gianluca Favilla, Nando Murolo, Egidio Termine and Vanessa Redgrave. The book text was quite faithfully reproduced. 

Director Pietro Germi is remembered for his Divorzio all’Italiana (Divorce, Italian style) and Il cammino della speranza (The Path of Hope). The former was shot in 1962 and starred Marcello Mastroianni, Daniela Rocca and Stefania Sandrelli. At Agramante, a small Sicilian town, a bored upper-class Sicilian (Mastroianni) has grown tired of his wife and would rather marry his attractive cousin (Sandrelli). Unfortunately divorce is illegal in Italy. Therefore, he decides to find a lover for his wife and murder her out of jealousy. An hilarious farce about love and marriage. Il cammino della speranza (The path of hope) was filmed in 1950 and starred Raf Vallone, Elena Varzi, Saro Urzì and Franco Navarra. It is adapted from a novel based on an actual postwar event and follows sulphur-mine workers on their superhuman journey from Sicily to a new life in France.

Director Francesco Rosi has chosen Sicily for many of his films. He was first an assistant director of Luchino Visconti in La terra trema. His earliest works deal with social issues and show a style that has its roots in neo-realism. Besides the already mentioned Salvatore Giuliano, are other important works: 1972’s Il caso Mattei (The Mattei affair), starring Gian Maria Volontè, Franco Graziosi and Luigi Squarzina, is about an inquiry into the life and mysterious death of socialist magnate Enrico Mattei, and the disappereance of journalist Mauro De Mauro, in a context of power games and corruption.  

The mafia movie Lucky Luciano was shot in 1973 and starred Gian Maria Volontè, Edmund O’Brien, Vincent Gardenia and Rod Steiger. The film examines the life of the infamous gangster Luciano after serving nine of his 50-years sentence in the 1930s and 1940s, after which he was pardoned and deported to Italy. Once back in Italy, Luciano travels to Naples, where he finds himself under a continuous ten-year investigation by narcotics investigator Charles Siracusa (who played himself).

1976’s Cadaveri Eccellenti (Illustrious Corpses) from Sciascia’s novel Il contesto, features Lino Ventura, Alain Cuny and Tino Carraro. The movie is set both in Sicily and Rome and tells of interesting social and political intrigues. The police inspector Rogas investigates suspicious murders of illustrious attorneys and magistrates. He himself is killed as he directs his investigations towards right-wing conspirators seeking to destabilize the government.

Benigni’s Johnny Stecchino (Johnny Toothpick) in 1991, starring the director himself, Nicoletta Braschi and Paolo Bonacelli, is a funniest and celebrated comedy that stars Benigni as Dante, a naive bus driver who is dead-ringer for Johnny Toothpick, a notorious mafioso on the lam and under the gun. When the beautiful Maria, Johnny’s drop-dead gorgeous wife accidentally discovers her husband’s twin, she schemes to switch the two men.

In 1972, director Lina Vertmuller filmed Mimì metallurgico ferito nell’onore (The seduction of Mimì), starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato and Agostina Belli. The film is a hilarious political and sexual farce. Carmelo Madocheo (Giannini), called Mimì, a Sicilian laborer, refuses to vote for the Mafia’s candidate; consequently he loses his job, his wife, and his home. His efforts to defend his honor produce complex comical results. Vertmuller was very fond of Sicilian subjects. Also worth noting is her 1978’s Fatti di sangue fra due uomini a causa di una vedova (Blood Feud) starring Sofia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni and Giancarlo Giannini.