Glories of Rome: nine of the Eternal City’s most timeless films

This article is part of a Rome guide by FT Globetrotter

Beauty always has a secret; another story to tell. This has been the case for generations with Rome and the cinema. On cinema screens several feet high, no city has ever looked so splendid – or has become synonymous with gritty neorealism. A filmed Rome was a sumptuous playground; another, all hard edges. (And the overlap between them was almost tiny.) Meanwhile, a third Rome appeared on screen in disguise: the soundstages of the legendary Cinecittà studios in the south of the city – host to countless films, including 51 award winners. ‘an Oscar.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Where to watch: available to stream on Amazon prime

Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain in Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ © Album / Alamy

A helicopter carries a plaster figure of Christ as a mad blessing on bathers and skyscrapers. Thus begins Federico Fellini’s hymn to his muse. We could fill this whole list with Fellini: the panoramic Rome, the soul Nights of Cabiria. But more than these movies, something that tells The good life lies in its reception in the city itself, stunned by the mirror presented to it in this infinitely sly portrayal of glamor and decadence. The Roman premiere saw Fellini spit on it – before the film made a splash at the city’s box office. This made Rome the ultimate cinematic city, real monuments recreated as sets in Cinecittà. (Although in Anita Ekberg’s famous frolicking scene in the Trevi Fountain, both were entirely real.)

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Where to watch: Amazon prime, itunes and (in the United States) The criterion string

Hollywood cameo: Rita Hayworth poster hangs on wall in Rome in 'Bicycle Thieves'

Hollywood cameo: A poster of Rita Hayworth hangs on a wall in Rome in ‘Bicycle Thieves’ © Everett Collection / Alamy

If most The good life was concocted on the sound stages, the essence of Vittorio De Sica Bicycle thieves were the streets in which it took place. Some were far from familiar sites – the film begins in the scaly suburb of Val Melaina. But war-torn central Rome is also a place of betrayal and danger, with the hapless hero Antonio riding a bicycle to travel the Via del Corso towards the robbery that gives the film its title. (Hollywood also has an ironic cameo – a poster of Rita Hayworth on display when the thief struck.)

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon prime and itunes

Catch Me If You Can: Matt Damon in 'The Talented Mr Ripley'

Catch Me If You Can: Matt Damon in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ © Everett Collection / Alamy

Rome through the eyes of others – first novelist Patricia Highsmith then director Anthony Minghella – provides the perfect scene for a definitive tale of a stranger. The town is just one stop on history’s Italian tour, but the Roman backdrop looks grim at a pivotal moment: Matt Damon’s Ripley posing as the man he killed, living an golden life that just happens to be someone else’s.

Rome, open city (1945)

Where to watch: Amazon prime, itunes and U.S) The criterion string

The neorealist drama

The neorealist drama “Rome, Open City” depicts life in the Italian capital under the Nazi occupation © Ronald Grant Archive

Filmed in January 1945, the neorealist classic Rome, open city looked back to the occupation – but hardly back at all. Only six months had passed since the Nazis fled the capital; the war in Europe was on. The shock of truth in every scene and city plan was only enhanced by the ordinary Romans reunited by director Roberto Rossellini as his cast. They did not act on any sound stage: Cinecittà served as a refugee camp. If the young screenwriter Federico Fellini gave the film a touch of melodrama, he also forever changed the role of truth in cinema.

L’Éclisse (1962)

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes and (US) The Criterion Channel

Alain Delon and Monica Vitti in

Alain Delon and Monica Vitti in ‘L’Eclisse’ by Antonioni © Collection Christophel / Alamy

Michelangelo Antonioni made the city’s financial hub a star in the elegantly cynical love story Éclisse, set in the midst of the post-war economic miracle Il Boom. If every city privately aspired to be Rome, how many stockbrokers aspired to be Alain Delon’s empty charismatic Piero? Except, of course, that money never makes him happy, consumed with boredom and disconnection. More than any other film here, Antonioni placed emphasis on the architecture of modern Rome, highlighting the eerie, clean lines of the EUR district.

The Great Beauty (2013)

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon prime, itunes and Youtube

MC Hammock: Toni Servillo as the socialite Jep in 'La Grande Beauté'

MC Hammock: Toni Servillo in a socialite Jep in ‘La Grande Beauté’ © Photo 12 / Pathé Films / Alamy

Tourist, beware. In the first moments of satire and celebration by Paolo Sorrentino The great beauty, a tourist photographs Rome from the Gianicolo hill. Then he collapses and dies, overwhelmed by the wonder that awaits him. But too much magnificence isn’t a problem for Jep, the elegant socialite at the center of the story. As one side of the city becomes flesh, there is only to tour the nightlife and the high life, luxury and sensuality, Rome a non-stop opulent pleasure spree. (With anything less attractive, visible for its absence.)

Roman Holidays (1953)

Where to watch: Amazon prime, itunes and Youtube

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in ‘Roman Holiday’ © Paramount Pictures / Getty Images

The sometimes aliases of Cinecittà and 1950s Rome in general – Hollywood on the Tiber – has never been more apt than when applied to roman holidays. With an Italian crew at hand, the power of American stars descended in the form of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, a new face on screen, skipping traffic on a Vespa before visiting the Mouth of Truth. and the Colosseum. But in the midst of the glorious escape, Rome’s eternal bilaterality endured. While Hepburn played a princess, the script was written under an assumed name by Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted as Communists in the United States.

Dear Diary (1993)

Where to watch: Blu ray/DVD and U.S) Amazon prime

Nanni Moretti explores Rome by Vespa in

Nanni Moretti explores Rome on a Vespa in ‘Dear Diary’ © TCD / Prod.DB / Alamy

Another adventure on a Vespa, the groundbreaking film from director Nanni Moretti is steeped in Rome and films. He finds him roaming the deserted city lanes in August, giving a personal guide to the city while reflecting on cinematic issues, including, but not limited to, the influence of Flash dance. There is also a pilgrimage to Ostia by the sea on the outskirts of the city to honor a giant of Roman cinema, Pier Paolo Pasolini. For visitors wishing to meet Moretti, it has the Nuovo Sacher Cinema near Porta Portese, with outdoor screenings held in summer.

New York Gangs (2002)

Where to watch: Amazon prime, itunes and Youtube

When in Rome.  .  .  pretend to be in 19th century Manhattan:

When in Rome. . . pretending to be in 19th century Manhattan: ‘Gangs of New York’ © TCD / Prod.DB / Alamy

Not a trick or a typo, but a tribute to how a city as unique as Rome can become any other it wants. Martin Scorsese has spent his life idolizing Rossellini and Fellini – and when he came to do his epic of a missing Manhattan, he crossed the Atlantic to do so. The Five Points slum and Paradise Square are reborn on giant sets at Cinecittà studios.

Which films take you to Rome? Tell us in the comments

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