Tonino Guerra: Screenwriter who worked with Fellini, Rosi, Antonioni and Tarkovsky

 

Tonino Guerra worked with many of the major Italian directors, helping the industry move from neo-realism to embrace figures as different as the coolly modernist Antonioni and the extravagantly baroque Fellini. Outside Italy he was a close associate of Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos, and was nominated for an Oscar three times.

Antonio Guerra was born near Rimini to a fisherman and his illiterate wife – the young Tonino taught her to read and write. He became a teacher but in 1943 was taken to Troisdorf concentration camp, where he wrote poetry in his native Romagnole dialect. In 1946 he published his first collection, I Scarabocc ["Scribblings"]. Of his move into cinema he said: "my poems were an essence of images; they had the cinema inside them before I started working for it."

After studying dialect poetry at the University of Urbino, he returned to teaching, moved to Rome and, through the screenwriter Elio Petri, began to mix in film circles. His first credit was with Petri in the team that wrote De Santis' Men and Wolves (1956) though their mountain research trip had only managed to confirm that wolf-hunters no longer existed. Guerra later scripted four of Petri's films including the fantasy-horror A Quiet Place in the Country (1968).

In 1960 L'Avventura, written with Elio Bartolini, the first in a series of mournful modernist disquisitions on alienation, began a 10-film collaboration with Antonioni, which the director described as filled with "long and violent arguments" interspersed with periods of reflection. The next two years brought La Notte and L'Elisse, with Red Desert appearing in 1964.

The same year Vittorio De Sica's phenomenally popular comedy Marriage – Italian Style was released, and several distributors hopped on the bandwagon. The 1965 comedy-horror Questi Fantasmi ["These Ghosts"] was released in the US as Ghosts – Italian Style. In 1967 Guerra's first film for Francesco Rosi, C'era una volta... ["Once Upon a Time"], a romantic comedy about a fiery Neapolitan peasant (Sophia Loren) and a boorish Spanish prince (Omar Sharif), appeared as Cinderella – Italian Style. Altogether he scripted 10 Rosi films, including some of his best-known: Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979), Carmen (1984) and Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1987). He also wrote four for the Taviani Brothers, including the wartime fantasy The Night of St Lorenzo (1982) and the Pirandello adaptation Kaos (1984).

In 1965 Guerra received his first Oscar nomination but Casanova 70, a team-written effort, lost to another story of modern sex, Darling, scripted by Frederic Raphael. His second nomination was for Antonioni's first English-language film, Blow Up (1966), in which a trendy fashion photographer is caught up in a murder mystery, allowing an enquiry into the nature of reality and perception. The hallucinogenic follow-up Zabriskie Point (1970) is a hollowed-out and disillusioned review of 1960s radicalism.

In 1973 Amarcord (in dialect, "I Remember") was the first of three films with Fellini and one of his most personal, drawing on the two men's memories of their Rimini youths. It brought a third Oscar nomination, though he lost to Dog Day Afternoon. The novelisation appeared under both their names but seems mostly to have been Guerra's work. After Casanova in 1976 Fellini wanted Guerra to write City of Woman but he was wooing a Russian woman at the time and felt it would be impossible as he commuted between Rome and Moscow. But he later returned to work with Fellini on the parable And the Ship Sails On (1983) and the amusing if lightweight Ginger and Fred (1986).

Guerra met Andrei Tarkovsky at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, and his invitation allowed the director to return to make a the mournful Nostalgia (1983), about a Russian academic alone in Italy. Guerra made the accompanying TV documentary Voyage in Time and wrote another one, Andrei Tarkovsky.

Guerra wrote all Theo Angelopoulos's contemplations of exile, loss and alienation after 1984 and the director described him as his psychoanalyst. Voyage to Cythera, about a Communist's disillusioning return home,won the screenplay award at Cannes; The Beekeeper (1986) followed thehero's pursuit of his migrating charges, while Landscape in the Mist (1988) sees two children travel to Germany to find their father.

After this "Trilogy of Silence" came the Balkan-set "Trilogy of Borders":The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) about a TV reporter, Ulysses' Gaze (1995) about a film archivist, and Eternity and a Day (1998) about a dying writer. A modern Greek history trilogy was uncompleted, though Guerra did write The Weeping Meadow (2004) and The Dust of Time (2008), Angelopoulos's last completed work, about a Greek-American film-maker.

Guerra also returned to Antonioni's obsessive investigations into the nature of femininity. After adapting Cocteau's The Eagle with Two Heads as The Mystery of Oberwald (1981), he wrote The Identification of a Woman (1982) and Beyond the Clouds (1995), co-directed with Wim Wenders. The Dangerous Thread of Things (2004), one third of an erotic portmanteau, coupled to films by Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-wai, was a disappointing end to Antonioni's career.

Guerra had written always fiction but in later life he returned to dialect poetry as well as taking up painting, sculpture and ceramics. A forthcoming documentary, 3XTonino, includes his observation that "Death isn't that awful. After all, it comes only once."

Antonio Guerra, screenwriter, novelist and poet: born Santarcangelo di Roma 16 March 1920; married twice (one son); died Santarcangelo di Roma 21 March 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?