Obituary: Franco Cristaldi

Franco Cristaldi, film producer, born Turin 3 October 1924, died Monte Carlo 1 July 1992.

FRANCO CRISTALDI produced some of the most memorable Italian movies of the last 40 years. When he arrived in the Italian film industry from documentaries, it was in its second flush of fame, moving from the art houses when Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice, 1948) found a wide audience because of its erotic content - but without betraying the so-called 'neo-realist' movement which had attracted attention to the Italian cinema in the first place.

Born in Turin and a lawyer by training, Cristaldi was admirably equipped to deal with lackadaisical or excitable Southern directors (and they were sometimes both), as well as the myriad screenwriters seemingly required for even the simplest project. His first international success was Visconti's stage-bound version of a Dostoesky story Le Notti Bianche (White Nights, 1957), with Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell, and he was teamed with this director again on Vaghe Stella dell'Orsa (Of a Thousand Delights), with Claudia Cardinale (whom Cristaldi married) and Michael Craig, which won the Grand Prix in Venice in 1965. Its operatic excesses however, brought it poor notices in other countries.

Cristaldi's strength lay not in making movies with important and often gifted directors such as Visconti - as he proved again with Fellini, whose autobiographical Amarcord (1973) is one of the most self-indulgent entertainments ever offered. Cristaldi's genius was in encouraging promising new talents and controlling them (together with their scores of scriptwriters). Thus he produced two of the most enduring movie comedies outside Billy Wilder - and by saying that I mean that they are of 'world' cinema quality and that they have Wilder's sense of acrid satire: Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti (Persons Unknown, 1958; in the US, Big Deal on Madonna Street) and Pietro Germi's Divorzio All'Italiana (Divorce Italian-Style, 1961). The first is about a gang of assorted bunglers who attempt a heist; the second concerns an impoverished Sicilian count (Mastroianni) scheming to push his wife into infidelity so that he can wed his younger and prettier cousin. Both are inventive; both reflect the attitudes of Italy, where competence often comes a poor second to charm. Hence, like all the best comedies (Wilder, Preston Sturges, Ealing, even Keaton) both are rooted in local colour, yet have a universal appeal.

Around the same time Cristaldi produced two excellent dramas, both with Mastroianni, Elio Petri's L'Assassino (1961), a tale of misplaced justice, and Monicelli's I Compagni (1963), which examines the formation of trade unions in Turin in the 1890s. Germi attempted a second comedy for Cristaldi satirising Sicilian mores, Sedotta e Abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned, 1964), but it flailed in all directions - and as much might be said of most of the later films of these three directors, denied Cristaldi's guiding hand. They had become too successful to need that. Instead, Cristaldi worked with other striking young directors - Gillo Pontecorvo, on Kapo (1960), and Marco Bellochio on La Cina e Vicina (China is Near, 1967) and Nel Nome del Padre (In the Name of the Father, 1973). Pontecorvo, alas, chose to direct only intermittently thereafter, while - following precedent - Bellochio's films deteriorated badly away from Cristaldi's influence.

Perhaps Cristaldi's most rewarding partnership was with Francesco Rosi. Cristaldi produced his first film, La Sfida (The Challenge, 1958), a middling drama of corruption in Naples, but he was also responsible for three of Rosi's best films: Salvatore Giuliano (1962); Il Caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair, 1972), his powerful attack on the international oil companies; and Cristo si e Fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979), based on Carlo Levi's autobiographical account of his 'exile' under the Fascists in the 1930s.

Overall, Cristaldi's credits are as impressive as any European producer of his period. He was much less interested in international co-productions than such contemporaries as Carlo Ponti and Dino de Laurentiis - and no more successful than they on the few occasions that he tried. Gli Indifferenti (Time of Indifference, 1964), a version of Moravia with Rod Steiger and Paulette Goddard, was hardly seen abroad, while the Anglo-Italian Lady Caroline Lamb (1972) had few virtues (one was Laurence Olivier's portrait of the Duke of Wellington). The Italo-Russian The Red Tent (1971) made little impact, despite the presence of Sean Connery and Peter Finch, but The Name of the Rose (1986), also with Connery, was a success in Europe - if not in the US, where Cristaldi and his co-producers hoped to recoup its huge cost.

However, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso, 1988) became one of the most successful Italian films ever in the world market. This again was an example of Cristaldi putting his faith in a new talent - Giuseppe Tornatore. After an indifferent initial release in Italy, Cristaldi persuaded Tornatore to cut it by 40 minutes. There remained wit and sentiment in this tale of a grizzled cinema projectionist (Philippe Noiret) and the little boy (Salvatore Cascio) who helps him - against a changing Sicily. Indeed, the cinema of the title did much to facilitate those changes, as audiences increasingly ignored the Church's pronouncements on what they might or might not see. By winning an Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film and enjoying a wide popularity, it did remind many how much Italy has contributed to our cinema-going through the years.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
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