Tuesday 22 August 1995
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War the movie- makers in the defeated Axis countries were not apportioning blame but they did make some powerful observations on the confusion and chaos in the wake of war's end. Japan's films, although made to the specifications of the American occupying forces, were not exported. Unsurprisingly, people in Britain were not interested in Germany's problems in rising - literally - from the rubble. Yet many were moved by such Italian contributions as Giuseppe De Santis's Caccia Tragica ("Tragic Hunt", 1948) and Vittorio De Sica's Sciusia ("Shoeshine", 1946) - statements on the havoc wrought on ordinary people by the conflict. The most famous of these was Rossellini's Roma, Citta Aperta ("Open City", 1945) and it was that which provided the pattern for Nanni Loy in 1962 when he made Il Quattro Giornate di Napoli ("The Four Days of Naples").
By this time movies were more dispassionate about those particular events and although this film celebrates the Neapolitan uprising against the Germans in the face of the Allied advance on the city, it is not blindly chauvinistic but, rather, a fresco of bravery, knavery, treachery and horror. Loy had cleverly dovetailed individual incidents, clearly based on fact, into a reconstruction of greater events.
It was Loy's fifth film and the first to bring him international attention. Only two others of the dozen he made - the last was in 1993 - have been shown in Britain, and Made in Italy (1965) was one of a plethora of sketch films designed to examine what it meant to be Italian, few of them astringent enough and most of them drowning in whimsy.
Loy was born in Cagliari, the Sardinian capital, in 1925, and graduated in law before studying documentary production at the Experimental Film Centre in Rome. Afterwards he worked as assistant to the directors Luigi Zampa, Augusto Genina, and Goffredo Alessandrini. He made several documentaries before directing his first feature, the detective film Parola di Ladro ("The Robber's Word", 1957).
Loy's best film is Detenuto in Attessa di Guidizio (1971), with Alberto Sordi (who won the Best Actor award at Berlin) as an Italian engineer who returns to his homeland with his Swedish wife for a vacation. At the customs post he is questioned - "Just a formality" - and then bundled into a series of prisons. Bewilderment follows paranoia, confidence becomes subservience, confusion gives way to hopelessness. All is humiliation: searched in the anus for drugs; unable to go to the lavatory without a guard; mocked for his thermal underwear. All he learns is that he has supposedly killed a German. He has hardly even met a German.
In Britain, the film was retitled Why?, which was belittling, and the film was dismissed as facile by the few critics who went to the Rex, in East Finchley, for the preview. It was unsubtle and straightforward. It had an axe to grind and it grinds it. It was less about prison than passing the buck. It was in the best native tradition of examining one of the "what-if" aspects of contemporary life. In that tradition Francesco Rosi was then making at least two masterpieces, I Caso Mattei and Cadaveri Eccelenti. It is a tradition so strong that it cannot be expunged, but few recent examples have had the rigour and anger of the form at its best.
Loy's more recent work includes Mi Manda Picone ("Picone Sent Me", 1983), the story of an unemployed Neapolitan who is mistaken for a member of the local Mafia and whose life is thus transformed, and Scugnizzi ("Urchins", 1989), about the street children of Naples.
At the end of his career, Loy concentrated on making films and programmes for television, and acquired a new celebrity as the producer of the Italian version of Candid Camera.
Nanni Loy, film-maker, screenwriter: born Cagliari, Sardinia 23 October 1925; died Fregene, Italy 21 August 1995.
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