top of page


G. Gagliardo (1).jpg

Twentieth-century Italian history through Giovanna Gagliardo’s cinema

Flavia Laviosa, Wellesley College

Giovanna Gagliardo (Monticello d’Alba, Piedmont, 1943) started her career as a journalist and specifically as an editor with the Roman branch of the newspaper Il Giorno. Later, she contributed for many years to the culture page of Il Messaggero, and, starting in the 1980s, she contributed to the cultural pages of Repubblica and Espresso. At the same time, she began to work as a screenplay writer for the RAI television series La vita è un romanzo (Life is a Novel) based on news items. In cinema, she started as actress in the film L'assassino (The Assassin), the 1961 Italian crime feature film debut directed by Elio Petri which was entered into the 11th Berlin International Film Festival. Later she started as a scriptwriter and screenwriter of L’amica (The Friend) (1969) by Alberto Lattuada. In the 1970s, she worked as a collaborator and assistant to the director Miklós Jancsó and authored the screenplays of all the Hungarian director’s Italian films including Vizi privati, pubbliche virtù (Private Vices, Public Pleasures) (1976), an Italian-Yugoslavian drama which was entered into the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Her debut film was Maternale (Mother and Daughter) (1978), a psychological and symbolic representation of the relationship between mother and daughter based on the psychological studies of Luce Irigaray, followed by: the RAI film Il sogno dell’altro (The Other’s Dream) (1980); the film Via degli specchi (Mirrors Street) (1982), screened at the 33rd Berlin International Film Festival;  the documentary Passi della memoria (Memory’s Steps) (1985); the film Caldo soffocante (Stiflying Heat) (1990) a thriller set in the hot summer of the soccer world cup in Rome in 1990 which opened the Quinzaine des Realisateurs of the Cannes film festival in 1991; the documentaries Il mito di Cinecittà (The Myth of Cinecittà) (1991); Viva l’Italia (Long Life Italy) (1994);  Che colpa abbiamo noi (It’s no Fault of Ours) (1997); and the radio program Divi e film (Stars and Film) (2000).

At the 61st   edition of the Venice film festival in 2004, Gagliardo presented Bellissime Parte prima. Il Novecento dalla parte di ‘Lei’ (Beautiful-Part One. The Twentieth Century on her Side) (2004). Later she also produced Bellissime Parte seconda. Dal 1960 ad oggi dalla parte di ‘Lei’ (Simply Beautiful-Part Two Since 1960 till Today on her Side) (2006). Both documentaries trace the history of Italian women in the twentieth century. Bellissime’s strength lies in its value as an audiovisual and interdisciplinary anthology. Using archival materials, Gagliardo re-composes historical periods in their many cultural aspects. This is a journey across history with a multifaceted filmic text. The director employs visual sources, and weaves into the fabric of historical transformations the many voices that contributed to the twentieth century (Laviosa 2012:332).

Following Bellissime, Gagliardo produced L’abito di domani. Storia della moda nel tempo (The Dress for the Future) (2008), a documentary about the socio-cultural and economic history of Italy through fashion. L’abito di domani was difficult to realize because the French materials from the early 1900s were missing at the Archivio dell’Istituto Luce.[i] Thus, Gagliardo had to draw from the Gaumont-Pathé’s Archives in France.[ii] In this documentary, the director starts with the Paris Exposition Universelle, spanning from 14 April to 12 November, 1900. She also delves into the construction of the Grand Palais in 1897, the arrival of electricity in the streets of Paris, and the birth of the Parisian subway system. Finally, she introduces the first great tailors, such as Paul Poiret (1879-1944), who freed the female body, removing the corset and dressing women in tunics, and Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949), who reinvented the Greek tunic using pleats. These changes were extremely relevant in order to understand how women began to be free to roam the streets and hop on the tram (Laviosa 2012:332).

A particularly poignant documentary is Vittime – Gli anni di piombo (Victims – The Lead Years) (2009) which revisits the years of terrorism in Italy through the stories of the survivors and the victims’ families and, most importantly, including less-known victims such as Domenico Ricci, Aldo Moro’s driver who was killed with four security guards in the Via Mario Fani ambush, along with many police officers and prison guards. Gagliardo carefully interweaves private spheres and public tragedies, revisits political realities and re-examines intellectual figures, thus producing a montage of historical and human sources. Vittime can be considered a volume of testimonies which contributes to fill a historical and cinematographic void (Laviosa 2018).

In 2012 Gagliardo directed Venti anni (Twenty Years) (2012), a docu-fiction which starts on the night of 9 November 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and ends on 15 September 2008, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The film narrates the events which occurred over the span of 20 years through a couple, Martha, a former dissident from East Berlin, and Giulio, an ambitious financial broker who works for Lehman Brothers, who meet in Berlin precisely on 9 November 1989. The film also features interviews with experts expressing views on the financial crisis and the collapse of communism.[iii] Venti anni includes photos and footage from East Berlin released by the German Spiegel TV, very different from the images broadcast from West Berlin.

Gagliardo’s documentary, Le Romane. Storie di donne e di quartieri (The Roman Women. Stories of Women and Neighborhoods) (2016), pairs four female characters with four neighborhoods in Rome: the actress Anna Magnani (1908-1973) with Cinecittà; the singer Gabriella Ferri (1994-2004) with Testaccio; the soprano and actress Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944) with Trastevere; the ballerina and choreographer Jia Ruskaja (1902-1920) with the Aventino. Each woman’s story is narrated by four women, all film professionals. Gagliardo adds a fifth neighborhood, the Ghetto, which calls to mind Tullia Zevi (1919-2011), a journalist who covered the Nuremberg trials and later was president of the Jewish community. Lastly, Gagliardo introduces Ruth Dureghello, the first woman president of the Jewish community in Rome. Caterina d’Amico, former President of the Scuola Nazionale di Cinema, talks about Anna Magnani, while Gagliardo finds in the RAI archives an interview in which Magnani talks about herself in a spontaneous and personal way. The neighborhood she is linked with is Cinecittà, even though her chapter in the documentary ends with images of her funeral in Piazza della Minerva, only a short walk from her home in Via degli Astalli. Gabriella Ferri, linked with Testaccio, is remembered by the actress Luisa De Santis. Lina Cavalieri’s story is narrated by actress Lina Sastri to the notes of the aria Vissi d'arte[iv] taking the viewer through the narrow streets of Trastevere, remembering the beautiful soprano who was born very poor, was gifted with an amazing voice, and became a diva, sought out by the most famous opera houses in the world, such as Paris and New York. Her death in Florence in 1944 was tragically caused by a whim, when she left a shelter to get her jewelry during the bombings. Jia Ruskaja, whose story is told by the ballerina Lia Calizza, was famous for her dancing talent and for the dance school she founded in the Aventino. Ruskaja wished to be buried in the Rome’s Protestant cemetery, in the Testaccio area, where the documentary lingers with a tribute to women like the journalist Miriam Mafai (1926-2012), the fashion designer Irene Galitzine (1916-2006) and the writer Light Davis (1925-2001), also buried there. In this interview, Giovanna Gagliardo discusses her documentary Le Romane, pointing out how women govern the life of their neighborhoods. She also elaborates on her film L’abito di domani, explaining how fashion has contributed to Italian history in the twentieth century. [v]

Gagliardo’s most recent documentary,  Il mare della nostra storia (The Sea of Our History) (2018), produced and distributed by Istituto Luce Cinecittà, received the Silver Ribbon Documentary award. The film uses both archival material and contemporary interviews, covers 100 years of history of the relationship between Italy and Libya. The film starts on 5 October 1911, when the Italian Royal Navy defeats the Turkish garrison and occupies Tripoli, thus marking the beginning of Italian colonial history, and ends on 20 October 2011 in Sirte, where Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed.[vi]


[i] The cinematographic archives of the Instituto Luce hold almost a century’s worth of national history in moving images and millions of meters of film. It consists of a precious and vast filmic patrimony, composed not only of cinema journals and documentaries of their own making, beginning in 1924 with the inauguration of the L.U.C.E. (L'Unione Cinematografica Educativa).

[ii] Gaumont Pathé Archives was set up after the catalogues of Cinémathèque Gaumont and Pathé Archives were combined in 2004. This venture is now the leading French image bank for black and white and color images illustrating the history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

[iii] Painter and art theorist Michelangelo Pistoletto (1933-), jurist and lawyer Guido Rossi (1932-2017), the German human rights advocate and politician Marianne Birthler (1948-), the economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi (1942-), the Spanish journalist Navarro Valls (1936-2017), and historian and journalist Ernesto Galli Della Loggia (1947-).

[iv] Vissi d'arte is a soprano aria from Act II of the opera Tosca (1900) by  Giacomo Puccini.

[v] Interview conducted on 5 August 2016 in Rome.

[vi] This is an abridged version of the interview published in Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies 7:1, 2019, Pp. 117-123.



Laviosa, F. (2012), ‘Il cinema-documento di Giovanna Gagliardo. Intervista.’ Rivista di Studi Italiani, XXX, 1. Pp. 327-337.

--- (2018) ‘Vittime. Giovanna Gagliardo’s cine-history of the victims of terrorism’, in He Was my Father. The Years of Lead in the Writings of the Victims’ Relatives, S. Gastaldi and D. Ward (Eds.), Peter Lang Series Italian Modernities. Pp. 231-247.

--- (2019), ‘The use of archival footage: ‘Retelling’ twentieth-century Italian history: An interview with Giovanna Gagliardo’, Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies 7:1, 2019. Pp. 117-123.


As Filmmaker and Screenwriter

1978 Maternale- film TV

1981 Il sogno dell'altro, episode of the film I giochi del diavolo - film TV

1983 Via degli specchi

1991 Caldo soffocante

1992 Il riso e il pianto 

2004 Bellissime 1 

2006 Bellissime 2 

2008 L’abito di domani, Storia della moda nel tempo

2009 Vittime - Gli anni di piombo

2012 Venti anni

2016 Le Romane

2018 Il mare della nostra storia

As Filmmaker

1991 Il mito di Cinecittà 

As Screenwriter

1970 Una stagione all'inferno (Dir. Nelo Risi) 

1970 La pacifista (Dir. Miklós Jancsó) 

1972 La tecnica e il rito (Dir.  Miklós Jancsó) - film TV

1974 Roma rivuole Cesare (Dir. Miklós Jancsó) - film TV

1976 Vizi privati, pubbliche virtù (Dir. Miklós Jancsó) 

1981 Il cuore del tiranno (Dir. Miklós Jancsó)

As Actress

1961 L'assassino (Dir. Elio Petri) 


Per citare questa  bio-filmografía, per cortesia usare il riferimento: Laviosa, Flavia (2020) "Bio-filmografía di Giovanna Gagliardo" Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed.

bottom of page