Dissecting the Portrayal of Russia in Italian Cinema of the 1960s («Il compagno Don Camillo» (1964) | Статья в журнале «Молодой ученый»

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Рубрика: Культурология

Опубликовано в Молодой учёный №27 (369) июль 2021 г.

Дата публикации: 03.07.2021

Статья просмотрена: 4 раза

Библиографическое описание:

Сиразетдинова, Ю. О. Dissecting the Portrayal of Russia in Italian Cinema of the 1960s («Il compagno Don Camillo» (1964) / Ю. О. Сиразетдинова, М. В. Потапова. — Текст : непосредственный // Молодой ученый. — 2021. — № 27 (369). — С. 298-300. — URL: https://moluch.ru/archive/369/83068/ (дата обращения: 19.01.2022).

Cinema is one of the most effective means of influencing an audience. It is the most popular form of art and is a synthesis of literature, visual arts, theatre and music. That is why it is able to have such a dramatic effect on the viewers and create a significant imprint on the public consciousness, which often becomes a stable opinion or often an unconscious stereotype, as it conveys certain ideas about whatever it is portraying.

It comes as no surprise therefore, that when it comes to the image of a culture abroad, attention should be paid to foreign cinema in particular, namely to the portrayal of film characters who are representatives of that culture. Through the combination of appearance, social status, cultural associations with the name of the character, their relationship with other characters and their worldview (among many other factors), a certain «picture» emerges, which not only evokes a reaction in the viewer, but is also fixed as a national stereotype. This now represents an entire culture.

Thus, through the analysis of the representation of national stereotypes in foreign cinema, it is possible to identify the specifics of Russia's portrayal in Western mass culture. In this article we will try to outline the specific features of Russians in Italian cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, a period which accounts for a large part of cooperation between Italian and Soviet film studios. We will also explore any possible reasons for the emergence of these features and their links with immediate cultural and historical realities. The films «Il compagno Don Camillo» (1964) shall serve as the object of our analysis.

In the film «Il compagno Don Camillo» Director Luigi Comencini showed the Soviet Union through the eyes of the protagonist, Don Camillo, and also playfully depicted Nikita Khrushchev's being pushed out of power in 1964. The Italian book series about the priest Don Camillo and his «friendly enemy», the communist Giuseppe Botazzi, nicknamed «Peppone», as well as the film adaptation, were unavailable to the general public and to film experts in the USSR. That was due to the views of the author of the book series, Giovannino Guareschi, who, being a Christian democrat, portrayed Italian Communists quite unfavorably. Peppone's fellow party-members appeared sincere and shallow, confused about their relationship to Lenin and Stalin and their simple-minded peasant faith, making it easy for the cunning Camillo to constantly outsmart them.

The comedy tells the story of an Italian Communist delegation led by Mayor Peppone, secretly joined by Don Camillo, visiting a Soviet town on the Don River. In 1965, Peppone wins the election in the Italian town of Breshello yet again and announces two important news: «Following the initiative of the head of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev, who introduced a new collective farm culture, the workers of our agricultural cooperative were given a wonderful gift». That gift was a tractor, which failed to start at the ceremony, needing repairs, and drove four days later only when Don Camillo had blessed it.

The mayor then announces an alliance with the Russian collective farm on the River Don and holds a referendum, which the priest describes as «an alliance with a den of red vipers». This is an early demonstration of the main character's negative opinion of Russians, as well as him inadvertently associating them with the Red Army, communism and godlessness. This is presented as the viewpoint of the average Italian in the middle of the twentieth century.

While Peppone is collecting signatures, Don Camillo prays and asks God's help as two scammers with typical Slavic names, Sonia and Sasha, come to his church. They claim to have escaped from a delegation of a Soviet technicians' union because they do not want to return to their homeland, where people allegedly live in monstrous conditions. The director has thus artfully portrayed the two rogues as the embodiments of stereotypes and prejudices that are held against the USSR, a country assumed to be full of enemies and strange people. They talk to each other in a strange language resembling Russian, eat in silence following Russian tableside customs, which completely is juxtaposed with the Italian custom of lively conversation during meals. Having gained the trust of Don Camillo, who has organized a campaign to discredit Peppone and his plans, the two crooks tell the citizens of Breshello frightening tales about their supposed homeland. However, the two are soon discovered as frauds and the mayor regains the full support of the town. Don Camillo decides to join the delegation from the Italian Communist Party, led by Peppone, which sets out to a Russian village in order to sign a pact. Thus, Don Camillo decides to see the Russian Communist world at work with his own eyes.

The delegation arrives in sunny Rostov and meets Nadia (Graziella Granata), an interpreter and event organiser. She confidently and fluently talks to the guests in Italian, however, when it comes to conversations with her own compatriots, she speaks in broken Russian with a strong Italian accent. Luigi Comencini chooses to showcase the arrival of the Italian guests and their further stay in the village as a lavish celebration of the unification of the two cultures: Nadia takes on the role of a modern Cicero for the delegation, helping its members to communicate with the collective farm chairman and the local people. The village hospitably greets the Italians with applause, Russian folk dances, feasting and kisses on the lips, which the film confidently presents as «ancient Russian tradition». These scenes are also accompanied by the singing of the Italian anthem «Fratelli d'Italia» by Michele Novaro and a Russian version of the famous song «Nel blu, dipinto di blu» by Domenico Modugno, as well as excerpts from an opera by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. All the music is performed in Russian or, alternatively, accompanied by Russian folk musical instruments to underline the atmosphere of unity and brotherhood between Russians and Italians.

Such hospitality shocks the delegation and Don Camillo, and so does the way of life of the villagers. As soon as the Italian guests are left alone in theirs hotel rooms, the director opens the veil and lets the viewer take a peek into Russian country life in the 1960s. The experience is bloodcurdling for the Italians. The rooms they stay in have plain white walls with portraits of the ever-changing General Secretaries of the USSR. This, of course, is a direct allusion on Comencini’s part to the infamous personality cult prevalent in the USSR at the time. Every day Don Camillo secretly prays to a pocket crucifix and reads gospel hidden under the cover of a communist theory tome. Peppone and the rest of the delegation think this puts them in danger with the party as atheism was actively promoted in the USSR at the time and all religious activity was heavily restricted if not prohibited. The priest is horrified to see the local church, which is being used as a barn to store hay and grain.

However, a vilification of the USSR and its inhabitants is not at all what Comencini’s goal is. The parts of Russia than genuinely horrify the Italians at first turn out to be nothing more a kind of upper layer hiding the true face of the Russians, which is a lot sweeter and kinder. Beneath the surface of a nation of the «godless» or of conniving «red vipers» the Italian protagonists discern polite and good-natured people, coming from all walks of life. For example, they meet doctors who treat foreigners who do not understand a word of Russian and refuse to take money. To Don Camillo surprise, they also come across devout people, such as the dying mother of the chairman of the collective farm, who asks the Italian priest to give her communion before she dies.

In this way, the director subverts most of the prejudices about the monstrosity of the Russians that were prevalent in Europe at the time, while playing on common and popular stereotypes about Russian culture. Comencini makes it a point to portray the Russian people as having nothing to do with the cruel government that is antagonized in the film. The USSR and Italy may be enemies politically, but Russians are extremely close to Italians in spirit.

Thus, we were able to identify the main trends in the portrayal of Russia and the Russians in Italian cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. Based on national stereotypes, they continue to be relevant in contemporary Italian films that address Russian culture. The image of Russia, as a rule, becomes a set of typical Russian landscapes and places (Red Square, Russian roads, Moscow, Leningrad, etc.), as well as friendly and intelligent Russian heroes who perfectly speak Italian and know and love their country and its culture. However, it is worth noting that despite numerous attempts by Italian directors to overcome stereotypes about Russia, the image of Russia remains somewhat outdated and is reflected in typical associations with Russian culture: Russian folk songs and dances, Soviet attributes, traditional feasts, etc.


  1. Cinema of Italy. — Text: electronic // Wikipedia: [website]. — URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_Italy.
  2. Barbara, Corsi. Italian Film Producers and The Challenge of Soviet Coproductions / Corsi Barbara. — Text: direct // Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. — 2020. — № 40:1. — С. 84–107.
  3. Stefano, Barbaro. Il Compagno Don Camillo / Barbaro Stefano. — Text: electronic // Academia: [website]. — URL: https://www.academia.edu/42146421/IL_COMPAGNO_DON_CAMILLO?auto=download.
Основные термины (генерируются автоматически): USSR, URL.

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