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OBITUARIES | Dino Risi, 1916 - 2008

Film director chronicled and satirized postwar Italy

June 09, 2008|From Times Wire Reports

ROME — Dino Risi, an Oscar-nominated master of the Italian film who chronicled the bittersweet and lighter side of his country's postwar economic boom, has died. He was 91.

Risi, who had been in failing health for several years, died Saturday at his residence in Rome, officials said.

His comedies were a ferocious satire of the habits and flaws of Italians, often featuring unflattering characters: the superficial charlatan, the cheating husband, the immoral father.

But the chilling, sometimes tragic, endings of some of his movies showed depth and moral rigor behind the laughs.

"I feel a great pain for his death. His movies were beautiful and funny," said actress Sophia Loren.

During a career that spanned decades, he worked with some of the finest Italian actors, including Loren, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi.

His hits include "Poveri ma belli" ("Poor But Beautiful"), "Belle ma Povere" ("Poor Girl, Pretty Girl") in 1957, and "Il Sorpasso" ("The Easy Life") in 1962, starring Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant as an improbable pair traveling toward a tragic end during an Italian summer.

In 1974, Risi directed "Profumo di Donna" ("Scent of a Woman"), which received Oscar nominations for best foreign language movie and best adapted screenplay.

It told the story of an army captain left blind by the war who tours Italy with an aide and uses his highly developed sense of smell to identify types of women.

A U.S. remake of the movie starring Al Pacino won an Oscar in 1992.

Born in Milan on Dec. 23, 1916, into a middle-class family, Risi started as a film critic and made documentaries and short movies before moving to feature films. He gained success in the 1950s with "Pane, Amore e . . . " ("Scandal in Sorrento") starring Vittorio de Sica and Loren.

His movies in that period and for the next decade captured the transformation of Italian society during and after the economic boom that followed World War II.

In "La Marcia su Roma" ("March on Rome") of 1963, he looked back at the rise of Fascism through the eyes of two down-and-out men. He looked at the prejudices and dreams of the 1960s with an episodic movie called "I Mostri" ("Opiate 67").

He scored commercial success and critical acclaim in 1971 with "In Nome del Popolo Italiano" ("In the Name of the Italian People") -- the story of a seemingly irreproachable Italian magistrate investigating an industrialist of dubious morality for murder.

The ending, as often with Risi, turned the tables.

Risi was awarded a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 2002, where he received a rousing ovation after a special screening of "Il Sorpasso."

In the latter part of his career he worked mainly for TV.

Survivors include Risi's two children, Claudio and Marco, the latter also a director.

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