Memoria Presente project: Literature and Film

The body of literature and film reflecting the cultural ties between Italy and Spain/Latin America is extremely vast and complex. This section covers works produced in different places and at different historical moments to try to capture this variety and illustrate the multifarious forms of contact and exchange across geographies and cultures.

LITERATURE (and journalism by literary authors)

  • Márquez, Gabriel García. “Roma en verano.” El País. June 8, 1982. Newspaper article (in Spanish).
    In the mid-50s, Márquez spent several months in Rome as European correspondent of El Espectador writing about the Pope, cinema, a mysterious murder case, etc.: see list of articles about Italy published in 1955. He was already a lover of neo-realist films, a passion that prompted his desire to cover news from Rome, as the seat of Cinecittà (Italy’s Hollywood), and once there he pursued the study of cinema (editing, in particular) and met several directors and actors. His admiration for neorealism’s ability to sublimate the quotidian is considered to be the root of his signature style, magic realism.
    The piece is a recollection of Márquez’s arrival in Rome in August of 1955. His encounter with Rome is filled with curiosity and lyrical indulgence towards a place that is as new to him as it is reminiscent of his birthplace in Colombia. His impression of the decadence of the ruins, the soporific nature of scorching hot afternoons, and the frivolous exchanges with prostitutes are rendered in a magical language that creates timeless aphorisms about Italy and Italians with unparalleled fluidity, such as:
    “La pasta: esa comida prodigiosa que cambia de sabor con sólo cambiar de forma”
    “Los italianos, en efecto, descubrieron desde hace mucho tiempo que no hay más que una vida, y esa certidumbre los ha vuelto refractarios a la crueldad.”García Márquez en Roma, a comienzos de los años 90, donde había ido a estudiar cine en los 50. / AFP
  • De Robertis, Carolina.The Gods of Tango. New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2015. Novel.
    Winner of the Stonewall Book Award, this novel interweaves migration and sexuality in bold ways. It follows the story of a young woman who travels by herself from a small village in Italy to Buenos Aires in 1913: bound to meet her husband-to-be as part of an arranged marriage, she finds herself alone with a closet full of men’s suits. And she starts wearing them, after cutting her hair, in order to follow her passion – playing the violin – and secure an income for herself at a time when women are relegated to domestic work. In the process, she discovers the intense world of tango and her own gay sexuality. The novel is available in Italian (La città degli incontri proibiti, Garzanti edition, 2016), which allows for the design of interesting units based on translation and trans-linguistic/trans-cultural exchanges.

    The author is originally from Uruguay with roots in Argentina. Her novels are often set in Argentina and Uruguay since she identifies as being from the Rio del Plata region. She has also lived in England and the U.S. Author’s webpage and Interview about migration, tango, slavery, and sexuality.

  • Giardinelli, Mempo. Santo Oficio de la Memoria. 1993. Madrid: Ediciones B, 2004. Novel.

    A classic immigrant saga with autobiographical elements, the novel relates the story of the Domeniconelles moving from Italy to Argentina at the end of the 1800s. Divided in hundreds of short chapters, the book employs roughly thirty voices, for the most female ones, to relay the vicissitudes of five generations (the genealogical tree is included in the Spanish edition!). Winner of the prestigious Rómulo Gallegos Prize in Venezuela, the novel represents a true accomplishment for the author, who sees in it the story of an entire country, and its social mores. Giardinelli considers himself a former machista, the same way one considers oneself a former alcoholic: as he puts it, “I am not writing as a man looking at women, but as a woman. I write from the feminine part of myself.” The novel is available in Italian as well in Spanish (Sant’Uffizio della memoria. Rome: Elliot, 2017), thus allowing for trans-linguistic exercises in the classroom.

  • Pariani, Laura. Dio non ama i bambini. Turin: Einaudi, 2007. Novel.
    Pariani’s Dio non ama i bambini is a choral detective novel that interlaces three main themes: the macrohistory of Argentina at the time of mass immigration with particular reference to the era of anarchist movements and the related anti-Italian sentiment they both produced; the microhistory of the conventillos (tenement houses), a paradigmatic space for the immigrant urban experience; and the micro-microhistory of the children living in/around these conventillos. The three thematic threads are knitted together by the primary plot: a series of horrific killings targeting Italian children in a poor neighborhood between San Cristobal and Boedo, informally known (in the novel) as Villa Basura, the “trash villa,” for being made up of poor conventillos located next to the city’s slaughterhouses and garbage. The novel presents a mosaic structure composed of approximately sixty sections focusing on individual characters and offering their points of view through a clever blend of first-and third-person narration modes coexisting elbow to elbow. Characterized by graphic violence as well as poetic passages, the novel stands out for its linguistic inventiveness: the idiom of her characters is a patois generated by their cultural hybridity, a unique cocoliche in which the Italian language is influenced by Spanish syntax and phraseology.

    Pariani is an Italian writer of Argentinian origin, who spends time in the country of her ancestors on a regular basis. Her novels have been translated into Spanish, a language that she herself knows. See Interview about Dio non ama i bambini. Another novel of interest for its migration theme is Quando dio ballava il tango (2002). See general webpage devoted to Pariani’s works.

  • Pariani, Laura. “Di corno o d’oro” in Di corno o d’oro (Palermo: Sellerio, 1993). Short story.
In this short story included in a collection bearing the same title, we follow in reverse the life of Carlén, an Italian immigrant from Lombardy as he contemplates the choices made and paths taken that led him to Tilcara, a small town in the altiplano between Argentina and Bolivia. This cascading tale, which depicts a typical saga of Italian immigrant to Argentina at the end of the 19th century, subverts the conventions of the migration narrative by starting at the end and traveling back in time, following the major points in the protagonist’s journey: the arrival in the Argentine Andes, the backbreaking work on the sugar plantation in Tucumán, transporting grain in steamboats on the Paraná River, working as a merchant in Buenos Aires, the departure from Genova, the miserable life as a peasant in Lombardy, the small joys of his childhood, and the tragic circumstances of his birth.
The short story effectively depicts the messy transition from one language; as we travel backwards, the castellano Spanish that Carlén speaks devolves into a translingual pastiche of Spanish and Italian, which is further supplanted by the Lombard dialect, the linguistic shift accompanying his shifting identity. Carlén references events in his past before the reader has come across them in the narrative, creating a strange reverberation that is disorienting and destabilizing even though we are traveling backwards to the point of origin. This unique structure complicates the idea of a linear narrative, as the story can be read both backwards and forwards in a sort of infinite loop and challenges the conventions of the “migrant narrative” more generally. The lack of a true beginning or ending problematizes the idea that migration is a linear journey that necessitates an abandonment of one homeland or language or identity for another, as Carlén has never truly felt like he belongs anywhere. Because of the linguistic difficulty, particularly the prominent presence of Lombard dialect, this short story is recommended for classes at the Master’s or Doctorate level. (Summary by Zachary Aguilar, graduate student, Yale University).

See translation into English here (coming soon).

  • Pariani, Laura. “Lo spazio, il vento, la radio” in Il pettine (Palermo: Sellerio, 1995). Short story.
Full text coming soon (Summary by Zachary Aguilar, graduate student, Yale University).

 

FILM

Films about the relationships between Italian and Spanish/Latin-American cultures span different genres and cover a wide variety of topics. Documentaries are an ideal source to connect students to historical moments and the people involved, as well as being exposed to real-life locations, and in some cases archival footage.

  • Moretti, Nanni, dir. “Santiago, Italia.” Sacher, 2018. Film (available for streaming on major platforms).
    Nanni Moretti’s award-winning 2019 documentary, Santiago, Italia highlights the political and cultural ties between Chile and Italy at a very delicate time in 20th-century history. In the early 1970s, Italy opened its Embassy first and then its borders to Chileans fleeing the Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which overturned with a coup d’état the democratically elected leader Salvador Allende and his Socialist agenda of free universal education and land re-distribution. The little known story of the efforts of the Italian Embassy to save and relocate citizens targeted by the fascist regime is told through the testimonies of those who were there, from refugees to diplomats. “Santiago, Italia is a chilling depiction of living under junta rule and an ultimately inspiring expression of hope amidst dire circumstances” (Distrib Films website), which lends itself to a reflection on the fate of today’s refugees whose protection is much more fragile in a world of tightening borders.

RESOURCES

    • Information about the film on IMDB page
    • Video: Nanni Moretti receives the David di Donatello Award (Best Documentary, 2019)
    • Reviews in several languages
    • Virtual conversation (Montclair State University, Nov. 2020) about “Santiago, Italia” with cinematographer Maura Morales Bergmann (webpage with links to the event’s video)
    • Activities for an introductory language class available upon request (fiorete@montclair.edu)
  • Ciudad de los Niños. 2005. A 1-hr documentary written and directed by Flavio Rizzo, Gabriele Scardino, Elena Bellina, Veruska Cantelli. Produced by: Fondazione Patronato San Vincenzo, Bergamo (Italy).
    The documentary tells the extraordinary story of Padre Antonio Berta (1927-2007), a visionary man from Bergamo, Italy, who arrived in Bolivia, in 1966 and devoted his entire life to abandoned children. In Cochabamba, he built La Ciudad del Niño, one of the largest foster homes and schools in the country. The film documents the lives of Padre Berta, his religious community, and the lay volunteers who have helped shape Bolivian society during four decades of educational reform, social engagement, and political activism.
    The Fondazione Patronato San Vincenzo has given permission to post the video in this open repository.

BACKGROUND RESOURCES (history, literary overviews, critical readings):

  • Blengino, Vanni. “Nella letteratura argentina” in Bevilacqua, Piero, Andreina De Clementi, and Emilio Franzina, eds. Storia dell’emigrazione italiana: Arrivi. Rome: Donzelli, 2002. 641–60. Print.
  • Devoto, Fernando. “In Argentina.” in Bevilacqua, Piero, Andreina De Clementi, and Emilio Franzina, eds. Storia dell’emigrazione italiana: Arrivi. Rome: Donzelli, 2002. 25–54. Print.
  • Fiore, Teresa. “Displaced Italies and Immigrant ‘Delinquent’ Spaces in Pariani’s Argentinian Conventillos and Lakhous’s Roman Palazzo.” Pre-Occupied Spaces: Remapping Italy’s Transnational Migrations and Colonial Legacies. New York: Fordham UP, 2017. 83-103. Print.
    The first part of the essay analyzes Laura Pariani’s innovative detective novel Dio non ama i bambini (2007, see details in the specific entry in this bibliography), set early 1900s Buenos Aires, Argentina. Set in the tenement houses the immigrants inhabited (conventillos), and written in a unique hybrid language blending Italian, dialect, and Spanish, the novel is an ideal text to learn about Italian immigration in Argentina at the time of anarchism and anti-immigrant sentiment via the analysis of urban space and gender/class/generational conflict.
  • Villalobos, Mary. “Tras el rastro de Gabo en Roma.” El Espectador. April 19, 2014. Online article (in Spanish).
    A detailed recap of Marques’s adventures in Romes between Vesta rides and major cases, such Maria Montesi’s.

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This page was created as part of an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) grant, and with the logistical support of Montclair State University. For information about the NEH Faculty Award linked to the Memoria Presente project, see link.