Rome In The Movies — 7 Classics Highlighting Rome’s Stunning Landmarks
There are many ways to love Rome. One can love it through its hearty, no-fuss cuisine inspired by the seasons, its age-old unique architectural wonders and magnificent art & sculpture, the sparkling blue skies and not least through its vivacious and open-hearted inhabitants. Or, like many others before, one can celebrate Rome through cinema. The Eternal City has inspired many a director to dedicate some of their best films to capturing the spirit of this awe-inspiring city. From Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist depiction of Rome to Federico Fellini’s classics shot during the golden age of Italian cinema to the more recent Oscar-winning picture by Paolo Sorrentino, Rome has been celebrated on the big screen with great passion and devotion. Whether you have just returned from Rome, or are currently planning your To Do List for an upcoming trip, watching some of the movies set in Rome will allow you to anticipate or relive the joy of having witnessed the city’s transcendent beauty.
The Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica (1948)
This black-and-white classic will transport you to one of those periods in Rome’s history when not even Rome’s perennial splendors could take its inhabitants’ attention away from the pressing reality of the post-war depression. The film follows unemployed father Antonio and his young son Bruno on the impossible mission of finding a stolen bicycle on thehostile streets of the suburbs of a city that is too bruised by the present to find solace in its glorious past or look for hope to the future. The bicycle, necessary to provide the livelihood of a family of three, gets stolen on the first day of Antonio’s long-awaited new job – hanging up posters. The bike, previously pawned, had been reclaimed by Antonio’s wife Maria, who pawned instead the bed sheets she had received as her dowry, a precious possession for a poor family. They do find the bike at the city’s famous market Porta Portese – still as busy today as it was back then – but hope is not restored, as they can’t claim it. Throughout the film, your heart will beat alongside that of little Bruno, who, holding his father’s hand, will learn some of life’s toughest lessons.
Roman Holiday – William Wyler (1953)
In one of the most romantic films of the genre, introducing a young Audrey Hepburn to a global audience to instant success, Rome serves as the perfect background for the love story between a princess and an American newsman. The two meet one evening when, under the influence of a sedative that was supposed to help her sleep, the princess leaves her secluded residence and wanders through the city. Soon, she’ll fall under a more powerful spell, that of true love, spurred by Rome’s romantic landmarks. They will walk down the Spanish Steps, risk their limbs at Bocca della Verita, dance along the Tiber River and take that unforgettable scooter ride around the Colosseum.
8 ½ – Federico Fellini (1963)
When it was launched, Fellini’s 8 ½ enjoyed universal acclaim to the point where critics and the public alike agreed that the film was an instant classic. The film focuses on the creative struggles of a director engaged in the shooting of a science fiction film while embroiled in a nerve-consuming marriage crisis. The movie, featuring Marcello Mastroianni in one of his signature roles, was shot at Cinecitta, Rome’s famed film studios and in the EUR district, the sterile and futuristic space serving as the perfect backdrop for the character’s process of introspection.
La Dolce Vita – Federico Fellini (1960)
Perhaps no other film manages to highlight the beauty of one of Rome’s landmarks better than Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. While there is much more to discover about a movie whose opening scene involves a helicopter flying over the city carrying a massive statue of Christ, the scene where Anita Ekberg wades into the Trevi Fountain in her sensual black strapless dress has cemented the magnificent fountain’s iconic status. Another interesting landmark to look for in the movie is the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, a fine sample of Fascist architecture, located in the EUR district, south of the city center. Built under the supervision of Italy’s former dictator Benito Mussolini, the edifice is a clear nod to the Colosseum and features a facade displaying six rows of arches. Not least, La Dolce Vita gave the world the term paparazzo, derived from the name of one of the photographers featured, Marcello Mastroianni’s sidekick, who worked on the still-exclusive bustling shopping street Via Veneto.
Roma – Federico Fellini (1972)
Rome takes the center stage in this semi-autobiographical film by Fellini, which alternates between two narratives. The first follows the director-to-be on his first trip to the Italian capital after leaving behind his native coastal town of Rimini. The second, set 30 years later, sees a director shooting a film about Rome. Although based on a very loose plot, Roma makes for a very compelling watch due to the originality with which it juxtaposes Rome’s contrasting realities. This is one for the connoisseurs, as it sets out to explore Rome seen as more than the sum of its ancient facades and monuments and portrays it instead as a complex and living being. The film’s final scene is set on the beach of Ostia, a favored film location for Fellini due to its being an open space and one of transition.
The Talented Mr. Ripley – Anthony Minghella (1999)
Featuring an all-American cast, this psychological thriller sees Matt Damon provide one of his most critically acclaimed performances alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and an exceptionally brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his most compelling showings. Although considerable parts are shot outside of Rome, the film manages to showcase the city’s most spectacular landmarks, with many key scenes taking place around them. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Tom Ripley utters the line “I’ve never been happier. I feel like I’ve been handed a new life” while crossing the Piazza Navona, then descends the Spanish Steps, a location he will often return to. Earlier, having murdered the man he impersonates, he gazes over the Roman Forum and visits the Capitoline Museums.
The Great Beauty – Paolo Sorrentino (2013)
From the time the cannon on the Janiculum Hill, west of the Tiber is fired, the viewer is sucked into a whirlwind of sensations, while following birthday boy Jep Gambardella’s steps in the city he conquered and that shaped his life philosophy. One hysteric scream later, we are catapulted in the middle of a lavish rooftop party and later we will even enter Jep’s magnificent apartment overlooking the Colosseum. Seen as a meditation on art, beauty, women, religion, and ultimately on life and death, the film is above all an ode to Rome, the Eternal City shown in all its splendor, compared to which all else seems transitory and must face its condition. Apart from showcasing Rome, the camera travels to the city’s outskirts too and features the Parco delle Aquedotti and the Baths of Caracalla. Having started with a bang, the film finishes calmly, with a long cruise over the Tiber River at dawn.