From Palme d’Or-winner Padre Padrone to adaptations of Tolstoy and Pirandello, the Tavianis challenged convention and upended cliche
Vittorio Taviani, together with his brother Paolo who now survives him, pursued a vocation of cinema that was deeply bound up with the Italian landscape: the hills of Tuscany where the brothers were born, and those of Sicily and Sardinia. The lush countryside is a vital and sensuous presence in the Tavianis’ work, and yet it is unsentimentally also seen as the site of cruel agricultural labour and even as a kind of prison. In their films, the land is a counterpoint to humanity’s trials, dramas and absurdities, which they often put in ensemble and anthologised form, perhaps to get a larger perspective on individual stories.
It wasn’t just a matter of quietism and contemplation. The brothers were also deeply engaged with Marxist and Brechtian thinking, a sensibility that persisted right up to their award-winning 2012 movie Caesar Must Die. They were looking for radical, challenging ways to present human life; a mode which alternated with more naturalistic and also more dreamlike or symbolic modes of storytelling, often derived from literary adaptations of authors such as Pirandello, Boccaccio and Goethe.