Catholicism in Italian cinema in the age of ‘the new secularisation’ (1958-1978)

Angeli, S. 2017. Catholicism in Italian cinema in the age of ‘the new secularisation’ (1958-1978). PhD thesis University of Westminster Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media

TitleCatholicism in Italian cinema in the age of ‘the new secularisation’ (1958-1978)
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsAngeli, S.

This thesis explores the portrayal of Italian Catholicism in five feature films: E venne un uomo (A Man Named John, dir. Ermanno Olmi, 1965), Galileo (1968, dir. Liliana Cavani), Teorema (Theorem, 1968, dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini), Nel nome del padre (In the Name of the Father, 1972, dir. Marco Bellocchio) and Fratello sole, sorella luna (Brother Sun, Sister Moon, 1972, dir. Franco Zeffirelli). Challenging the notion of Italian Catholicism as a monolithic and unified system of thought, this investigation brings out its fragmented quality, thereby validating Antonio Gramsci’s claim of the coexistence of a plurality of religious tendencies in the country. The study focuses on a twenty-year period between 1958 and 1978, as it is during this period—referred to as “the new secularisation”—that the fragmentation underlying Italian Catholicism emerged with clarity.

Within this context, the five chosen films offer ideal case studies to assess the plurality of attitudes towards Catholicism in that period: not only do they employ a large repertoire of narratives, persons, symbols, iconography, quotes, rituals and places of Catholic tradition, but they also reimagine this repertoire in either orthodox or provocative ways, effectively upholding or critiquing Catholicism as a belief system, Catholicism as practiced by the faithful and the Catholic Church as an institution. Analysis of the films is organised across the four areas suggested by Melanie J. Wright, namely narrative, style, cultural and religious context, and reception, with a focus on reception amongst Catholics. Analysis of these elements uncovers the five directors’ personal and unique approaches to religion, ultimately attesting not only to the immense cultural and social legacy of Catholicism in the country, but also to the existence of a multiplicity of religious sensitivities.


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