Theses Doctoral

Breaking Bread: Continuities and Ruptures in Italy's Postwar Filmic Foodscape

Kiviat, Niki

This dissertation examines food tropes in Italian films of the Economic Miracle, investigating moments of continuity with prewar gastronomic traditions, as well as denoting drastic breaks with the familiar. The kitchen is a place of traditional culinary practices and ingredients, and from which sensations of hominess and conviviality are continually generated; yet, the kitchen is where the changes to the postwar foodscape are most visible. In my analysis of films released from 1954 to 1973, the kitchen is treated as a site of both recognizability and unrecognizability: the feeling that someone does not belong among the people, objects, and rituals part of that changing arena; alternatively, they might not be recognized themselves. In the readings that follow, these directors, actors, and writers grapple with such unrecognizability by way of the stomach: the organ with which to digest food and, moreover, to process the changes that that gastronomy represents. This dissertation is divided into four chapters, or, rather, two halves: first, continuity and desire, and later, rupture and violent rejection. These halves represent continuities and breaks, respectively, as this project follows the transformation of Italy’s “rosy” cinema into dark, nihilist auteurism.

At the center of the first half are two stars: Totò (Chapter Two) and Sophia Loren (Chapter Three). In the work of Totò, the visceral hunger that he experiences matches that of the very recent past, and in particular, that of the South. When food became readily available, however, a new hunger emerged: a hunger for what was, as Totò upheld the dietary routines to which he was long accustomed.

Meanwhile, Sophia Loren embodies the multivalence of hunger. As Cesira in La ciociara (1960), Loren portrayed a mother struggling against la carestia of occupied Italy; hunger is once again a physical sensation. But through later roles, as well as the authorship of her own cookbook, not only is the stomach satisfied, but there is now a sexual dimension to hunger. Loren softened both the hunger pangs and the blows of the changing sociopolitical arena, leaving her viewers to desire simultaneously her body and the food she prepares, ultimately inviting us to eat with her.

Chapter Four, meanwhile, uses the cinema and narrative theories of Pier Paolo Pasolini to explore the connections between continuity, rupture, and “revolution.” Revolution is, in the Marxist sense, the proletariat contending with exploitative forces, as seen through Stracci in La ricotta (1963). It is also the turning of a wheel, emblematic of a progression in a cycle back to naturality and austerity. Despite violent eating and existential crises, the characters of Luna (Uccellacci e uccellini, 1966) and Emilia (Teorema, 1968) reveal a continued relationship with the earth, within which seeds – signs of new life – are planted.

This project also suggests a turn towards the tenets of 1940s neorealism, particularly the notions of survival and rebirth. In Marco Ferreri’s La grande abbuffata (1973), the subject of Chapter Five, four wealthy protagonists gather for the ultimate “gastronomic seminar”: a weekend during which they are suicided by overconsumption, choosing to abandon a world so deeply unrecognizable from the traditions and virtues of decades past. Yet, in bequeathing the world to Andréa, there is a reawakening. Andréa is left to perpetuate not only the rich traditions and rituals of previous generations, but also a world of anxieties, unsure of what the future holds.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Leake, Elizabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 19, 2020