Matera is the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Seventy years ago the City of the “Sassi”, today a UNESCO world heritage center, was defined “a national embarrassment” by Palmiro Togliatti because of the wretched living conditions of its citizens.
It was Carlo Levi, in his autobiographical novel “Christ stopped at Eboli” – which starred Gian Maria Volontè in the eponymous movie by Francesco Rosi filmed in 1979 amidst those “wrinkled Calanchi mountains” – who, in the immediate post-war period, disclosed how men, women and children lived in these ancient caves.
Redeemed on the big screen by Pier Paolo Pasolini and presented to the world by Mel Gibson, the “Sassi” became the symbol of a region that, over the years, has maintained its unique appearance char- acterized by wild landscapes and timeless villages.
In 1964 the intellectual from Friuli reconstructed the locations of his “Gospel according to Saint Matthew” in Southern Italy, the landscape of which recalled that of the Middle East 2000 years earlier: so Galilee was moved to various rocky settings in Calabria, Lazio, Sicily and Puglia, whereas Jerusalem was reborn among the “Sassi” of Matera where the director chose to set the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
How- ever it was exactly forty years later, with “The Passion of the Christ”, which relived the last 12 hours of His life, that Hollywood entered into the tuff rock districts and the world became interested in Matera. The town and its surroundings (the ghost village of Craco provided the background for the hanging of Judas) learned a new form promotion. Over time the singular rocky landscape inspired not only Biblical and historical locations but fantasy ones as well: the island of Themyscira in the last “Wonder Woman”, directed in 2017 by Patty Jenkins, is a mixture of coastal areas in Southern Italy, in Campania and Puglia, while the stone hamlet where the Amazons live is Matera.
Basilicata features one of the most diverse landscapes for such a small region. While Rocco Papaleo with the melancholic ensemble journey from
Maratea to Scansano Ionico that was “Basilicata coast to Coast” (2010) was
an advert for the region, the following years, also thanks to the support of
the young Lucana Film Commission, witnessed a flourishing of productions searching for virgin – in cinematic terms – locations. Contribut- ing to this success were some funding initiatives, like the Bando alla Crisi and Lu-Ca, co-financed by Lucania and Calabria, thanks to which Jonas Carpignano filmed “A Ciambra” in the eponymous Rom community of Gioia Tauro and in Pollino, winning an award at Cannes in 2017.
Last in chronological order, Giovanni Veronesi, supported by the film commission, has transformed Basilicata into the XVII century French countryside where he set the raids carried out by his elderly and improbable “Moschettieri del Re”.
In this case the background features ruins, castles, abbeys, farms and small towns dotted among the hills and mountains which, with the contribution of cinema and on the wave of Matera 2019, today have an opportunity to show themselves to the world.
Find information about films, locations and incentives at www.italyformovies.it