An Italian film, part manufactured in Australia
Production company: Documento Film
Locations: Sydney, Broken Hill, the Olgas, Dunk Island, north Queensland, and varioius other tourist locations
Filmed: February-March 1971, with post-production in Italy. According to director Luigi Zampa, a 10 week shoot.
Australian distributor: Columbia Pictures
Theatrical release: December 1971 Rome;
mid-1972 in Australia in Italian with sub-titles, mainly shown in theatres screening to Italian audiences
Rating: M, for mature audiences
35 mm Eastmancolor
Running time: 114 mins Oxford
Italian DVD copy: 1'49"15 (including end music overhang and opening Columbia logo)
Box office: n/a, limited in Australia.
The film was only released in 'continental', 'European' or art house cinemas in Australia.
The title, impossibly long in an Australian context was:
Bello onesto emigrato Australia sposerebbe compaesana Illibata
which translates roughly as:
Handsome honest emigrant to Australia would like to marry virgin fellow countrywoman
In its Australian release it was known as:
A Girl in Australia
and in Spain as:
Novia Por Correo (Mail Order Bride)
David di Donatello Awards 1972 Best Actress David (Claudia Cardinale)
The film has been released on DVD in Italy, but without English subtitles. The print is in proper screen format, but the extras - a short cast and crew list - are minimal. However the image is good, the sound typically Italian, and the result suggests some solid restoration work has been done.
While the lack of English subtitles is irritating to English-speaking viewers - the Italian distributor missed a marketing opportunity in Australia - a set of .srt subtitles has been prepared for the film by enthusiasts. These are available online and are easily linked to the DVD.
The result is essential viewing for cultists interested in relatively rarefied Australiana.
Italian screenwriter Rodolfo Sonego wrote the story and screenplay, with director Luigi Zampa collaborating in the treatment.
According to Zampa, the story came about when Sonego visited his sister:
The idea was born when Rodolfo Sonego went to a small Victorian town to visit his sister, who came to Australia from the southern Italian town of Bulleno.
"Sonego saw that half of Bulleno - about 500 people - were all living in this town. He decided to write a script telling of the Italian migrant's life in Australia.
"The story tells of a young Italian who only wants to marry an Italian girl. He brigns a girl out from Italy to be his proxy bride." (Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd February, 1971)
Sonego was a prolific screenwriter, as well as a novelist, and he was particularly active in Italy from the 1950s through to the 1990s.
Sonego was a favourite of director Alberto Sordi, and in 2007 a 105 page work was posthumously published in Milan by Adelphi, in Italian, featuring the diary written by Sonego during the location surveys undertaken with director Zampa.
The publisher described the work here, thus:
Il giornale dei sopralluoghi per Bello, onesto, emigrato Australia diventa l'ilare resoconto della nascita di un film, e della circospetta esplorazione di un continente lontanissimo. Il testo ritrovato di un maestro della commedia all'italiana – lo sceneggiatore principe di Alberto Sordi.
Writer-director Jan Sardi (co-writer Shine) later re-worked the "letter with photograph of handsome friend" storyline in his feature film Love's Brother.
Director Luigi Zampa landed in Australia planning to use Australian supporting actors and Italian migrants on location in Sydney, Broken Hill and just outside Cairns.
Zampa says that the film will be completely realistic.
"The young man comes to Australia and finds that there are very few eligible Italian girls. And he wants to marry only an Italian because he feels that it will bring a little of his country to him."
"It's a story of solitude. It also shows the Italian's love for Australia."
The film will take 10 weeks to shoot. Mr Zampa has no idea what it will cost.
"In the 20 films I have directed I have never known what the budget was." (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Feb 1971)
The film starts out as Zampa promised. It offers many more insights into Italians living in Australia than can be found amongst any Australian film of the period, excluding Giorgio Mangiamele's earlier pioneering work in the nineteen fifties.
There is footage for example in an Italian club ('casa del emigrante', photos of the Pope and G. Marconi on the wall) which provides an excruciating insight into a formal dance as a way to obtain a woman's hand in marriage.
The opening sequences establish:
1. The loneliness of working class Italian men in the Australian environment;
2. The tendency of Italians to cluster within familiar communities:
3. The reluctance of men like Amedeo to look amongst independent Australian women, and to save money to secure a traditional marriage with an Italian wife.
However once these quasi-documentary elements are introduced, the film then reverts to being a personality-driven comedy between Alberto Sordi and Claudia Cardinale, with the odd Australian actor (Noel Ferrier, Fred Cullen) also on view. And with plenty of "wombat moments" designed to appeal to a domestic Italian audience wanting novelty items from down under.
The tabloid press and women's magazines went wild over Claudia Cardinale being in town, and this garnered good publicity for the film. In one press conference, director Zampa, who was sixty-five at the time he directed the film, was reported in the Australian Women's Weekly as showing all the classic signs of being a gesticulating, grasshoppery, erratic, excitable Italian sexist, in love with wonderful mini-skirts and the way Sydney rain would make dresses cling to Cardinale:
"Wonderful, wonderful. Here all the girls I see wear them. There may be two or three in all Rome. The first time I see them, I tell you, was in London four or five years ago. I thought they were the top of pyjamas they forgot to take off."
About this movie he is making:
"It is very tender, very human. I tell you. The Italian working man want to marry only Italian girls. One man here he told me this: If you fight with an Italian woman and you slap her, afterward you make love, you kiss, and you make love.
"You fight an Australian woman and you slap her, she take her purse and walk out.
"So if an Italian man is rich, he flies home to find a woman. If he is poorer he writes home and asks the priest to arrange a proxy marriage. That is the story." ...
... On Australian women"
"I am frightened of Australian women. They are so beautiful. They have long legs. Not so long as the English maybe, but nice. Italian women have very short legs."
On Australian men:
"I don't notice. Why for I should?"
On Sydney's erratic weather:
"Not worried. Claudia is wonderful. Rain make dress cling, uh?" (Australian Womens' Weekly 10th March 1971)
Cardinale and Sordi had recently worked together in The Year of Our Lord, a controversial film about the problems confronting the Catholic Church in the 19th century, which did record box office business in Italy and had been condemned as boorish and "grossly offensive to the doctrine of Catholic morals", so a trip down under might have seemed like a chance for more lightweight fare.
the film was largely ignored in Australia, turning up briefly at "European" or "continental" cinemas like the Dendy, and at Italian language cinemas. Even now, the film's DVD release has been restricted to Italy, a pity in view of the insights it offers into Italian life in Australia circa 1971, along with a harmless fantasy that involves Claudia Cardinale willingly living with a telephone linesman somewhere out the back of woop woop.