Travelling between Ferrara and its province, familiar places and faces suddenly appear, as if by magic: they are images seen at the cinema, on television or online. Streets, piazzas, gardens, expanses of water, looks and gestures that become the protagonists of life stories.
Throughout the history of Italian cinema, many places in the city and the Po Delta have become locations for films, documentaries and TV series: let's go and visit them on this two-day itinerary.
The first day we start from the centre of Ferrara and its symbolic monument: The Estense Castle. Fascinating characters and tragic historical events are relived in the films set here, such as the 1910 film dedicated to Lucrezia Borgia or the film The Profession of Arms directed by Ermanno Olmi, who shot some of the scenes in the dungeons of the centuries-old fortress.
Surrounded by the greenery of the small Piazza della Repubblica, next to the Castle, we can relive the atmosphere of Neorealist Cinema: the ancient manor and the more recent Hotel Ferrara are the backdrop to the dramatic and intense encounter between the protagonists in the love and death story portrayed in the film Obsession, directed by Luchino Visconti in 1942.
Along the perimeter wall of the Castle, we find the gravestones of the victims of the fascist massacre remembered in It happened in '43. Inspired by the story by Giorgio Bassani, the film, directed by Florestano Vancini, recalls the tragic events that actually happened, together with an imagined love story.
Here, the places, even more than the characters, become the protagonists, such as the red stone Castle wall and the pharmacy opposite, which still exists today, from where, through the shutters, the owner of the pharmacy witnessed the massacre on that terrible night.
Corso Ercole I d’Este, the beautiful main street built as part of the Erculean Addition, the urban expansion of the city dating back to the Renaissance, takes us past some noble buildings to the heart of the area: Palazzo dei Diamanti, characterized by the elegant marble ashlar façade, was filmed by directors and photographers such as Vittorio Storaro in Giovinezza giovinezza! (Youth March) Palazzo Prosperi Sacrati, opposite, brings back memories of Michelangelo Antonioni's first and last feature films, Story of a love affair (1950) and Beyond the clouds (1995) respectively.
The fascinating protagonists of the aforementioned films, Lucia Bosé and Ines Sastre, then give way to the icy beauty of Dominique Sanda, Micol in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis based on the famous novel by Giorgio Bassani and only partly filmed in Ferrara.
The boys and girls on bicycles, who meet every day at the gate of the nearby Parco Massari, remind us of the characters in the novel that became a film, directed by Vittorio de Sica.
A few steps away from Parco Massari, take a moment to stop in the large Piazza Ariostea, flanked by deep arcades.
This is where Florestano Vancini and Giuliano Montaldo filmed some of the scenes for their films Bitter Love and The Gold Rimmed Glasses.
The latter, which tells a story of love and marginalization during the fascist period, also takes us to the intimate and evocative Piazzetta Sant’Anna, home to the ancient hospital, where the solitude of the two protagonists, who live different but parallel stories, meet.
Going back along via Palestro towards the city centre, we pass through the medieval town and the Jewish Ghetto and reach Piazza della Cattedrale. These are all locations in which the crime television series Nebbie e Delitti (Fog and Crimes) starring Luca Barbareschi and Natasha Stefanenko were filmed.
The façade of the ancient Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral is also the backdrop to three productions: the Este parade in Parisina. Un amore alla corte di Ferrara nel XV secolo (1910 - one of the first films of Italian cinema), the meeting place of the protagonists of the above-mentioned Beyond the Clouds and the TV series Donna, shot in 1996, starring Ottavia Piccolo.
Leaving the beautiful squares behind, a short walk away is Via Giuoco del Pallone.
Walk along the medieval portico of Casa Minerbi to dwell on contemporaneity: the Cavallini-Sgarbi houses are the setting for the latest film Lei mi parla ancora (She still speaks to me) directed by Pupi Avati. The intense love story that lasted more than 60 years between Nino and Caterina is relived in the romantic and moving comedy based on the novel of the same name, written by Giuseppe Sgarbi, the father of the well-known art critic, after the death of his beloved wife.
After the first day and the long walk through the streets of the city, between reality and fiction, film sets and everyday life, we deserve a stop in one of the great places in the town centre for an aperitif or dinner with the local specialities, such as cappellacci di zucca (pumpkin cappellacci) pasticcio ferrarese (Maccaroni pie) and salama da sugo (spiced salami).
On the second day we move to the Po Delta Park where, between land and water, we come across fantastic places and vivid atmospheres, which have been the setting for numerous films and documentaries, often in black and white, that portray stories about a popular and ancestral culture.
The first stop is Stazione Foce in the Valli di Comacchio (Comacchio Lagoons) which is the setting in which the history of partisans is told, such as in Paisà directed by Roberto Rossellini or L’Agnese va a morire (And Agnes Chose to Die) directed by Giuliano Montaldo in 1976. A crumbling house in the middle of the marsh is framed against a dramatic black and white backdrop and the awesomeness of this almost uncontaminated place still fascinates visitors today.
But the lagoons are also coloured by murky passions with films such as Miranda directed by Tinto Brass, starring Serena Grandi, and Bambola directed by Bigas Luna, interpreted by Valeria Marini and Stefano Dionisi.
Taking Strada Acciaioli from Porto Garibaldi, along a stretch of the Valle Bertuzzi embankment, you skirt past Lido degli Scacchi and Lido di Volano, where some disturbing scenes from the thriller The House of the Laughing Windows by Pupi Avati from the 1970s were set. The director chose the same places to shoot the film Le strelle nel fosso, a surreal and poetic story of a father and his four children who live isolated in a timeless farmhouse.
Since it will no doubt now be lunchtime, we recommend that you stop at one of the fish restaurants in the area, where you can taste the seafood specialities, especially the Goro clams. Goro is an ancient fishing village that has become a reference point for clam production in Italy.
We continue the itinerary in the direction of the magnificent Pomposa Abbey, a Benedictine monastery and an important medieval cultural centre, and then carry on to Taglio della Falce, between the Gran Bosco della Mesola and the Po di Volano.
These are places that inspired both the director Luigi Magni in the film In the name of the Sovereign People, starring Nino Manfredi, and Mario Soldati, the director of the film The River Girl, interpreted by a young and beautiful Sofia Loren. The protagonist, a worker in an eel marinating factory, survives tragic family events, set in a landscape that becomes more important than the story itself.
Lastly, heading back towards Comacchio and then carrying on slightly further south, there is time to stop at the setting of one last film, which takes us into Italian history, Delitto di regime. Il caso Don Minzoni by Leandro Castellani, a film that evokes the killing of the archpriest of Argenta, in the climate of violence and oppression that characterized the town in the early 1920s. The film Beyond the storm (2018) written by Stefano Muroni and directed by Marco Cassini is also dedicated to the last years of Don Minzoni's life.
Today, the Argenta countryside and its lagoons are the reign of cycle tourism, birdwatchers and lovers of good food. They have also been chosen by other directors as the backdrop for their films. Examples include peasant family sagas in La neve nel bicchiere directed by Florestano Vancini or the story of two brothers who bring cinema to small villages during the transition from silent to sound films in La vela incantata, which is a declaration of love for the cinema and his land by the director Gianfranco Mingozzi.