“The film image—whose intangible reality consists of lights and shadows beamed through the air and caught on the surface of a silver screen—comes to us as the reflection of another world,” wrote Maya Deren in her 1960 essay on cinematography. Featuring the work of 16 Italian cinematographers, the 32 films in “Conversations Between Shadows and Light” provide a multitude of otherworldly and oneiric visual pleasures.
Many of the masters of illumination showcased in the series collaborated with the most formidable of Italian cinema’s postwar directors. Gianni Di Venanzo, the cinematographer of Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), uses ghastly tight close-ups reminiscent of a Weegee tabloid photo to convey the self-indulgence, despair, and misanthropy of Guido (Marcello Mastroianni). In Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1942), Aldo Tonti creates a felicitous blend of noir and neorealist stylings: Ominous interior shadows and silhouettes segue to Ferrara’s open spaces. Luca Bigazzi deftly interweaves epic shots of the stark Albanian landscape and the stygian glows of hospital rooms and jail cells in Gianni Amelio’s Lamerica (1994).
Several cinematographers train their lens on the radiance of the human face. Photographed by Ennio Guarnieri in Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970), Dominique Sanda is almost as impossibly beautiful as Tadzio (Björn Andresen), captured by Pasqualino De Santis in Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971). Yet the most sublime moment in the series occurs in Pasolini’s Mamma Roma (1962), in which Tonino Delli Colli illuminates the combustible Anna Magnani on a nighttime stroll. Here light and shadows are calibrated perfectly to match the incandescence of a star.