The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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Book review: Curious about women

Noel Grima Sunday, 19 November 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 14 days ago

'Il Curioso delle Donne'

Author: Alberto Bevilacqua

Publisher: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore / 1983

Pages: 263


Alberto Bevilacqua was an Italian writer and filmmaker. Leonardo Sciascia, the Italian writer and politician, read Bevilacqua's first collection of stories, The Dust on the Grass, was impressed, and published it.

He was born in 1934 in Parma and died in Rome in 2013.


Friendship Lost, his first book of poems, was published in 1961. Caliph, published in 1964, was the novel that made him famous. The protagonist, Irene Corsini, imbued with a sweet and energetic character, is one of the strongest female characters in Italian literature.

His novel, This Kind of Love, won the Campiello Prize in 1966. Both This Kind of Love and Caliph were adapted for films, with This Kind of Love winning Best Film at the Cannes Film Festival.

Bevilacqua was also a poet. His writings have been translated throughout Europe, the United States, Brazil, China and Japan.

Between 1970 and 1999 he directed seven films. His 1970 film La Califfa was entered at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.

He was raised in a poor family. In his youth he wrote the novel City of Love, which was reworked and published much later, about his adolescence in Parma and how he and his family took part in the Resistance movement.

In 1955 he wrote a book of stories about local life in Parma, Dust in the Grass, which drew the attention of Leonardo Sciascia.

Bevilacqua's first experience in the cinema was working with the neorealist guru Cesare Zavattini on a documentary about workers in the Po Valley. This encouraged him to go to Rome in 1960 to seek work in the Italian film industry, which was thriving.

By then, he had fallen in love and married a young woman he met in Parma, Marianna Bucchich, the daughter of a Dalmatian poet. In 1961 she somewhat reluctantly joined him in Rome. It was not a blissful marriage, though they were to stay together for 30 years.

La Califfa was published by Angelo Rizzoli and became an immediate bestseller. In this pungent story of strife, a factory owner wants to show his workers that he is an enlightened capitalist yet he comes to blows not only with militant unionists but also with industrialists.

His relationship with a woman in the factory whose husband, a fellow worker, has been killed by the police during a demonstration, is at first one of confrontation but then develops into a passionate affair.

The film had to wait until 1970 to find a willing producer (Mario Cecchi Gori) and star (comic actor Ugo Tognazzi). The charismatic performances by Tognazzi, as the factory owner, and Romy Schneider, as the widow, ensured success for the film which, in the political climate of the early 1970s, became even more forcefully topical than the book.

That success encouraged Bevilacqua to direct the film of another of his novels, This Kind of Love, the story of a marriage going sour (perhaps inspired by Bevilacqua's own). The leading role was again played by Tognazzi, with Jean Seberg as the wife. It won the David di Donatello award for best film.

Bevilacqua went on to direct several more films but concentrated on writing fiction. He published more than 35 books in his career and in 1968 won Italy's major literary award, Premio Strega for The Cat's Eye, another story of a failing marriage. After separating from Bucchich, he met the actress Michela Miti while working on yet another film and they began a relationship which ended with his death.

From the above it is clear that the book being reviewed today is not one of his best. The main theme is Curiosity understood as yearning, a way to deepen knowledge, the breaking down of taboos.

The story centres around the relationship which the author re-establishes with Marianne, who had left him to seek a bourgeois happiness which turned out to be fake. For three years she has been living with the mediator, a prototype of the struggle for domination, which turns out to be inhuman.

Wounded by violence and hypocrisy, Marianne symbolises the solitude of women. Here, however, the author intervenes describing the many women, some known, some unknown, who have left a sign in his life - from Romy Schneider to Edith Piaf, from Jean Seberg to Marlene Dietrich. Then the ones without a name, known only by their generic description - the most surprising, the great lovers, the jealous, the most loyal, the fabulous, the mysterious.

It is a voyage by an enchanted Ulysses in the female universe, an acknowledgement of life and love.

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