Sentenced to Death: The Proto-Berlusconi of La più bella serata della mia vita

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Film Studies, Italian Studies



Publication Title

The Cinema of Ettore Scola


Ettore Scola's filmic and narrative "architecture" explores the micro-histories of phenomenal human types, stories, and settings in the attempt to represent, in the director's own words, the "history of human beings, their confrontations and battles with the reality of those big events looming around them." This emblematic "dance of history" moves along historical continuums, from fascism to the contemporary age, and sways across the social spectrum, from the lumpenproletariat to the bourgeoisie. It is a long-range investigation that depicts the faces of power through bittersweet, if not gloomy, stories. Although in his last years, at odds with Italian media tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's all-pervasive system of power, Scola's creative arc declined, his cinema nonetheless did not fail to discern the emergence of berlusconismo. As historiographical research indicates, the socioeconomic, cultural, and historical factors that eventually converged to produce berlusconismo in the 1990s were at work long before the premier's economic and political climax. This chapter captures Scola's ethical and artistic sensitivity to symptoms of berlusconismo percolating in Italian society since the early 1970s, and it does so by way of a polyvalent approach. Grounded in a cultural studies methodology, it centers on the film La più bella serata della mia vita (The Most Wonderful Evening of My Life, 1972) as a meditation on the relationships among representation, sociocultural discourses, and the Italian historical context.
After some introductory considerations of Scola's intellectual and professional position within the context of Berlusconi's 1990s Italy, this chapter argues that La più bella serata presents a proto-Berlusconi character years before the actual historical figure cast a populist spell on the country. This does not suggest an actual physiognomic resemblance between the protagonist, Alfredo Rossi (Alberto Sordi), and Silvio Berlusconi. Similarly, the aim is not to demonstrate that Scola intentionally thought of Berlusconi while developing the script or casting Sordi. In fact, La più bella serata is neither a biopic nor a fictional story proffering a Berlusconi avatar. Rather, it is a tragicomic condemnation of the average Italian (the italiano medio, or Everyman), a semiotic and cultural construct that portrays contempt for legal and moral rules, a dishonest work ethic, inflated individualism, the illusory performance of masculinity, and the obsessive pursuit of sexual conquest. Exploring the film's mise-en-scène and cinematography, the chapter focuses specifically on the symbolism of the film's narrative, the characterization of Alfredo, and the cultural discourses surrounding the italiano medio, embodied on a macrotextual level by Silvio Berlusconi. Alberto Sordi's performative body, in concert with the film's dark plot, allows Scola to pursue (proto) berlusconismo in La più bella serata, something he would emphasize years later, commenting on the film. Seen from this perspective, the trial and the apocalyptic ending of La più bella serata foreshadow Scola's moral and intellectual position vis-à-vis the wave of berlusconismo that changed the culture of the nation from the early 1990s.


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