For what it's worth, of the several Pietrangeli DVDs available on Videociak.net (a site I haven't yet used, but which was highly recommended to me), one has English subs (La Visita) and another may possibly have an English dub track option (Souvenir d'Italie). Getting non-cult, non-major auteur Italian films on DVD in America has seemed to be like pulling teeth. Where are our Zampas and Comencinis!?
... And since this is a private board but I don't think the text is readily available online, I'll reproduce the text of Olaf Möller's appreciation of Zurlini from a July/August 2000 issue of Film Comment, which is how I first heard of the filmmaker.
When you think of the great flowering of postwar Italian cinema, the name Valerio Zurlini may draw a blank. Too young to be a Neorealist, too old to be a Sixties radical, and not sexy enough to stand alongside Fellini and Antonioni, he may have been an odd man out, but nonetheless he created a highly personal body of work.
Film history, like any kind of history, is defined around official turning points. But the fact is that the way we look at history (i.e. the placing as well as meaning of such turning points) can often change. There is usually more happening in between the big events than during the events themselves. Take Italian cinema. Its central defining moment, if one believes the standard version of film history, was the emergence of Neorealism, with its heroes Rossellini, de Sica, Zavattini, etc., conveniently, if in political terms somewhat shakily, connected to the Liberation and post WWII democracy. About 20 years later the Young Cinema came along - Bertolucci, Bellocchio, etc. - again connected somewhat shakily to another major political event, the so-called student revolt. Besides the fact that this arranges a rather complex and tangled history into an unnatural order, how do we account for the time passed in between these two moments? What about filmmakers who only connect these points chronologically? What about a director whose work is linked less to certain genres, political stances or the readings of dominant schools of film criticism (e.g. Jacques Becker's connection to the French New Wave's "politique des auteurs"), than to a zeitgeist and the culture it produces? What about an auteur like Valerio Zurlini?
Italy 1943: just before the Neorealists filmed their vision of how the world should be, and the Young Cinema generation was barely old enough for kindergarten, Zurlini was discovering the way the world works. Born in 1926 to a well-to-do family from Bologna, Zurlini fought with the Italian Liberation Corps from the fall of Mussolini in July 1943 - an ambivalent historical turning point that he would later address in Violent Summer (Estate violenta, 59) - until the Liberation in 1945. One of Zurlini's twelve early shorts, Soldati in citta (53), as well as four of his eight features, Violent Summer, The Camp Followers (Le soldatesse, 65), Black Jesus (Seduto alla sua destra, 68) and The Desert of the Tartars (IL deserto dei Tartari, 76), are set in the world of soldiers. .At the same time, Zurlini's discovery of the Italian people, the commoners he believed himself to be alienated from, would also prove to be a formative influence. They're at the center of most of his short films, beginning with Story of a Neighborhood (Racconto del quartiere, 50). Curiously, they're absent from his features. (Considering the large scale subjects he often took on in his features, as well as his basically unrealized epic ambitions, perhaps his interest in the common people didn't extend beyond cinematic exercises.)
Zurlini despaired at post-war Italy's mood of self-congratulatory hedonism, and developed a melancholic, existentialist vision of life very close to the work of post-war writers like Giorgio Bassani, whose Garden of the Finzi-Continis Zurlini sought to adapt before it was finally made by Vittorio de Sica, and Vasco Pratolini, on whose novels Zurlini based both his rather conventional debut, The Girls of San Frediano (Le ragazze di Sanfrediano, 54) and one of his masterpieces, Family Diary (Cronaca Familiare, 62). Zurlini's desperate vision of life led him to the two fundamental insights that inform all his work: just as death is a certainty, it follows that relationships can never work and that love can't be kept alive - and so it's best to abandon love while awaiting death. This is best exemplified by the films in which love is won and then cast carelessly aside, as in Girl with a Suitcase (La ragazza con La valigia, 61) and The Professor (hrc prima none di quiete, 72). Zurlini also came to believe that art alone could provide insight into human nature, inspiration, truth and the possibility of redemption, since art endures long after its creator is gone.
Zurlini said that studying art helped him develop an intuitive approach to the composition of images, and that going to the movies on a regular basis instilled in him an understanding of cinematic rhythm, presumably reinforced and deepened by his long-standing collaboration with composer Mario Nascimbene. Zurlini's images are painterly, composed along forceful lines with a strong plastic quality, accentuated by his often sparse, carefully dressed sets. But what really distinguishes his visual approach is his stark, often monochromatic use of color, inspired by the painting of Giorgio Morandi and Ottone Rosai, the main influence on the look of Family Diary.
For Zurlini, the world made visible and audible by cinema is never real, but always a soul-scape and occasionally a highly personal map of his own memories. It's also the mirror image of the protagonist's barren inner self, which is strictly in alignment with Zurlini's vision, where nothing is autonomous and everything is connected. Riccione's summer beaches, featured in Violent Summer and Girl with a Suitcase, with their pampered, vacantly beautiful and fatally confused young people, the leaden grey mists of autumnal Rimini in The Professor, and the hyperplastically present landscape with its atonally colored sand, rocks and snow in The Desert of the Tartars, all tell the story of a world in turmoil, waiting for spiritual guidance - and denying it, should it present itself, in order to continue waiting, as the suffering of the Lumumba-esque savior demonstrates in the "Christ-and-the-good-thief" parable of Black Jesus.
If one had to choose a film that best represents Zurlini's work, it would be The Professor. For one thing, the original Italian title, La prima none di quiete, taken from a quote by Goethe, is an allusion to death, the great leveler, one of Zurlini's major obsessions. The whole film is an ode to the eternal quiet ."after the deceits of life." (In this respect, The Desert of the Tartars is more extreme, illustrating everything that brings about man's death, from sickness through to despair and madness.) Moreover, The Professor isn't an adaptation of somebody else's work, but an original script. Co-written by Zurlini and Enrico Medioli, it's an elaboration of both a segment of Zurlini's most ambitious project, the three-part Bondarchuk-esque epic Paradise in the Shadow of the Sword (Il paradiso all'ombra Belle spade) and of an unfinished novel called Indian Summer (L'estate Indiana), another allusion to death. On the most profound level, the film is based on Zurlini's desire to return to the world of his childhood, the summers spent in Rimini, places now lost in the mists of confusion, time and memory.
When Zurlini died in 1982, he left a comparatively small oeuvre of finely crafted films, which, in the final analysis, are all expressions of a singular vision, informed, of course, by the age in which they were made. But at the same time, they transcend context and reveal an essential truth: that man is a captive. Zurlini's is a cinema without escape or excuses, the kind of cinema that doesn't change on repeat viewing, but that can be returned to, and that stands as it is.