Learn Italian with Movies: The 24 Best Italian Films

Watching movies in Italian can be an incredibly effective way to learn the language.

So let’s take a look at a few Italian movie recommendations you don’t want to miss!

Then we’ll explore why movies are so useful and how to learn Italian by watching movies.


What Are the Best Movies for Learning Italian?

I’ve picked out 24 Italian films from a variety of decades and genres. Not only are these excellent, immersive learning materials, but they also shed light on the culture, history and humor of the Italian language and its speakers.

Of course, tastes vary and there’s no single “best” way to do anything. And not every film on my list is a cinematic masterpiece—I’ve snuck a few in there that are more for a lark.

But, if you’re not sure where to begin in the vast cinematic repertoire of the Italian language, these movies are a great place to start.

1. La vita è bella (Life Is Beautiful) (1997)Life Is Beautiful (English Subtitled)

Director: Roberto Benigni
Find it on: Amazon

This film won a spate of awards including Best Actor for Roberto Benigni at the 71st Academy Awards.

Set in the 1930s, it’s the story of a father protecting his son from the harsh reality of the Holocaust. Guido Orefice (Benigni), a simple Jewish bookshop owner, and his son are taken to a concentration camp by German officers.

The movie exhibits the lengths a father goes to protect his son from the inhumanity of it all. It has artfully teased out some Chaplin-esque comedic moments amid misery.

Language learners will take a lot from the effusive Guido who talks non-stop and grandly gestures his words. You’ll remember the vocabulary and the catchphrases simply because there’s a highly kinesthetic actor flailing about with his hands.

And, despite being set in the ’30s, the film uses fairly contemporary Italian that you can work comfortably into daily Italian conversations.

2. Malèna (Malena) (2000)Malena (English Subtitled)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Find it on
: Amazon

“Malèna” is a coming-of-age film set in 1940 Sicily. It tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who perpetually fantasizes about a beautiful school teacher, Malèna, whose husband was called to war in Africa.

The effervescent Monica Bellucci plays the role of a woman who sets gossip afire by simply walking around town and going about her daily chores. 

Renato can’t get Malèna off his mind and it’s fair warning to viewers that the film gets heated especially when the contents of the boy’s mind are portrayed.

While Malèna barely speaks in this film, you’ll have your fill of period Italian through the lines and the vivid, engaging narrations of the lustful Renato, as well as the jealous town folks.

3. L’attesa (The Wait) (2015)L'Attesa

Director: Piero Messina
Find it on: Amazon

Piero Messina’s directorial debut tells of a mother’s grief for her dead son.

When her son’s French girlfriend, who still doesn’t know her boyfriend is dead, shows up at the doorstep of the mother’s Sicilian villa to spend Easter there, things get interesting. 

The cinematography is beautifully executed—at times screaming, at times subtle. The austere nature of the film makes for controlled and deliberate dialogue, and the pace is often just right for language learners.

And if you need language learning inspiration, take a page from Juliette Binoche, the French actress who plays the mother in this film and learned Italian to perfect her role.  

4. I cento passi (One Hundred Steps) (2000)One Hundred Steps (2000) ( I cento passi ) ( 100 Steps (The Hundred Steps) ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Italy ]

Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Find it on: Amazon

“I cento passi” is the story of Peppino Impastato, who at a time when nobody else was brave enough to even acknowledge the existence of the Mafia, headed a radio program that revealed their criminal activities and abuses.

Ultimately, Impastato was liquidated by the Mafia, in what was originally ruled as a suicide. Twenty years after the event, the case was reopened and a conviction was eventually handed down for murder.

The movie is peppered with charged language and is a treat for those who want to acquaint themselves with the Sicilian dialect.

In the opening of the movie, you can hear the young Peppino sing “Nel blu dipinto di blu” (“In the blue that is painted blue”) which you may know as “Volare.” It’s a great Italian song that’s worth a study.

5. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Paradise Cinema) (1988)Cinema Paradiso (English Subtitled)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Find it on: Paramount+

“Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” is a classic from Tornatore about a man’s journey through life. We see him grow from a boy slipping into the projection booth at the cinema, to working as a projectionist himself, to becoming an acclaimed director.

The film also tells the story of a love lost. It went on to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1989 and continues to be discussed in film circles today, with cinephiles debating over deleted scenes. 

Language learners will truly appreciate how beautiful the Italian language is. Not only are famous lines from other movies quoted, but the movie itself is also a basket of beautiful prose.

Look especially at the lines of Alfredo, the original movie projector operator who mentored the young protagonist.

6. Lazzaro felice (Happy as Lazarro) (2018)

Director: Alice RohrwacherHappy As Lazzaro [DVD] [2019]
Find it on:

Born into a generation of latter-day sharecroppers on a tobacco plantation called Inviolata (Untouched), the teenage Lazzaro has always been happy with his simple, hard-working life.

Having always lived in isolation in rural Italy, Lazzaro has no idea that his labor—as well as the manual labor of all his family and neighbors—is being illegally extorted by the Marchioness Alfonsina De Luna.

When Lazzaro becomes friends with De Luna’s son, Tancredi, his whole world changes. He sees the injustice of the sharecropping arrangement and joins Tancredi on a quest for money and justice.

Beautifully told with both symbolism and gritty reality, “Lazzaro felice” won “Best Screenplay” at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

7. Sotto il sole di Riccione (Under the Riccione Sun) (2020)

best movies in italianDirector: YouNuts
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A good selection for a night when you just want to relax and give your brain a break, this teen dramedy finds its charm more in the acting and presentation than the plot.

The characters discover each other and dare to find love during a picturesque and dynamic holiday on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Its director, YouNuts, is known primarily for directing video shorts; this seems to be the only feature film in YouNuts’ filmography, to date.

8. Baarìa (Baaria) (2009)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Find it on:

A multi-generational, historical drama, this film from director Giuseppe Tornatore takes us through fifty years of family and community history in Bagheria, Palermo—known locally as “Baarìa.”

Starting its narrative in the 1930s, the film unrolls more as a series of vignettes than a traditional movie with a cohesive plot.

It explores family, career, village life, love and politics. There are some particularly graphic images in this film, so sensitive viewers should be aware of this issue. Also, some viewers reported difficulty seeing the subtitles.

9. Spettacolo (2017)Spettacolo

Directors: Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen
Find it on: Amazon

The name of this documentary means “show” or “performance” in Italian. The film tells the story of Monticchiello, a Tuscan town that has spent half a century mounting a play about the lives of its own citizens.

With breathtaking scenery and scenes straight out of real life, we get to know the people of Monticchiello as they contemplate how their art reflects their reality.

For more behind-the-scenes information about how this documentary was made, check out the NPR interview with the filmmakers.

10. La siciliana ribelle (The Sicilian Girl) (2008)The Sicilian Girl (English Subtitled)

Director: Marco Amenta
Find it on:

The true story of Rita Atria inspired this film about justice and revenge in the Sicilian mafia. Atria, unwittingly born into a Mafia family, sees her father and brother brutally murdered.

Only a teenager, Rita Atria breaks omertà—the Sicilian Mafia’s code of silence—to seek retribution for the slayings of her family members.

She works with police to find justice and must eventually seek police protection in an attempt to safeguard her own life. While not everyone in Atria’s real-life family embraced the film, it was critically acclaimed.

11. Reality (2012)Reality (English Subtitled)

Director: Matteo Garrone
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This film is the tale of fictional fishmonger Luciano, a larger-than-life man who dreams of finding fame and fortune on “Grande Fratello,” Italy’s answer to “Big Brother.”

Luciano deludes himself into believing that he’s being surveilled and evaluated by the show’s producers after his unsuccessful audition. He changes his behavior to present what he believes is the most flattering image of himself, vexing his wife with acts of reckless generosity.

At turns heartrending and cringe-worthily amusing, this winner of the 2012 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival explores the thin line between truth and fantasy—and the myriad ways obsession with image over reality can change and damage our lives.

12. La vita davanti a sé (The Life Ahead) (2020)best movies in italian

Director: Edoardo Ponti
Find it on:

Screen legend Sophia Loren stars as Madame Rosa, who gives shelter to the children of prostitutes in Bari, Italy.

Having once been a prostitute herself, after having survived the Holocaust, Madame Rosa extends her compassion to Momo, an orphaned boy of Senegalese parentage who is turning to a life of crime.

Based on a French-language novel called “La vie devant soi” (“The Life Before Us”), “La vita davanti a sé” is the third version of this story to be acted out—having been proceeded by Moshé Mizrahi’s “Madame Rosa” in 1977 and Harold Prince’s Broadway musical, “Roza,” in 1987. This 2020 iteration was directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti.

13. Oci ciornie (Dark Eyes) (1987)Dark Eyes

Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Find it on:

A pastiche of ideas drawn from short stories by Anton Chekhov—most especially, inspired by “The Lady With the Dog”this film has dialogue in both Italian and Russian.

Romano Patroni, played by celebrated Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, recounts through flashbacks how he fell in love with a dark-eyed Russian lady in the days before World War I.

The film’s Italian title, “Oci ciornie,” is a phonetic version of Очи чёрные, which is Russian for “dark eyes.”

Alas, both Romano and his Russian love interest are married to other people. With elements of both comedy and drama woven into the remembered romance, the film is enjoyed for its top-notch acting as well as its evocative cinematography.

14. Natale a 5 stelle (Five Star Christmas) (2018)best movies in italian

Director: Marco Risi
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For a bit of holiday fluff, with shades of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” check out this zany farce.

Italian Prime Minister Franco Rispoli travels to Budapest on official business during the Christmas holiday, only to encounter his mistress, a political adversary and a Santa who’s considerably less-than-jolly.

While this one may be pure guilty pleasure, you’ll still pick up plenty of political terminologies and essential Italian holiday vocabulary—as well as Italian slang and words and phrases used to talk about romantic relationships.

15. Maraviglioso Boccaccio (Wondrous Boccaccio) (2015)

Directors: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio TavianiWondrous Boccaccio
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To create this visually appealing, historical drama, directing duo the Taviani Brothers drew inspiration from “The Decameron,” a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance literature by Giovanni Boccaccio.

In 14th-century Firenze (Florence), the population is dealing with the ravages of the Bubonic Plague. People of means are escaping the city, fleeing to the Tuscan countryside in the hopes of evading widespread disease.

While sharing a country estate, a group of young people pass the time by recounting stories to one another. (Remember, this was centuries before smartphones, television or even radio.) These shared stories keep everyone entertained, even as they start to forge connections between the characters.

16. Totò, Peppino e la malafemmina (Toto, Peppino, and theTotò, Peppino e la malafemmina - italian movies Hussy) (1956)

Director: Camillo Mastrocinque
Find it on:
Amazon, YouTube

This grand, silly classic of Italian cinema from 1956 is known to everyone on the peninsula and quoted all the time.

It concerns three brothers from the Neapolitan countryside. One of them, Lucia, goes to Naples to study medicine but falls in love with a dancer and moves with her to Milan. The story follows the other two brothers’ misadventures in the big city as they try to “save” their lovelorn sibling from the “bad” girl.

Its most famous line is from the grammatically flubbed letter that the brothers send to the woman, offering her money for her time (and to go away).

Their goofy attempt at written Italian starts with “Signorina veniamo noi con questa mia addirvi una parola (Miss, we come with this letter to say a word to you…). Italians quote this all the time to each other, especially when it seems that someone is attempting to make a too-serious speech.

17. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) (1966)

Director: Sergio LeoneThe Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Find it on:
Amazon (English version), YouTube (Italian version)

This spaghetti western from 1966 was panned by critics at the time but has since established itself as a classic.

Note that the words in the title were flipped around in the English version—brutto means ugly and cattivo means bad.

The film was made with both famous Italian and American actors speaking their own languages, and dubbed versions were thus released in both languages. One learning strategy could be to flip back and forth and watch the scenes in both languages.

The film takes place during the Civil War, and concerns three tough guys racing to find gold in a remote cemetery, amid a backdrop of general chaos and violence.

18. La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) (2013)

Director: Paolo SorrentinoThe Great Beauty (English Subtitled)
Find it on:

This 2013 dramedy is also an Oscar-winner. It focuses on Jep Gambardella, a socialite in Rome who has just turned 65 and finally comes around to taking stock of his life.

The extravagance and absurdity of the Roman party scene that have been the muse for his columns over the decades no longer seem to hold as much appeal or meaning as they once did.

This film is thus frequently compared to “La Dolce Vita, speaking of which…

19. La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) (1960)la-dolce-vita-italian-movies

Director: Federico Fellini
Find it on: Amazon

Federico Fellini’s very famous 1960 masterpiece translates “the sweet life.” Marcello, a tabloid journalist and socialite in Rome, is torn between the party scene and his domestic life with his girlfriend.

The film is structured into seven “episodes” along with a prologue, intermission and epilogue. They recount Marcello’s quest for fun, love and happiness. He’s with women and friends, in parties and surrounded by drama—but nothing seems to be quite enough.

The film won an Oscar for best costumes, and as with many Fellini films, the clothes are outrageous. The character of Paparazzo also gave birth to the term paparazzi, which is now applied to tabloid celebrity photographers in languages around the world.

20. Amarcord (I Remember) (1973)

Director: Federico FelliniAmarcord (English Subtitled)
Find it on:

This 1973 Fellini dramedy is somewhat autobiographical, telling the story of growing up in a village in 1930s fascist Italy. The title is in dialect: It means “I remember.”

The film lampoons village life under the heavy thumb of Mussolini and the Catholic Church, especially the fantasies and the excesses of the weirdo inhabitants.

The schoolteachers are particularly inept and ridiculous, and thus the children look for ways to escape or amuse themselves. There’s a number of surrealist flights of fancy presented as dream sequences.

The film came out when Fellini was already well into his storied career, and was met with both immediate and enduring acclaim from critics around the world. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1975.

21. Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City) (1954)Rome, Open City (1945) - IMDb

Director: Roberto Rossellini
Find it on:

This war drama takes place during the Nazi occupation after Rome was declared an “open city” in 1943.

The film centers on a group of resistance fighters who try to avoid Nazi detection as they work to thwart the fascists through guerrilla warfare.

“Roma Città Aperta” features one of the most famous scenes in the history of Italian cinema.

At the very end, a group of schoolboys walks silently across a view of St. Peter’s Basilica after their teacher has been murdered by the Nazis. This sole shot of a Roman monument is a moving testament to the Italian spirit being reborn out of the ashes of war. 

This film is a good one for beginners to start out with. Many of the characters, especially the Germans, speak Italian very clearly and slowly. You’ll also encounter the Roman dialect, which tends to cut off the ends of words.

22. Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style) (1964)

Director: Vittorio De SicaBlu-Ray - Matrimonio All'Italiana (1 BLU-RAY): Mastroianni,  Loren, Scarano, Puglisi, De Sica Vittorio: DVD & Blu-ray
Find it on:

“Matrimonio all’ Italiana” stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

In this comedy-drama, the line between the exploitative nature of prostitution and the true affection that might grow out of such a relationship is tested to the limit.

Filumena is a beautiful but uneducated prostitute. Domenico is a rich playboy who supports her financially. When she hears the news that Domenico is going to marry someone else, she hatches a plot for him to marry her instead. 

Sophia Loren is the most famous actress to come out of Napoli and she speaks with a heavy Neapolitan accent. Though this dialect is quite hard to understand, it’s interesting to hear how rich and varied dialects can be throughout Italy.

23. Le notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria) (1957)

Director: Federico FelliniNights of Cabiria (1957) - IMDb
Find it on:

“Nights of Cabiria” is another drama directed by Federico Fellini. 

It’s about a cheerful and optimistic streetwalker named Cabiria looking for love in all the wrong places. Her diminutive stature and sweet expression are played off against her explosive character.

While the reality of her life is harsh, her uncrushable spirit allows her to overcome the men who take advantage of her again and again. Despite her lot in life, she has a strong sense of self-worth that she defends to the very end.

The way the characters talk to one another is often highly emotional and dramatic. While watching, pay attention to the hand gestures the characters use to emphasize their words. 

These hand gestures, i gesti, are important parts of Italian non-verbal communication that are as ingrained in the language as the actual words.

24. Riso amaro (Bitter Rice) (1949)Riso Amaro Vintage Movie Poster – Vittorio Gassman, Silvana Mangano | Arty  Posters

Director: Giuseppe de Santis
Find it on:

“Riso Amaro” shows the lives of female migrant agricultural workers. It takes place in the Po Valley in northern Italy, where poor farmers’ daughters gathered every year to harvest the rice crop.

Two criminals, Francesca and Walter, are laying low by blending in with these workers. Francesca gets a job working the rice fields while Walter hatches a plot to steal the rice crop.

Along the way, they meet Silvana, a rice worker, and Marco, a soldier who has a crush on Silvana. Spurning Marco, Silvana becomes attracted to Walter and his exciting criminal lifestyle.

For Silvana, this is preferable to back-breaking work in the fields. Francesca and Marco then try to stop Walter’s plot and stop Silvana from making the horrible mistake of getting caught up in Walter’s web of lies.

Why Learn Italian with Movies?

Why are some of the best movies in Italian also some of the most useful Italian learning tools? There are several logical reasons why you should make movies a regular part of your Italian study schedule.

Movies are multi-sensory and immersive.

If you’re looking for excellent online learning tools, you’ll want resources that are multi-sensory and immersive. Learning Italian with movies offers exactly that experience. You get to train your ears, trying to get used to the language at the fast pace employed by its native speakers.

We learn so much from what we see, and movies offer that visual context to language learning like nothing else can. You actually see language as it animates the characters’ interactions. You see the gestures as wielded by native speakers, the subtle nuances that make the language so vivid.

Not only that, but you actually get to hear exactly what Italian is supposed to sound like. You hear the melodious valleys and peaks of Italian twang in the very authentic style of the movie where there’s an engaging story and characters go from one misadventure to another.

Movies are nuanced, diverse and flexible language learning tools.

With movies, you have a pretty diverse set of contexts, topics and stories. Movies tackle subjects and genres that other learning materials can’t even consider.

Regardless of its genre, an Italian movie is a treasure trove of language lessons. A single film can actually tackle many different fields. A single scene can contain vocabulary, phrases and expressions that will add more texture and nuance to your arsenal, and be brought into your daily conversations.

You only need to have the creativity or the insight to apply them to other situations. By actively watching movies in Italian, you can mine them for every language lesson they contain.

Movies relax your brain and help you learn better.

You’ve probably heard of “learning through play” or “gamified learning”—the idea that we learn better while playing games. Related to this is the idea that we learn better when we’re relaxed.

Watching movies is generally a relaxing activity, even if it’s an action movie or a thriller. Scientific studies have shown that relaxation causes us to produce theta waves, which make us more receptive to new information—and also enhance our memories of what we learn in that state.

Aside from the learning benefits, this practice gives you positive reinforcement—demonstrating, again and again, that there’s entertainment and enjoyment to be found when you open up to the Italian language. And, by making Italian films part of your regular relaxation routine, you also demystify the language.

On a subconscious level, hearing Italian will soon become second nature to you. This is a great way to convince your psyche that you’re well on your way to Italian fluency—and having confidence in your ability to learn it is half the battle!

How to Learn Italian with Movies?

How to milk the scenes

The first time you watch a film, don’t consider it a language lesson. You can put your language learner hat on for the second or third time around. This is the time to break the film down into manageable chunks by focusing on its component scenes individually.

This allows you to devote focused attention to certain parts of the movie, like a dinner party or fight scene. While watching each scene, press the pause and replay buttons as many times as you need. In each scene, look for things like mood, goal, conflict or situation. What’s the scene about? Is it a couple fighting? Is it about a witness being grilled in a courtroom?

Try to be conscious of these things because the flavor of the language that will be used—the type of vocabulary and expressions employed—depends very much on the function of the scene. Also, watch for shifts in the language due to mood changes.

Understanding the theme and nuances of each scene will help you find other real-life situations where you can apply the specific words and phrases it uses. If you understand what’s being said and why, you can better master the subtleties of the words and phrases you’re learning. 

Learning with authentic content is the best way to do this. However, sometimes authentic content that’s appropriate for your level can be hard to find. 


The language learning program FluentU has a tailor-made video player that can solve these problems.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons, as you can see here:


FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles.

Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.


Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.


Once you've watched a video, you can use FluentU's quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.


FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’ve learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know.

Plus, it'll tell you exactly when it's time for review. Now that's a 100% personalized experience!

The best part? You can try FluentU for free!

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

How to mine the subtitles

As you begin to pay careful attention as you watch the film, use the subtitles for countless language lessons. The sequence for watching with subtitles should be:

  1. English subtitles
  2. Italian subtitles
  3. No subtitles (cue standing ovation!)

Mine the English subtitles first for all they’re worth. Notice the correspondence between the English translation and the Italian delivery by the characters. Do you see and hear words that are often used? Watch and listen for English and Italian cognates and false friends.

When you switch to the native subtitles, this is where your learning goes to a whole new level. Notice how Italian spelling compares with Italian pronunciation. You’ll notice that Italian has practically no silent letters. 

Have your paper and pen ready as you dissect a scene. When you see an interesting word in the subtitles, hit “pause” and write it down. Look for longer words that you suspect to be verbs, nouns and adjectives. (The short words are usually connectives.) Try to have 10-12 words per scene.

After you finish a scene, look up the words you’ve written.Barron's Italian-English Dictionary: Dizionario Italiano-Inglese (Barron's Foreign Language Guides) You can use WordReference and play around with their Italian-English and English-Italian sections. Their entries offer deep and nuanced insights into the words, with ample sentence examples for study.

The Free Dictionary also has an endearing Italian version. And if you love the crinkle of real paper, you can get a copy of Barron’s or Webster’s English-Italian dictionaries.

After getting the meanings and usage examples, head back to the scene and watch it again. Do this for every scene in the movie and you’ll gain more insight into the language.

How to mimic the sound

After a lot of repetition, there comes a point when you can practically talk along with the film. You’ve got all the gestures down pat, and you can time the ebb and flow of conversation to perfection. I encourage you to talk aloud as the characters talk.

It’s very important that you actually give voice to the Italian that’s in your head and ears. You have to experience the feeling of actual Italian words coming out of your mouth, rolling off your tongue—imperfect as they may be. The experience of actually speaking solidifies your learning

Read aloud even when you can barely keep up with the native speakers on the screen. It’ll be uncomfortable and awkward at first, but stay with it. And when you’ve memorized the lines, close your eyes and say the lines.

When deconstructing a film, there’s a real possibility that you might be content to just understand the lines spoken by the actors. But that’s just a vital stop to an even more important destination: the ability to speak in Italian.


These are just 24 of the most awesome offspring of Italian cinema. Each one has a certain slant, flavor, style or lesson that’ll help you learn Italian by watching movies—in other words, the fun and engaging way!

I trust that with the tips gained here, you’ll be able to attack any Italian film and milk it for all it’s worth.

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