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Ennio Guarnieri RIP

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  • Ennio Guarnieri RIP

    Ennio Guarnieri, cinematographer who worked with leading Italian directors, suffusing their films with sun-dappled Mediterranean light – obituary


    Ennio Guarnieri (left) and actor Fabrizio Bentivoglio on the set of Mauro Bolignini's film Lady of the Camelias
    CREDIT: FABIAN CEVALLOS/SYGMA/SYGMA VIA GETTY IMAGES

    5 SEPTEMBER 2019 • 6:00AM

    Ennio Guarneri, who has died aged 88, was a cinematographer who over a 50-year career worked with such directors as Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini and Franco Zeffirelli, helping to craft many of the Italian cinema’s most seductive images as it reasserted itself internationally.

    Unlike his contemporary Vittorio Storaro, whose work on such landmarks as The Conformist (1970) favoured dramatic, high-contrast compositions, often plunging areas of the screen into darkness, the bearded, bespectacled Guarnieri’s work was typically suffused with a warm, golden Mediterranean light.


    Still from Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film
    CREDIT: MOVIESTORE COLLECTION LTD / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

    His most celebrated work came on De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971), which earned a Bafta nomination for its photography before winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Guarnieri’s sun-dappled images enabled this enduring adaptation of Giorgio Bassani’s novel to establish a dreamy, summery bubble around its central characters, a well-to-do Jewish family living a precarious high life in Thirties Italy.

    Something of that head-in-the-clouds vision persisted into Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), Zeffirelli’s modish take on St Francis of Assisi’s formative years. Lush Sicilian and Umbrian exteriors earned Guarnieri his first Silver Ribbon award (the Italian Oscar) for cinematography, despite critics railing against the project’s “tourist-brochure look”. His eye-catching work on sand and sea also contributed to the global success of Swept Away (1974), the spiky Lina Wertmüller fable later
    remade by Guy Ritchie with Madonna (and rather less Marxism).


    Graham Faulkner in Brother Sun, Sister Moon
    CREDIT: PHOTO 12 / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

    His second Silver Ribbon prize followed for helping to open out Zeffirelli’s film of La Traviata (1982). By that point, Guarnieri had established himself as a go-to for name directors in search of classy imagery: he contributed to Fellini’s lavish folly Ginger and Fred (1986), reunited with Zeffirelli (and Placido Domingo) for Otello (1986), and tracked Mikhail Baryshnikov’s movements in Dancers (1987).

    Perhaps inevitably, given his trademark sheen, he found profitable employment in the advertising sector between projects, bringing an extra touch of class to “High Society”, a 1985 spot for Barilla that survives as the only Fellini-directed pasta commercial.


    Ennio Guarnieri was born in Rome on October 12 1930. A restless student, he abandoned surveyor training in 1949 to become an assistant to Anchise Brizzi, the veteran cinematographer who shot De Sica’s defining neo-realist film Shoeshine (1946) and pieced together Orson Welles’s angular Othello (1951). Guarnieri’s apprenticeship led to several camera assistant gigs, first on the Brizzi-shot comedy Hello Elephant (1952), and eventually on Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960).

    He shared a cinematography credit on Alberto Lattuada’s crime drama Unexpected (aka The Mishap, 1961) before going solo on His Days Are Numbered (1962), the second film by the emergent director Elio Petri, in which a plumber is confronted by his own mortality. The film fell within touching distance of the old, neo-realist ways, yet Guarnieri’s bright monochrome frames told their own ironic story – of a life of leisure forever lying just beyond the working-man hero’s grasp.


    Lino Capolicchio and Dominique Sand in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
    CREDIT: EVERETT COLLECTION INC / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

    Thereafter, he worked across a range of genres. His aptitude for shooting actresses was showcased in 1963 by Marco Ferreri’s sex comedy The Marital Bed, for which Marina Vlady won the Cannes Best Actress prize; he bathed Catherine Deneuve in Tuscan light during the otherwise insipid La Costanza della Ragione (1964); helped to establish the ethereal Virna Lisi’s pin-up credentials in The Girl and the General and Arabella, both in 1967, and Better a Widow the next year; and shot a soft-core classic in Radley Metzger’s high-kitsch Camille 2000 (1969).

    He could do starker work, venturing into the rocky hills of Cappadocia and Aleppo for Pasolini’s Medea (1969), with Maria Callas in the title role. Yet after the success of Finzi-Continis he was hired for 1970s English-language productions such as Ash Wednesday, Hitler: The Last Ten Days and The Cassandra Crossing. In 1979 alone he completed five films, among them Dr Jekyll Likes It Hot, a sex comedy starring the voluptuous Edwige Fenech.


    As the 1980s dawned Guarnieri captured Isabelle Huppert’s pellucid beauty in The Lady of the Camellias; other films at that time included The Wings of the Dove and The Story of Piera. Thereafter, he displayed a weakness for international co-productions like Liliana Cavani’s Francesco (1989), with Mickey Rourke as a grimier St Francis than Zeffirelli had imagined, and Andrei Konchalovsky’s The Inner Circle (1991), a polyglot account of Stalin’s final days featuring Bob Hoskins as his hatchet man Beria.

    He remained close to Zeffirelli, lensing the director’s Sparrow (1993) in Sicily and the camp of Callas Forever (2002) across Europe. After completing the Franco-Russian Raspoutine (2011), with Gerard Depardieu as the mad monk, his final credit came on the romcom Under a Happy Star (2014).

    Ennio Guarnieri, born October 12 1930, died July 1 2019
    Last edited by Maurice; 5th September 2019, 08:02 AM.
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