“I’m starting from three” “From scratch, from zero, start again from scratch” “No, sir, I start from three, only three things I managed in my life, why should I lose them and start from zero, … from three!”. It is the surreal dialogue between Massimo Troisi and Lello Arena in the first film directed by Troisi “Starting from three”. It was the film that made known to all Italians the actor Troisi and his version of the Neapolitan dialect that everyone could understand, from Lombardy to Sicily. He was the new Totò, modern and young, he was the comedian of the feelings.
The film tells the escape of Gaetano from hometown San Giorgio a Cremano to Florence, international and touristic city, the myth of the young people of the seventies. This first cinematic experience in which Massimo tried his hand as protagonist and as director, describing his growth and emancipation through a series of hilarious events: the crazy man of the highway, the American pastor, the encounter and friendship with Marta , evolved and modern girl, antithesis of the women he had known until then.
Massimo Troisi was born February 19, 1953 in San Giorgio a Cremano, a town to the southeast outskirts of Naples. His father Alfredo was railway worker, his mother Elena Andinolfi was housewife. Massimo was last of six brothers; he lived in a big house in Via Cavalli di Bronzo 31, where his family was cohabiting with the parents of his mother Elena and his uncles with their five children; 17 people lived together in that house, as often happened in the south Italy in those years, where living together with close relatives was not dictated by economic conditions, or at least not always, but the atavistic sense of security that resulted from the presence of so many parents, uncles, grandparents, brothers and cousins, ready to turn into clans in times of trouble.
His first interpretation was an advertisement for Mellin, baby food, he attended as a child with a picture that his mother had sent to Mellin. At the age of fifteen he began to recite small parts in the theater of his church, together with Lello Arena and other young aspiring actors. The newly formed company began with the representation of Neapolitan classics, revisited by the creativity of the actors. They staged a “Pulcinella” of Antonio Petito: “The ghosts in the house of Pulcinella” with Massimo Troisi in the part of the famous mask, mask that helped him to overcome his shyness. Pulcinella was lowered into the social situation of the time, with quips and jokes invented by Massimo and his companions. The company, to which was added Enzo De Caro, was called “Rh-negative” and began to stage avant-garde performances.
The priest invited them to find another place to do theater, worried by the avant-garde representations. The young actors founded the Center Theater Space in a garage that they had rented, in which they did mainly cabaret and avant-garde, with great success but without any gain.
Massimo suffered from a malformation of the mitral valve, a consequence of rheumatic fever, and he was in bed for long time from child. Because his health was undermined through sickness, in 1976 his family decided to bring him in the United States to submit to the replacement of the mitral valve. There was a collection in which the people of San Giorgio a Cremano participated, collecting also promoted by the newspaper Il Mattino, which allowed him to leave for Houston, where there was a famous center specializing in cardiac care, he was operated and the mitral valve was replaced to him.
Back in Italy, he resumed his theatrical activity with the trio “I Saraceni” made up of Troisi, Arena and Decaro. Due to a forfeit of the actor Leopoldo Mastelloni that had to do his show to San Carluccio Theater in Naples, the trio was called for replacing by Pina Cipriani, owner of the theater with her husband Franco Nico. The theater San Carluccio was a small room in via S. Pasquale a Chiaia, with about 100 seats, nicknamed “Bomboniera” for its elegance and beauty, where small theater groups performed and where there was good music with the management of Franco Nico, accomplished musician and songwriter, and his wife Pina Cipriani refined interpreter of Neapolitan songs.
Pina Cipriani asked Massimo the name of his trio and having been answered a grimace of disappointment, suggested the name “La Smorfia” that recalled the expressions of the face but also the book that explains the meaning of the “lotto” (lottery) numbers. The trio performed with all its cabaret repertoire in several evenings with a big hit.
“La Smorfia” was called by RAI-TV after this first experience in a real theater, perhaps by virtue of a knowledge which Massimo had done in Houston. He had made friend with a relative of a RAI manager in the hospital, who was impressed by that young actor who, even in that difficult circumstance, had made to laugh with his comic outputs. The first participation in Rai was in the show “Sinceramente insieme”, broadcast by radio, quickly followed by the television show “Non stop”.
The trio took its permanent public and critical success with show of Pippo Baudo “Luna park” with little sketches, of which Massimo was the inventor, in which the silences were more than words, words that could to be hilarious with essential comic. It is remained in popular memory the sketch “Ark of Noah”, which Massimo intended to go on the sly, pretending to be a strange animal, the “Minollo”, and that of the “Annunciation”, where Lello Arena played the archangel Gabriel and Massimo, wife of fisherman, was exchanged for Virgin Mary. The trio broke up in the late seventies to misunderstandings between Decaro and Troisi.
After separation of the trio Troisi devoted himself to film in the role of director, author and actor, with a screen-play written by the three hands: Troisi, Jemma and Massimo mistress Anna Pavignano. The movie “Starting from three”, shown in cinemas in March of 1981, was a great success and marked a milestone in the world of cinema: fixed cameras, surreal dialogues soaked of revolt against the stereotypes towards southern people never traveler but exclusively emigrant, a dialect language made understandable as the language of Totò and Eduardo De Filippo.
In 1983 a new movie of Massimo Troisi is shows in the cinemas with a title that, instead of referring to the subject of the film, apologizes to the public for the delay had been produced: “Scusate il ritardo” (Sorry for the delay). The elapsed time between the two films was due to the many stops in the shooting and the doubts of Troisi that he was afraid that his second work was not up to the first. The film had as an author, screenwriter and director Massimo Troisi, who was also the protagonist Vincenzo, along with Lello Arena, in the part of his friend in prey to existential crisis, Lina Polito in the role of his sister and Giuliana De Sio in part of Anna, the woman falls in love with the protagonist.
This movie was the most autobiographical work by Massimo, he describes life boring but theatrical that took place in the big house in San Giorgio a Cremano, along with many family members and his brother Alfredo, actor, who represented the same Troisi in real life; dialogues were memorable between Vincenzo and his friend Tonino that took place on the Via Mariconda stairs (Chiaia district) , today it is named “Stairs Massimo Troisi”, or the shots which were made in a peripheral station and desolate, which in reality was the Giugliano-Qualiano station, where Tonino was gone to throw himself under the train for disappointment in love. The film represented the definitive statement of the artist, considered the best by critics and rewarded with 2 “David di Donatello”.
Massimo produced a television short film in the form of documentary between these two films, which turned out tragically autobiographical, “Morto Troisi, viva Troisi” and in which was represented the untimely death of the actor Massimo Troisi. In the documentary Lello Arena, Maurizio Nichetti, Roberto Benigni recall episodes from the life of the deceased, with Benigni who speaks ill of the dead actor and Arena who plays the part of his guardian angel.
Massimo Troisi counted among his friends Pino Daniele with whom, in addition to friendship, shared the disease: Pino also had a “crazy” heart, Roberto Benigni with whom he made a film together, Maurizio Nichetti, Renzo Arbore, who was also symbol of “napolitudine”.
In 1984, Massimo Troisi, with Roberto Benigni, shot the film “Non ci resta che piangere” (Nothing left to do but cry). The film recounts the adventure of two friends, Mario and Savierio (respectively Massimo and Roberto), which, unbeknownst to them transported back in time, find themselves living in the late 1400s in a Tuscan village. The film was shot without a screenplay, which was created day by day by the two comedians. The two friends live a series of comic events in which Mario cannot adapt to life in the Middle Ages as opposed to Savierio who seems at ease. Mario falls in love with the beautiful Pia, played by Amanda Sandrelli. Mythical letter that the two addressed to Savonarola, in imitation of the homonymous scene in the movie “Totò, Peppino e la Malafemmina”. The two try to reach Christopher Columbus to Spain to prevent him from leaving and prevent the discovery of America. The final part of the film diverges from the film version in which the two meet Leonardo da Vinci on their way to Spain and the television version of the film in which meet the beautiful Astriaha, accompanying the last stretch of the journey.
After the film the romantic relationship ended between Massimo and Anna Pavignano, however, the artistic collaboration continued with the screenwriter. During the filming of “Le vie del signore sono finite” (The ways of God are ended), which won a “Nastro d’argento” for the screenplay, Massimo began a new relationship with the actress Jo Champa, which lasted two years. Apart from brief affairs with Eleonora Giorgi and Anna Falchi, the actor had as mistress Clarissa Burt and finally he lived together to Nathalie Caldonazzo.
After the three movies directed by Ettore Scola (Splendor, 1989, Che ora è?, 1989, Il viaggio di Captan Fracassa, 1990) he made his last film “Il Postino” (The Postman) based on the novel “Ardiente Paciencia” by Antonio Skármeta. The direction was the same Troisi and Michael Radford; co-stars were Philippe Noiret in the part of Neruda and Massimo Troisi in part of the postman Mario Ruoppolo, while Maria Grazia Cucinotta, on her debut, played the beautiful waitress Beatrice. The film, melancholy and sentimental, speaks of exile Neruda in an Italian island and his postman who, in love with Beatrice, maid of the inn where the poet hosted, uses the love poems of the great poet to impress Beatrice. The film was shot between the islands of Pantelleria, Salina and Procida.
“The Postman” made the best collection ever for an Italian movie, had five Oscar nominations, won the gold statuette for the soundtrack, also won numerous other awards including a “David di Donatello” and a “Nastro d’argento”.
The day after the end of the assembly of the film, Massimo Troisi, pressed from heart disease and crushed by fatigue of the shooting, died in her sister’s home in Ostia 4 June 1994. He was 41 years old.
(Photo at the top: Massimo Troisi in un fotogramma di Ricomincio da tre, 1981)