Italy-China relations through the lens

The relationship between China and Italy, told through the eyes of Italian filmmakers, is the focus of a new Flinders University PhD project.

The research, conducted by Department of Language Studies (Italian) student Stefano Bona (pictured), will analyse the portrayal of China, its people and culture based on several Italian films that were made in China from 1949 to 2006, including the first Western full-length documentary of 1958, La Muraglia Cinese (Behind the Great Wall).

“Italy has very special cinematic relations which China,” Mr Bona said.

“The cinematic representation of China by Italian filmmakers can be viewed as a symbol of the longstanding historical relationships between the two countries, which originated during the Roman Empire through to the days of Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci,” he said.

“Filmmakers are intellectuals and in a way they represent the perception of what is going on in society, and what society perceives.”

Mr Bona said the films, particularly those set in contemporary China, reflected the varying perceptions of the country over time.

“These films provide an indication of how China’s image in half-a-century has changed.

“The perception of China in large parts of Western societies, including Italy, has shifted from a rather blind fascination for Maoism and the idea of a ‘New Man’, created by the revolution as an alternative to capitalism and Soviet communism, to disenchantment with the new economic superpower in the years of Western de-industrialisation and economic crisis.”

Mr Bona said the idea for his research stemmed from his master degree studies, during which he “discovered” his passion for Italian cinema by analysing the influence of Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini on the cinematic style of contemporary filmmaker Giovanni “Nanni” Moretti.

A paper on this subject was recently selected as one of the University’s Best Student Papers for 2012, an annual competition which aims to recognise and reward outstanding student research.

“My earlier research was really my first entry into Italian cinema and film analysis.

“I am now trying to link together what I saw when I was living in China to my background in Chinese cultural studies and to a new research project on Italian filmmaking.

“In the past four years several films have also been made in Italy on Chinese immigration and considering that number is growing year after year it’s another field that could be expanded, however my aim is to take the first step in a still unexplored area of intercultural and interdisciplinary analysis – something I feel is of great importance in today’s globalised world.”

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