L’Inferno (1911) Director: Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe De Liguoro
Reminiscent of Ferdinand Zecca’s early silent classics, “The Inferno” is an Italian short epic portraying the first (and most important) part of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” entitled The Inferno. Spurred on by Italy’s War with Libya (1911-1912), Italian audiences were hungry for narratives which elevated Italian heritage, and this growing appetite spawned a burgeoning film industry in Italy (see also my review of Pastrone’s Cabiria which was released in 1914).
“The Inferno,” which is credited with being the first feature-length Italian film, is a compelling and haunting trip into the depths of hell. We watch in horror as we see long stretches of scenes with nude, tortured people lying about through the different layers of hell. As in the epic poem, Dante is led through the many layers of hell by his guide, Virgil, as the scenes are filled with fetishized people strewn about in torturous misery –the aesthetic is largely based on the famous drawings of Gustave Doré. It was initially screened in Naples but actually managed to find success in the United States. L’Inferno met some minor controversy for its depictions of torture, nudity, and hell. Virgil and Dante encounter all manner of mythical figures – Homer, Pluto, Mohammad, various sinners, Charon, Cerberus, demons and so on. The film ends with a crescendo in the 9th circle of hell as we witness a massive shot of Lucifer devouring both Brutus and Gaius. This special effects shot of Lucifer is the most iconic in the whole film. It contains elements of early horror cinema, in addition to its clear influence coming from the movies of George Melies. Unfortunately I was not able to locate much information about this trio of Italian directors but their legacy lives on in this film.