L’Inferno (1911) Review

L’Inferno (1911) Director: Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe De Liguoro

★★★☆☆

Like Ferdinand Zecca’s early silent movies about classic works of literature, “The Inferno” is an Italian film portraying the first (and most important) part of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Spurred on by Italy’s War with Libya (1911-1912), the appetite for early epic films spawned the genesis of a burgeoning Italian film industry (see also my review of 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. Long stretches of scenes with nude, tortured people lying about through the different layers of 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 Brutus and Gaius. This special effects shot of Lucifer is the most iconic in the whole film as it contains elements of early horror cinema, in addition to its clear influence coming from the movies of George Melies.

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. Unfortunately I was not able to locate much information about this trio of Italian directors.