Italy films: The best films set in Italy

Favourite films set in Italy, from black-and-white masterpieces to romantic comedies

Here’s a selection of Italy film highlights and recommendations. Watching a film set in Italy is a good way to get you in the mood for a holiday, to reminisce over the gorgeous locations or just to enjoy the Italian scenery from the comfort of your own home. Some movies are in English with Italian settings, others are Italian films. Clicking on the picture or the link provided, you can buy the video or DVD and have it delivered to your home by by tomorrow. So even if the holiday is a long way away, you could be enjoying Italy on film.

Plein Soleil (Purple Noon)

Plein Soleil, Rene Clement’s superbly atmospheric 1960 film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley is a hard-to-find masterpiece. The temperature rises as handsome Alain Delon takes a fancy to his rich friend’s lifestyle. Not only Delon but also the Italian scenery are displayed to their seductive best. From tourist Rome to lazy southern fishing villages, the sun sizzles and so does the plot.

Only You

Male acquaintances scoffed and called this a ‘girl’s film’ … but only after watching the entire movie with every appearance of enjoyment. A charming and funny romantic fable with a diverting conceit. Betrothed Marisa Tomei flies to Italy on the spur of the moment to pursue a stranger whose name she knows only through a spiritualist’s predictions. A whistle-stop tour of Venice begins her quest, followed by a romantic interlude in Rome where she finds not the elusive’Damon Bradley’, but instead a Mr Wright in the form of Robert Downey Jr. The characters decamp for the stunning Amalfi Coast and Positano (staying in the luxury Le Sirenuse hotel) before all is revealed and resolved in a thoroughly satisfying fashion.

Film locations to visit:
> Venice
> Rome
> Positano

Roman Holiday video

Roman Holiday [1953] – buy now

Roman Holiday

THE Rome tourism movie. Audrey Hepburn is a princess on the run, Gregory Peck is a cynical journalist, Rome’s heartbeat pulses through every scene of this unashamedly sentimental period piece. The chase on a scooter through Piazza Venezia, the party on a boat by Castel Sant’ Angelo, the hands-in-the-Mouth-of-Truth scene…. Every classic scene will become forever associated with the Roman locations for everyone who’s seen Roman Holiday. Gregory Peck’s character lived at 51, Via Margutta – you can go and peer through the gateway when you’re in the Spanish Steps area.

Film locations to visit:
> Rome – Locations include the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), the Spanish Steps (Audrey enjoys a gelato), Ponte Sant’ Angelo, Via Margutta. You can buy cheap posters of the film everywhere in Rome, they’re probably the city’s most popular souvenir purchase.

Three Coins in the Fountain video

Three Coins In The Fountain [1955] – buy now (video)


Three Coins in the Fountain

An aspirational travelogue masquerading as a romantic comedy, aimed squarely at 50s housewives and secretaries. This film is great for the locations and, nowadays, for sociological and historical interest. The plot’s morality is skewed, the director’s priorities are confused. The three coins of the title are thrown in the Trevi Fountain by three husband-hunting American secretaries; the heroine (the most unlikeable character in the film) has her sights set on a philandering prince. Some of the intended humour falls very flat nowadays, but still, it’s an interesting period piece and the title sequence is lovely as the title song plays languidly over shots of fountains in and around Rome.

Film locations to visit:
> Rome – the Trevi Fountain (throw your coin in and wish for your prince). Termini Station (spanking new in the film, see how it’s changed).
> Tivoli – some of the most impressive fountains of the title sequence are located in the gardens of the Villa d’Este.
> Venice (preferably by private plane, of course).

Buy La Dolce Vita DVD

La Dolce Vita [1960] – buy now on DVD

La Dolce Vita

An eternal masterpiece by the great Federico Fellini. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a three-hour film with more philosophy than plot, La Dolce Vita is probably already one of your favourite films. Marcello Mastroianni plays a journalist beset by existential crises who tries to lose himself in Rome’s gilded and decadant cafe society. In the most famous scene of the film, Anita Ekberg wades into the Trevi Fountain at dawn, wearing evening dress.

Film locations to visit:
> ‘Rome is a kind of jungle’ observes Marcello, driving through Piazza del Popolo en route from glamorous Via Veneto to the impoverished suburbs. The most visitable location is of course the Trevi Fountain. Don’t be tempted to recreate the ‘Come in, Marcello!’ scene – there’s a hefty fine for would-be bathers. The parties you will have to recreate for yourself.

Il Postino

Il Postino [1995] – buy now

Il Postino – The Postman

A charming and whimsical story of a simple island postman who learns about love, politics and metaphors. The film’s star, Massimo Troisi, was ill with a heart condition when the film was made. He died the day production ended on Il Postino, his masterpiece. The film is a fitting and moving tribute to the talented comic actor, who plays the shy postman of the title. Hopelessly in love with a local Venus and unable to approach her, he turns for help to the only customer on his mail round, the exiled Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (played by Philippe Noiret). Gradually the hero awakens to an awareness of poetry, of abstract concepts, of politics and of ambition … along with the mixed benefits and tragedies that awareness brings.

Rocco and his Brothers

Rocco And His Brothers [1960] – buy now

Rocco ei suoi Fratelli – Rocco and his Brothers

An extremely intense and curious film from the great director Luchino Visconti. A poor southern family move, as so many families did, to the big city of Milan in search of a better existence. There they find life is far from easy, as city life takes its toll on the family. Alain Delon stars as Rocco, and the French star’s transcendent good looks are perfect for the role of the charming and saintly hero. As the plot goes on, Visconti elevates his central character into a pained martyr, a Jesus-figure who sacrifices everything dear to him for his family. Not entirely uplifting, the film is fascinating, troubling, and thought-provoking, with brilliant performances from Delon and the rest of the cast.

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful [1997] – buy now

La Vita è Bella – Life is Beautiful

The Oscar-winning film by Roberto Benigni about wartime Italy was set and filmed in Tuscany. Made in 1997, the film has become a modern classic with a popularity unusual for a foreign-language film. The tragi-comic film is the story of Jewish man whose sense of humour wins him his principessa, the princess of his dreams, but whose sweet family life is interrupted by the Second World War. To protect his son, he turns internment into a game.

Film locations to visit:
> Arezzo, in Tuscany, is proud of its starring role in the film, and the town is peppered with information boards about the movie locations.