“Pizza on Credit”: An Analysis Italy has always been perceived as a land of beauty. From its ancient architecture, to the abundance of timeless artwork, to the picturesque landscapes that appear to be almost unreal; the beauty of this country has been associated as a part of the life and culture for centuries. Even though this characteristic appeared to be common knowledge to all those who traveled to the foreign land, Italy itself did not always associate their country with this feature.
Since the 17th century when young members of aristocratic background came to Italy to explore the ancestry of the European culture, Italy has been stereotyped as a country that produces beautiful things, even women. Italy was also at the very heart of the Renaissance, furthering the allure of the state. Italy encompassed a feeling of tradition and convention that was endearing as well as intriguing. Inevitably, once people began to realize the appeal of the peninsula, they began conquering it.
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After they were released from the control of the Napoleonic era in the early 19th century, Italy began taking action towards their unification, which was finally achieved in March of 1861. This period of Resurgence brought about a search for a national identity. Before they had been unified as one independent nation, all Italy had ever known was being under the control of a larger, stronger ruler; now, with their new found liberty, Italy sought after a defining characteristic that the community as a whole could share. Unmistakably, they turned to women.
The Italian woman quickly became the symbol of national identity. The uniqueness and exoticness of Italian women, as well as their traditional domesticity quickly developed into the national representation; from women of aristocracy such as Queen Margherita, to more commonly known celebrities such as Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren. Although this ideal initiated in the late 19th century, it progressed throughout time well into the current decade. Even during the reign of fascism when a hierarchy of gender was instilled, women continued to be seen as the embodiment of the nation.
While not actually possessing a specific obligation to society, their job was to maintain the image of a pure, holistic fascist woman. As Professor Nira Yuval-Davis explains in her book Gender & Nation, “Girls did not need to act: they had to become the national embodiment,” (Yuval-Davis 45). No actual responsibility was placed upon women of this time; their sole duty was to behave properly and live according to fascist ideals, therefore establishing their role as an image rather than an actual person.
This obligation proved to be somewhat paradoxical in that while having no genuine status in society, their presence was crucial in portraying a sense of identity. The authentic, rural women of Italy were seen as, “the repository of true national virtues,” (Gundle 93). Isolated from the modernization occurring around the world, peasant women relied solely on their spirit to express their beauty, ergo, providing a spirit for the entire nation. A woman’s job was to maintain a home for her husband and children, and nothing more.
Simply, as Gundle goes on to say, “they reduced themselves to being purely objects of male pleasure,” (Gundle 92). It was a man’s society, women merely epitomized it. During this period, the symbolic function of the Italian woman was even enforced through their cinema. Italian cinema of the 1940s encountered a resurgence due to the fact that American cinema was rapidly declining as a result of the paranoia instilled from the effects of the Cold War. Even though many of the Italian actresses of this time did not exactly fit the standards of the “natural Italian beauty,” they still encompassed a sense of reserve and submissiveness.
Actresses such as Maria Denis and Alida Valli maintained standard, recognizable features of Italian women, such as dark and exotic features, however they were far from the blonde bombshells more common to the American culture. Cinema of the 1950s, on the other hand, introduced a completely different view of Italian women. After World War II, the Italian nation went through a period known as the reconstruction. During this time, Italy attempted to redeem itself from the shame and guilt that came with their defeat.
Fascism was no longer a facet of their culture, and with this new desire to reestablish their reputation, all aspects of Italian life were transforming. Post-war cinema attempted to stray from the once dominant fascist command and explore a new vision of female beauty, while still personifying national identity. This decade adopted the American sex appeal of their actresses. Women began straying from the traditional, modest beauty and began portraying their women as full-figured, lustful celebrities. Their defining features promoted a sense of prosperity and fertility.
Undeniably, the most world renowned Italian actress of this time is the beautiful Sophia Loren. Over the course of her career, Sophia Loren has progressed into an extremely talented and revered actress. Along with being the most recognizable Italian actress in history, her work has been rewarded with countless awards and veneration. Loren possessed not only the beauty and sexual appeal, but she was also a talented actor. Even though she went on to land more dramatic roles as her vocation evolved, during this period of reconstruction, Loren played the role of a desirable female.
In “Pizza on Credit,” an episode of Vittorio De Sica’s film The Gold of Naples, Loren played a lustful role of a pizza maker in the heart of Naples. The allure of her and her husband’s pizza stand was not only the fact that one could buy a pizza and pay later, but also that you could be served by the busty and sexy Sophia. Throughout the duration of the episode, Loren is admired by a slew of men in the community, much to the aloofness of her husband. Her character strayed completely from the previous ideals of propriety and modesty of the earlier female characters portrayed in the film industry.
Loren’s character was a confident, attractive, and sought-after woman. The domicile and submissive qualities were obviously no longer an aspect of Italian actresses. The manner in which she dressed, spoke, and even walked expressed a perception of utter control. Her hair was a mess, her blouse falling off her shoulder, and her apron stained with dough and sauce did not prevent Sophia from being seen as a completely put together woman. Every movement she made and word she spoke seemed to be premeditated for her benefit.
While her position was still based solely on pleasing the men of the community, she proved that women could still be in control of her situation. This was a landmark in the new ideal spreading across the nation. Women were still turned to as representations of national identity, yet they now this fact was known and used to their full advantage. While the plot of the episode was insignificant, the main purpose of the dilemma was due to the fact that Loren had had sexual relations with another man. This concept alone was one completely foreign to a society that had centered itself on orality, especially of its women. Through this role, Sophia Loren introduced a new breed of femininity; an independent, self-sufficient woman of power who depended on the appeal of men, but used it to her full advantage. As Gundle relays, “These actresses renewed the identification of Italy with female beauty at a time when the country needed a new cordial image and new symbols to show the world,” (Gundle 169). The reconstruction instilled a large amount of trust in the women of the peninsula, since they remained to exemplify the identity of the country, yet the image needed to be completely reformed.
In “Pizza on Credit,” Loren clearly shows the ideals of the new modern woman, and strays from the preceding ideologies. “Pizza on Credit” is a classic depiction of the new strength and power of Italian women. As Italian cinema developed and transformed into a respectable craft, actresses of the time were now capable to express themselves creatively while still standing for a contemporary view of the female image. I feel that Sophia Loren was the perfect applicant for this role, seeing that she truly does seem to just encapsulate the image of Italy.
From the 1950s to today, the image of the “Bella Italiana” has changed drastically, yet it can still be said that they remain to be a staple of their culture. More than providing entertainment, actresses provided a vision into the certain eras of their films. As the times changed, so did the ideals, and thus, so did the women. Films offered a window into the lives of the Italian people, especially of the Italian women. They were deliberately used to portray the archetype of the country, no matter what period in history they were depicting.
While I felt the film was a little asinine, I understood how crucial the role of these actresses was to the welfare of the land. I truly feel that Italy is in fact a country full of beauty. Despite the inevitable ups and downs that it faced in its past, it remains to be a pivotal piece of history. Women such as Sophia Loren provided Italy with the opportunity to prove something of itself, not only that they were a land who bred such gorgeous women, but that they were capable of maintaining an identity. Loren showed the world that a woman does not have to be submissive to be respected while paving the way for countless actresses in the future.