As a country that prides itself on its rich visual culture, it’s no wonder that Italy has produced some of the most influential films the world has ever seen. Even in the face of political turmoil, censorship and fascist propaganda, the country is responsible for championing groundbreaking cinematic movements.
By watching Italian films, learners can immerse themselves in this fascinating culture while picking up important lingo in the process. Here are just some of the best movies to learn Italian (although it was practically impossible to narrow it down) — divertiti!
8. Mine vaganti
Mine vaganti, a 2010 comedy by Ferzan Özpetek, provides a layered and introspective take on the contentious issue of homosexuality in conservative southern Italy. The film follows protagonist Tommaso as his attempts to come out to his family are repeatedly thwarted by a series of unexpected obstacles.
The striking contrast between traditional family structures and Tommaso’s secret double life not only builds an alluring narrative but also provides a great resource for learners at an intermediate level. With this film, they can learn a wide range of vocabulary relating to family relationships, love and food.
7. Io non ho paura
For a peek inside Italy’s gritty underbelly, look no further than Io non ho paura. This film follows nine-year-old Michele Amitrano as he attempts to solve a crime, exposing an insidious web of secrecy bigger than he ever could have imagined.
Based on a wildly successful novel by Niccolò Ammaniti, this movie is set during the “Years of Lead” — a period in Italy’s history characterized by social turmoil and domestic terrorism. With countless accolades and overwhelmingly positive reviews, this thriller is undoubtedly one of the best films to expose intermediate learners to dialects in the south of the country.
6. Perfetti sconosciuti
Perfetti sconosciuti tells the story of seven friends who agree to reveal every text message they receive over the course of one evening, with shocking consequences. A fantastic anthropological study of the impact of technology on modern society, this comedy highlights the chasm between self-perception and the polished, socially acceptable version of oneself.
Unlike some of the other movies on this list, Perfetti sconosciuti is an excellent movie for Italian learners of all abilities. Thanks to heavy use of body language and typical Italian hand gestures, beginners and lower-intermediates (from B1 level) will find the more complex dialogue easy to follow. Meanwhile, advanced learners can gain an insight into the nuances of Italian attitudes towards love, family and unemployment.
5. Il sorpasso
This 1962 cult comedy is considered the apex of commedia all’italiana, one of the most celebrated genres in Italian cinema. In II sorpasso, introverted law student Roberto is taken on an unexpected road trip by the erratic and charismatic Bruno.
A much-beloved classic in Italy, this movie provides an excellent introduction to essential Italian cinema. Learners may find Bruno’s idioms challenging — he frequently uses typical Roman expressions such as “Fàmo alla romana” (literally translated as: “Let’s do it Roman-style,” but meaning “everything pays for itself”) — but the dialogue is generally quite simple, making it ideally suited to lower-intermediates.
4. I cento passi
This drama by director Marco Tullio Giordana takes place in a small town in Sicily, where activist Peppino Impastato attempts to turn public opinion about the mafia. The title, I cento passi, refers to the 100 steps between Peppino’s home and the house of the mafia boss, Tano Badalamenti.
Based on actual events, this movie gives viewers a look into life under the rule of the mafia. As a learning resource, this is a great film for advanced Italian learners to challenge themselves with Sicilian accents and expressions.
3. Pane e tulipani
Fans of a good old rom-com will love Pane e tulipani, which follows the protagonist Rosalba on a journey of self-discovery. Bored of her mundane life and controlling husband, the housewife impulsively hitchhikes to Venice after being left behind on a family holiday.
Pane e tulipani eschews the cheesy stereotypes of other movies in its genre, earning overwhelmingly positive reviews both in Italy and abroad. It’s also one of the best films for beginners to learn everyday Italian, as the dialogue and plot are both fairly simple.
2. Il capitale umano
In this critically acclaimed drama, a hit-and-run leaves a waiter seriously injured, but an investigation into the incident prompts a frantic scramble to conceal the truth. This film makes a powerful statement about Italy’s deeply entrenched class system, demonstrating how the rich and powerful can exploit their privilege to escape their problems, leaving the poor to pay for them.
The film is based on the American novel Human Capital by Stephen Amidon, which could help beginners and intermediates better follow the plot. However, due to the complex themes and dialogue, this film is ideally suited to advanced Italian learners.
1. La vita è bella
Rounding off our list is the Oscar-winning classic La vita è bella by Roberto Benigni. Set in a Nazi labor camp, this bittersweet comedy reflects on themes of love and sacrifice as the protagonist Guido attempts to protect his son from the terror of their reality by pretending the camp is actually just an elaborate game, where they have to follow all the rules to win a tank.
This beautiful movie is simultaneously agonizing and tender, a story that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. And from a language learning perspective, the vocabulary is often quite simple, making it an excellent choice for lower-intermediate Italian learners who are interested in learning about life in Italy under the rule of the Axis powers.