Writer. Nationality: Italian. Born: Sardinia, 1927. Career: Journalist for L'Unità; member of Italian communist party; 1951—first film writing, for Persiane chiuse; 1956—published novel Squarciò. Died: 14 September 1982.
Films as Writer:
Persiane chiuse (Behind Closed Shutters) (Comencini)
Gli eroi della domenica (Camerini)
La donna più bella del mondo (Leonard)
I difanzati della morte (Marcellini)
"Giovanna" ep. of Die Windrose (The Wind Rose) (Pontecorvo); La grande strada azzurra (The Long Blue Road) (Pontecorvo)
Kapò (Pontecorvo); Les Dents du diable (The Savage Innocents) (Ray)
Madame Sans-Gêne (Madame) (Christian-Jaque); Salvatore Giuliano (Rosi); Vanina Vanini (The Betrayer) (Rossellini)
Le soldatesse (The Camp Followers) (Zurlini); La vita violenta (Heusch and Rondi)
La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) (Pontecorvo)
Quien sabe? (A Bullet for the General) (Damiani)
Il mercenario (The Mercenary) (Corbucci); La resa dei conti (The Big Gundown) (Sollima)
Tepepa (Petroni); Queimada! (Burn!) (Pontecorvo) (co)
Etat de siège (State of Siege) (Costa-Gavras)
Il sospetto (Maselli)
Mr. Klein (Losey)
Hanna K (Costa-Gavras)
By SOLINAS: books—
Squarciò (novel), 1956, as Squarciò, the Fisherman, London, 1958.
With Costa-Gavras, State of Siege (script), New York, 1973.
La battaglia (script), Rimini, 1984.
On SOLINAS: book—
Cosulich, Callisto, Scrivere il cinema: Franco Solinas, Rimini, 1984 + filmo.
On SOLINAS: articles—
Michalczyk, John, "Franco Solinas: The Dialectic of Screenwriting," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 2, 1984.
Bianco e Nero (Rome), April-June 1984.
Positif (Paris), July-August 1985.
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One of the most politically committed of European screenwriters, Franco Solinas joined the French Resistance at age 16 and after the Second World War became a member of the Italian Communist Party. He also worked for its daily paper, L'Unità, and for Paese Sera.
As a screenwriter Solinas' name is inextricably linked with that of the director Gillo Pontecorvo. They first worked together when Pontecorvo directed Solinas' Giovanna, a characteristic story about a woman coming to political consciousness, and an episode in the Joris Ivens project Die Windrose, a compendium film about the political commitment of women on an international scale. In 1957 Solinas published his novel Squarciò, which concerned a fisherman fighting oppressive and corrupt forces in the fishing industry. He adapted this for the cinema as La grande strada azzurra, and Pontecorvo, who directed it, described the film as the work of his apprenticeship. His other films with Pontecorvo were Kapò, set in the Nazi death camps, The Battle of Algiers, a remarkably detailed film about the war in Algeria which distinguished itself both by its tremendous dramatic energy and its refusal to caricature the colonialist forces while nonetheless firmly taking the side of the freedom fighters, and Queimada!, an extremely subtle analysis of colonialism, starring Marlon Brando, which was clearly influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon. His work with Costa-Gavras was slightly less successful; in particular State of Siege, though undeniably a powerful film on the emotional level, lacks the political complexities and subtleties of his work with Pontecorvo.
Solinas has always been drawn to violent confrontations at politically significant moments of history. Following the Rossellinian principle of broadly didactic filmmaking (he worked, significantly, on the script of Rossellini's Vanina Vanini) he has, as John Michalczyk put it in Cineaste, always "walked the tightrope between politicized fiction and fictionalized politics," writing not documentary scripts but extremely carefully documented ones. His films are notable for their awareness of and adequacy to political complexity and contradiction, and their avoidance of facile analyses and solutions.
Although Solinas is probably best known for his films with Pontecorvo and Costa-Gavras, he also made a notable contribution to several interesting "spaghetti westerns." Again, his decision to work within a popular genre was a characteristically political act. As he himself explained: "movies have an accessory and not a decisive usefulness in the various events and elements that contribute to the transformation of society. It is naive to believe that you can start a revolution with a movie and even more naive to theorize about doing so. Political films are useful on the one hand if they contain a correct analysis of reality and on the other if they are made in such a way as to have that analysis reach the largest possible audience." Solinas wrote the dialogue for Damiani's A Bullet for the General, the story of Sollima's The Big Gundown, and with Giorgio Arlorio, with whom he had worked on Queimada!, the story of Corbucci's A Professional Gun. As Christopher Frayling has pointed out in his book Spaghetti Westerns, the central relationship between Sir William Walker and José Dolores in Queimada! finds various distinct echoes in these films, all of which "share a loose allegiance to Fanonism, which means that the targets they attack are at least underpinned by a coherent social and political analysis." A Bullet for the General even includes a critique of the politics of Kazan's Viva Zapata! and a possible reference to Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico, as well as discussions of guerrilla tactics and the problems of the consolidation of power.
How the politically astute Solinas would have reacted to changing political circumstances will, unfortunately, never be known. He died on the eve of departing for the United States, where he was going to write a film for the director Martin Scorsese.