The life of Franco Cristaldi

Franco Cristaldi (1924–1992) was born in Turin into an anti-fascist family and was distantly related to the Marzotto family of industrialists. He took part in the Resistance in northern Italy and, with his brigade, arrived in Rome following the liberation, where he witnessed the making of Roma città aperta (Rome Open City). It was this experience that was at the origin of his passion for cinema.

When he returned to Turin in 1946, he founded the Vides company, which took its name from the initials of his business partner Vittorio De Santis, a well-known documentary director, but which also sounded like the Latin word for the verb ‘vedere’ (to see).

The first years of Vides

With Vides, he made hundred of documentaries and newsreels, some even as director, for the Settimana Incom company. From 1954, he embarked on the production of feature films.

His first film was La pattuglia sperduta (The Lost Patrol) by Piero Nelli (1954). Though a flop at the box office, it brought Cristaldi into contact with Riccardo Gualino’s Lux company, which would become his main partner and distributor in the years that followed.

The national and international success

Success came with I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, Mario Monicelli, 1958), in which a small role was played by the young Claudia Cardinale, who became his second wife, after Carla Simonetti and before Zeudi Araya, who he would marry in 1983. Cristaldi grasped Cardinale’s potential and oversaw her launch as the pre-eminent star of Vides. With its policy of talent-scouting, the company discovered and promoted many young actors, including Stefania Sandrelli, Rossana Schiaffino, Tomas Milian and Giuliano Gemma.

At the start of the 1960s, the producer acquired some land in the Prima Porta district of Rome, where he would create his own sound stage and manage film production on the basis of criteria of maximum efficiency and economy, drawing inspiration from the Americans.

In the course of the decade, he produced high quality films that signalled the maturity of the Itaian-style comedy, including I compagni by Mario Monicelli (The Comrades, 1963), Divorzio all’italiana (Divorce Italian Style) and Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned) by Pietro Germi (1961, 1964), which earned Cristaldi a well-deserved international reputation. At the same time, he contributed to the current of civil and political cinema with films such as Fracesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano (1962), Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair, 1972) and Lucky Luciano, and Ogro (1978) by Gillo Pontecorvo.

Cristaldi became a crucial reference point for an entire generation of young Italian directors (Bellocchio, Ferreri, Maselli, Loy). He also undertook many international coproductions, especially with France, making, among other titles, Corpo a corpo (The Dictator’s Guns, 1965), Vivere per vivere (Life for Life, Claude Lelouch, 1967), Soffio al cuore (Murmur of the Heart) and Lacombe Lucien (both by Louis Malle, 1971 and 1974).

The struggles of being a producer:
the establishment of Cristaldifilm Srl

In seeking to combine quality and economy, the producer adopted innovative production formulas involving directors, writers and actors. In two cases where there was a marked risk of going over budget, he went so far as to found companies jointly with directors: with Luchino Visconti for Le notti bianche (White Nights) and with Federico Fellini for Amarcord.

In the 1970s, following some excursions into popular cinema (Di che segno sei? / What sign are you? Sergio Corbucci 1975, Amori miei / My Loves, Steno, 1978), he returned to more ambitious projects with Vides International. With this company, he would produce for the state television company RAI the spectacular series Marco Polo, directed by Giuliano Montaldo.

The substantial investments required by Marco Polo and E la nave va (The Ship Sails On, Fellini, 1983) resulted in a crisis and led to the loss of the Prima Porta facility. Cristaldi recovered from this setback with a new and more flexible company, Cristaldifilm.

With Fabio Rinaudo at his side as script editor, he managed in the space of a few years to achieve two huge successes, Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose, Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986) and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988). He died suddently in 1992 after having won, with Tornatore, the third Oscar of his career, after Divorzio all’italiana (Oscar for best screenplay) and Amarcord (best foreign film).


Discover the Archive through the journeys, episodes and stories about actors, directors and the legendary films produced by Franco Cristaldi.