Liliana Cavani Biography

Liliana Cavani photo

Born: January 12, 1933


Date of Birth: January 12, 1933

Born in Carpi, Italy, Liliana Cavani is best known for her film The Night Porter (1974), which examined the sadomasochistic relationship between a former Nazi commandant and the woman he raped in a concentration camp, when they meet again 15 years later. The filmed gained much attention not only because of the graphic sexual nature, but because it offended many concentration camp survivors. A review in The Wall Street Journal read, "[there is an implication that] those imprisoned by the Nazis share in their jailor’s depravity… the victims, The Night Porter would have us believe are just as guilty as their torturers." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "Cavani is less interested in the banality of evil or its psychology than in what she tries to picture as the eroticism of it." The criticism didn’t stop Cavani from making two more films that involved both sadomasochism and Nazis——Beyond Good and Evil (1977) and Berlin Interior (1978).

Cavani's first job after film school was as a director for an Italian television network in 1961, where many of her programs featured WWII and Nazi themes. When her first feature film——a biography of St. Francis of Assisi called Francesco D'Assisi (1966)——won an award at the Valladolid Film Festival, Cavani was encouraged to write and direct more features. Galileo (1968) was imbued with an extreme anti-Church viewpoint and won the wrath of the Vatican. After several more films, including an English-language biography of St. Francis of Assisi called Francesco (1989) starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter, Cavani became more interested in staging operas, and devoted less time to filmmaking. In the late 1990s, she returned to her television roots and directed two TV movies, Cavalleria rusticana (1996) and Manon Lescaut (1999).

Cavani’s biggest break to date came when producer Iileen Maisel acquired the film rights to Patricia Highsmith’s novel Ripley's Game, a sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was made into a film in 1999. Maisel felt Cavani was the right person to turn the novel into a screenplay as well as to direct the film. The offer was just what Cavani had been hoping for, as she said at the time, "I had been wanting to work on an adaptation——in particular, an American novel." Ripley’s Game (2003) gave her a chance to once again work with an international cast, including high profile actors such as Dougray Scott and John Malkovich.


Ripley’s Game (2002)
Dove siete? Io sono qui (1993)
Francesco (1989)
Berlin Affair, The (1985)
Oltre la porta (1982)
Pelle, La (1981)
Al di là del bene e del male (1977)
Milarepa (1974)
Il portiere di notte (1974)
L’ospite (1971)
Cannibali, I (1970)
Galileo (1969)
Francesco d'Assisi (1966)

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