Best known for "The Night Porter" (1974) which, like many of her films, boldly and effectively deals with socio-political and sexual themes, Liliana Cavani has been a director and frequent writer of features, TV programs, documentaries and operas. She made her first films as part of her graduation requirements from films school. "In Contro Notturno" (1961) depicted the friendship between an Italian and a man from Senegal while "L'Evento" (1962) focused on a joy killing by tourists in Southern Italy. Soon thereafter, Cavani was hired to work at RAI, the Italian TV network, as a director for a newly-formed second Italian channel in 1961 and for several years thereafter made programs that were ground-breaking for their time. "Storia del III Reich" (1962) was a four-hour analysis of Nazism while "La Donna della Resistenza" (1963) revealed little-known information about Italian women who had worked in the Resistance movement during World War II. In 1965, Cavani traveled to France to do a documentary on the burning issue of whether or not Marshal Petain should be rehabilitated. (He had been the collaborating head of the Vichy government during World War II). Interviewing resistance members as well as right wingers, the director came away with the controversial point-of-view that to parole Petain was to reopen the doors to fascism.
In 1966, Cavani made her first dramatic work, a film for RAI on the life of "Francesco D'Assisi" (St. Francis of Assisi). The result played at the Venice Film Festival and won an award at the Valladolid Film Festival. Having achieved a degree of success, she moved into feature filmmaking, co-writing and directing "Galileo" (1968). The film garnered controversy for its extreme anti-Church establishment viewpoint which led to the Vatican's attempt to suppress the film. Nevertheless, Cavani proved her mettle and received the lion's share of acclaim for a balanced depiction of ideas and the persecution of scientists and thinkers by the Inquisition. Her next efforts, "I Cannibali" (1969), starring Britt Ekland, and "L'Ospite/The Guest" (1971) both conveyed her interests in repressive social mechanics and challenges to traditional authority. "Milarepa" (1973) was a richly complex work which raised questions about violence in society while following the dual stories of an 11th Century youth on a spiritual journey in Tibet juxtaposed with a contemporary story of the aftermath of an automobile accident.
Cavani's best known work remains "The Night Porter," in which a former Nazi commandant and the woman he raped in a concentration camp meet again. A box-office success, the film melded the director's themes with graphic sexuality and raised issues about contemporary political views. She further explored these issues in two other films that drew parallels between sado-masochism and the rise of Nazism: "Beyond Good and Evil" (1977) and "Berlin Interior" (1978). As Cavani turned more toward staging operas, her film output dwindled. In 1989, she revisited the life of Francis of Assisi in the feature "Francesco," starring Mickey Rourke. Her last film to date, the 1993 Italian TV-movie "Dove siente? Io sono qui/Where Are You? I'm Here" was about a deaf mute who finds love.
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Directed a number of probing, groundbreaking documentaries and dramas for Radiotelevisione Italiana
Directed and wrote first feature for TV, "Francesco d'Assisi"
Theatrical feature directing debut (also co-writer), "Galileo"
Had international success with "The Night Porter"
Filmed English-language "Francesco", starring Mickey Rourke as Francis of Assisi
Last film to date, "Dove Siete? Io Sone Qui"; originally filmed for Italian television
Announced plans to direct film called "Dissociated States"; never made
Wrote and directed "Ripley's Game"