Different reasons prompted numerous directors to shoot their films in the Sassi of Matera. In 1949, for example, Carlo Lizzani made a documentary trying to investigate that peasant world described by Carlo Levi and captured its contradictions.
It is the only time that the Sassi of Matera do not pretend to be something else or a mere set design and tell their story. From here on, in fact, the Sassi will be adapted to various needs. Lattuada chooses them to turn the Lupa there, and the Sassi become a miserable Sicilian village.
Since the 1960s, the Sassi have become completely uninhabited and the strong sense of degradation, following abandonment, is used pretext to show the southern backwardness, as in “The Roaring Years”, “The demon”, “The Basilisks”, “Here the adventure begins”, “Christ stopped in Eboli” and “Burnt earth”.
The Sassi, lifeless, are now a scenography without a precise historical time. Pasolini in his “Gospel according to Matthew” of 1964 consecrates this role: the Sassi are given meaning only if removed from the present historical period, and projected into a still, metaphysical, timeless world.
It is the only way to make them live, otherwise their separation from the present is very clear, Pasolini seems to tell us. Curiously, a second time the Sassi in Jerusalem became Jerusalem, with King David, (Richard Gere was the leading actor), and a third time in 2002 with the film “The Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson.
The weather that does not change in the displaced stones favors the most disparate scenarios: a southern country of the eighteenth century (the sun also at night), of the early nineteenth century (Allonsanfan with Mastroianni), a Basque country of the twentieth century (The Guernica tree), a Sicilian town of the fifties (Tornatore’s man of the stars).
A surreal place, also suitable for the fairytale “Once upon a time” with Sofia Loren or the extravagant “The time of the beginning”.
However, they never went back to being the Sassi. Thanks to the splendid scenography they offer, together with the surrounding area, and thanks to the absence of population and therefore of transformations, they have constituted in the last fifty years an excellent set for dozens of directors.
We hope that the Sassi, restored and experienced, will offer Matera the opportunity to tell the story, and the stories, of this splendid city.