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Marvelous Bodies: Italy's New Migrant Cinema

Vetri Nathan

Historically a source of emigrants to Northern Europe and the New World, Italy has rapidly become a preferred ­destination for immigrants from the global South. Life in the land of la dolce vita has not seemed so sweet recently, as Italy struggles with the ­cultural challenges caused by this surge in ­immigration. ­Marvelous Bodies explores thirteen key full-length Italian films released between 1990 and 2010 that treat this remarkable ­moment of cultural role reversal through a plurality of styles. In this landmark study ­Nathan argues that Italy sees itself as the ­quintessential ­internal Other of Western Europe, and that this subalternity ­directly ­influences its cinematic response to ­immigrants, ­Europe’s external Others. In framing his case to ­understand Italy’s ­cinematic ­response to ­immigrants, Nathan first explores some ­basic ­questions: Who exactly is the Other in Italy? Does Italy’s own past partial alterity affect its present response to its ­newest subalterns? Drawing on Homi Bhabha’s writings and Italian ­cinematic history, Nathan then posits the existence of ­marvelous bodies that are ­momentarily neither completely Italian nor ­completely ­immigrant. This ­ambivalence of forms extends to the films themselves, which tend to be generic hybrids. The ­persistent curious presence of marvelous bodies and a ­pervasive ­generic ­hybridity enact Italy’s own chronic ambivalence that results from its presence at the cultural crossroads of the ­Mediterranean.

A very well written and researched contribution to the field of world cinema, Marvelous Bodies is also tremendously timely. A testimony to the complex nature and prolifacacy of Italy's immigration cinema, Marvelou sBodies is a pioneering work whose blend of originality and academic rigor will help scholars and studet alike understand the continuing hybridazation of identies and imaginaries in Italy (and in Europe). 

Fulvio Orsitto, Californai State University Chico

Marvelous Bodies. Italy's New Migrant Cinema invites readers to think about Italian migrant cinema through a compelling reframing of prevalent assumptions about Italian cinema more generally. Nathan stresses the urgency of this intellectual exercise by suggesting that the proliferation of films about migration and demographic transformation are a response to a wide-spread identity crisis triggered by immigration; by engaging the malleable theoretical categories of the ‘ambiguous’ and the ‘marvelous,’ he demonstrates the way this national and cultural self-reflection is enacted on-screen. Nathan writes with a clear, fluid prose that is a pleasure to read. … it is, … a stimulating intellectual challenge to current discussions of Italian cinema and of national identity more generally.

Sole Anatrone, Journal of Italian Cinema & Media Studies. For the complete review, see JICMS 6.3,(August 2018): 416–18. 


Marvelous Bodies provides a timely overview of New Migrant Cinema, and by extension, of the contemporary Italian industry; it represents an original and important contribution to the growing field of Italian postcolonial and screen studies, which will hopefully pave the path for much-needed research in this direction.

Eleanora Sammartino, Studies in European Cinema. For the complete review, see Studies in European Cinema, online 24 November 2020.


Vetri Nathan is an Assistant Professor of Italian Studies in the ­Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He received his BA in ­Italian from Connecticut College, and an MA and PhD in Italian from Stanford University in 2009. Vetri’s research interests ­include immigrant cultures and globalization in contemporary Italy, ­colonialism and postcoloniality, Italian cinema and food studies.

PSRL 70. Paper. $45.00. e-Book available.



Page last updated on 22 June 2021.

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