ROME – Italian director Carlo Mazzacurati, who blended noir, comedy and observations about Italy’s social changes and moral decay in a dozen feature films, several of which won prizes and screened at prestigious fests, including Venice, Locarno, and Turin, died on Jan 22 in Monselice, on the outskirts of his birth city of Padua, near Venice, following a long illness, reportedly cancer of an unspecified type. He was 57.

He was known to have a deep feeling for the landscapes of his native northeast Veneto region of Italy, depicted in many of his films.

Mazzucurati’s career was launched by Nanni Moretti, who produced his first full-fledged feature, the atmospheric noir “Notte Italiana,” about corruption in the northeast, which screened at the Venice Critics’ Week in 1987 and went on to score several prizes, including an Italian Silver Ribbon nod for best new director.

In 1994, Mazzacurati won the Venice Silver Lion for best director for his social comedy “The Bull” in a tie with U.S. director James Gray, who that year also scored the same nod, ex-aequo, for “Little Odessa.”

Produced by Cecchi Gori, “The Bull” concerned two unemployed Italians trying to sell a stolen champion breeding bull in Eastern Europe.

Other Mazzacurati comedies with social overtones that played well in Italy and traveled internationally on the arthouse circuit include “Vesna Goes Fast,” also produced by Cecchi Gori; “Holy Tongue,” which screened at Venice in 2000; and “The Passion,” about a down-and-out director, played by Silvio Orlando, contending with some typically Italian adversities, including an agent who wants him to make a movie starring a young, snotty Silvio Berlusconi-era TV starlet. “Passion” was the only pure comedy in the 2010 Venice competition.

“Mazzacurati was an ironic, generous and very humane gentleman,” tweeted Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera. “He did not know arrogance; he sided with the weak and made beautiful movies with passion.” 

Mazzacurati’s last film, “La sedia della felicita” (“The chair of happiness”), a comedy about a manicurist trying to get her paws on a jewels’ stash stuffed in an antique chair which she’s heard about on the job, screened late last year at the Turin fest, and will be distributed later this year in Italy.