In the 50’s with the arrival of the greatest directors and stars, the importance of the Festival finally is recognized definitively in the international field. The review experiences a period of strong expansion and contributes to the success of new film schools, such as those of Japan and India.
During these years the review evolves under several dedicated directors in search of new starting points and new roads to cover: Antonio Petrucci (1949-1953), once again Ottavio Croze (1954-1955), Floris Ammannati (1956-1959).
These are important years in which the world of cinema seems to have shrugged the specter of war from its shoulders and the festival influences the trends of the era.
Venice definitely launches Japanese film, now taking root in the West thanks to the Golden Lion which goes to Rashômon by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in 1951, and seven years later, in 1958, to Muhomatsu no issho (The Rickshaw Man) by Iroshi Inagaki. Ugetsu monogatari (Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon After the Rain) (1953), Sanshô dayû (Legend of Bailiff Sansho) (1954) by Kenji Mizoguchi and Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samarai (1954) gain the prestigious second place award, the Silver Lion, while other Japanese films in competition, although not awarded, receive great acclaim, like Saikaku ichidai onna (Saikaku: Life of a Woman) (1952) by Kenji Mizoguchi and Biruma no tategoto (The Burmese Harp) (1956) by Kon Ichikawa.
Up and coming Indian cinema experiences something similar and asserts itself as well with a Golden Lion going to Aparajito (The Unvanquished) by Satyajit Ray in 1957.
East European film, already awarded with the International Grand Jury Prize in 1947 for the work of Czechoslovakian director Karel Stekly, Siréna, becoming popular thanks to the film’s noteworthy writers, Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Munk, who also deserve mention.
After the efforts of the first neo-realistic films of the 40’s, the 50’s mark the arrival on the festival screen of two of the greatest and most beloved Italian directors of the post-war period, Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, who receive the complete and utter devotion of the festival’s attendees just for being present at Lido. At the same time, joining the great masters are an assemblage of young up-and-coming directors. Two promising new faces from a growing trend of qualitative as well as quantitative work, which will give life to the most brilliant era of Italian film on an international level, are introduced in Venice; Francesco Rosi with La sfida in 1958 and Ermanno Olmi with the first work Il tempo si è fermato dated 1959.
In spite of its great reputation and prestige, Italian film is not adequately rewarded at the festival, triggering scathing controversies. Two episodes ignite long arguments: the Golden Lion is not awarded to Luchino Visconti neither in 1954 for Senso (Livia), in favor of Romeo and Juliet by Renato Castellani, nor in 1960, for Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers), this time in favor of a film from the other side of the Alps, ll passaggio del Reno (The Crossing of the Rhine) by André Cayatte. This highest honor is only conferred in 1965, when Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa (Sandra of a Thousand Delights) finally takes the coveted prize.
Also Roberto Rossellini, another renowned author and director of Italian film of the era, introduces many of his films during the course of the review: 1950 is the year of Francesco giullare di Dio (Francis, God’s Jester) and Stromboli, then two years later Europa ’51 (The Greatest Love) is introduced.
Scandals aside, it is European film that takes the lion’s share. The school of the old continent asserts itself with well-known authors, such as Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, awarded the Golden Lion for his Ordet (1955) and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman with Ansiktet (The Magician) winner of the Special Jury Prize in 1959, who after having already participated in the festival in 1948, was completely disowned and unnoticed with Musik i mörker (Night Is My Future). In this field French film is brought to light once again; Robert Bresson is unveiled in 1951 with Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest); Louis Malle presents, in 1958 the scandalous film Les amants (The Lovers), that in spite of controversy and the indignation of many it gains the Special Prize; finally, the work of Claude Chabrol presented in 1958, Le beau Serge, considered by most film critics to be the film that started the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) movement.
During these years, Venice can finally celebrate the return of American film to the festival with the presence of new directors like Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder, Samuel Fuller, and Robert Aldrich.
New stars of world cinema are introduced to Lido. Marlon Brando appears in 1954 with the film On the Waterfront by Elia Kazan. Four years later, in 1958, monopolizing the attention of all is Brigitte Bardot, actress in the film En cas de malheur (Love Is My Profession) by Claude Autant-Lara. There are other famous Italian stars of note: Sophia Loren, winner of the Volpi Cup in 1958 for her role in The Black Orchid by Martin Ritt, and Gina Lollobrigida, as well as Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman and Silvana Mangano, introduced in the film, La grande guerra (The Great War) by Mario Monicelli (winner of the Golden Lion in 1959), and Giulietta Masina, famous for his roles in various films by Federico Fellini.