Italian writer, poet and film-maker who adapted and directed his own novels for the screen
The distinguished Italian novelist, poet and film-maker Alberto Bevilacqua has died aged 79. Bevilacqua was one of the most respected new Italian writers of the 1960s and won fame with two novels, both of which he adapted and directed successfully for the screen: La Califfa (The Lady Caliph), published in 1964 and filmed in 1970, and Questa Specie d'Amore (This Kind of Love), published in 1966 and filmed in 1972.
Bevilacqua was born in Parma and raised in a poor family. In his youth he wrote the novel Una Città in Amore (City of Love), which was reworked and published much later, about his adolescence in Parma and how he and his family took part in the Resistance movement. In 1955 he wrote a book of stories about local life in Parma, La Polvere sull'Erba (Dust in the grass), which was given attention by a literary journal edited by Leonardo Sciascia.
At secondary school one of his teachers was the poet Attilio Bertolucci, father of the film-maker Bernardo. Bevilacqua's first experience in the cinema was working with the neorealist guru Cesare Zavattini on a documentary about workers in the Po Valley and he was encouraged to go to Rome in 1960 to find work in the Italian film industry, which was thriving.
By then, he had fallen in love with and married a young woman he met in Parma, Marianna Bucchich, the daughter of a Dalmatian poet. In 1961 she somewhat reluctantly joined him in Rome; it was not a blissful marriage though they stayed together for 30 years. Bevilacqua found jobs writing screenplays, including two for the horror director Mario Bava; one of the resulting films, I Tre Volti Della Paura (Black Sabbath, 1963), gained cult status.
La Califfa was published by the media tycoon Angelo Rizzoli and became an immediate bestseller. In this pungent story of strife, a factory owner wants to show his workers that he is an enlightened capitalist: however, but he comes to blows not only with militant unionists but also with industrialists. His relationship with a woman in the factory whose husband, a fellow worker, has been killed by the police during a demonstration, is at first one of belligerence but then develops into a passionate affair.
The potential for a film adaptation was obvious. Rizzoli was eager to have it filmed but did not want Bevilacqua to direct it. The author had to wait until 1970 to find a willing producer (Mario Cecchi Gori) and actor (Ugo Tognazzi, popular in comedies, who was eager to play this dramatic role). The charismatic performances by Tognazzi, as the factory owner, and Romy Schneider, as the widow, ensured success for the film which, in the political climate of the early 1970s, became even more forcefully topical than the novel.
That success enabled Bevilacqua to direct the film of another of his novels, Questa Specie d'Amore, the story of a marriage going awry (perhaps inspired by Bevilacqua's own). The leading role was again played by Tognazzi, with Jean Seberg as the wife. It won the David di Donatello award for best film.
Bevilacqua then directed Attenti al Buffone (Watch Out for the Clown, 1975), starring the popular Italian actors Nino Manfredi and Mariangela Melato, as well as the American Eli Wallach. It was most significant for its musical score, adapted by Ennio Morricone from the works of Clément Janequin.
Bevilacqua went on to direct several more films but concentrated on writing fiction. He published more than 35 books in his career and in 1968 won Italy's major literary award for L'Occhio del Gatto (The Cat's Eye), another story of a failing marriage. After separating from Bucchich, he met the actor Michela Miti while making the film Gialloparma in 1999 and they began a relationship.
Michela survives him, along with his sister Anna.
• Alberto Bevilacqua, writer and film director, born 27 June 1934; died 9 September 2013