Casa Malaparte – the story behind the majestic villa from Godard’s Contempt

Petra Bjelica
Villa Malaparte

This incredible villa became known to a wider audience after its appearance in Godard’s great movie Contempt and the scene in which Brigitte Bardot is sunbathing topless on its roof.

Just as the movie carries a rebellious and subversive tone beneath the both defiant and melancholy beauty of Bardot, Casa Malaparte bears the story of its contradictory and ambiguous owner and resident, Curzio Malaparte.

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Casa Malaparte, Author: POET ARCHITECTURE, CC by 2.0

Curzio Malaparte was a renowned Italian author, publicist, and diplomat of Italian-German descent who altered his name in resonance with Napoleon’s surname, Bonaparte, changing the prefix so it would mean “evil side”. He was a controversial figure switching sides from Fascism to Communism, clinging to his immunity and integrity of intellect over the time. His profound taste and style is best seen in the house he partly designed and lived in – one of the most magical houses built on the rocky seaside of Italy.

Casa Malaparte, Author: POET ARCHITECTURE, CC by 2.0

Casa Malaparte is located on the Punta Massulo overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, on the island Capri. It was firstly designed by Adalberto Libera, a rationalist modernist architect whom Malaparte hired around 1937. Libera was in charge of the overall design of the house, but towards the end of the process, Malaparte dismissed him. Craving for something more radical and a place that would be a better depiction of himself, Malaparte finished the creation himself with the help of a local mason.

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Casa Malaparte, Author: POET ARCHITECTURE, CC by 2.0

Malaparte’s experience in prison, for criticizing Mussolini’s government, was the inspiration for building a home completely estranged and isolated from civilization at the edge of a cliff. It was his relationship with Mussolini’s son-in-law and political connections secured his release and the permission for building in such a splendid location.

Casa Malaparte, Author: POET ARCHITECTURE, CC by 2.0

The house is located 31 m above the sea and can be approached only by a 4 km path across the private property, or by the steps on the cliff to which you arrive by sea. The whole house in three levels, which is known for its spartan austere feel, was made from the local cliff stones. The most famous feature of the house is the wide steps that lead to the roof and a stunning view over the horizon. They were part of Curzio’s contribution to the project and were sort of a replica of the steps he encountered in front of the church of Annunziata on the island where he has incarcerated.

Casa Malaparte, Interior, Author: BM., CC by 2.0

The large roof which usually served as a solarium has a white sail-like rail to protect from view. But, however surreal and mythical this house looks, it has many obstacles that make living there and maintenance quite a problem. Firstly, the harsh winds and the strong waves are constantly damaging it. Secondly, water and electricity must be provided by alternative ways and brought from elsewhere.

Interior of the Casa Malaparte with Curzio Malaparte, Author: Ernest Delaville, CC by 2.0

The other distinguishable characteristic of the house is its Pompeian red color that makes a very picturesque contrast to the prevalent green and blue of the landscape. It can be speculated that the red color stands for rebellion and defiance to the Fascist regime and as a metaphor of Communism. Malaparte wanted to obtain the prison-like feel in it, thus the minimalistic design of the interiors. He selected the furniture and had the artist Alberto Savinio design the ceramic floor.

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View from the roof, Author: POET ARCHITECTURE, CC by 2.0

Referring to himself as a bird that swallowed his cage, Curzio wanted the house to be an exact portrait of himself. In his own description of the house, he stated that this solitary house on the edge of the world was a place reserved only for free spirits and strong men. This surreal and melancholic building served as Curzio Malaparte’s home until his death in 1957. Not surprisingly, he willed his home to the People’s Republic of China, but the Italian government and Curzio’s great nephew prevented this and in 1972 it was given to the Giorgio Ronchi Foundation. Uninhabited, the house deteriorated. It wasn’t until the late 80s and 90s that the complete restoration began. Today, Casa Malaparte can be visited and is often used for cultural events.

Screenshot from Godard’s Contempt, Author: POET ARCHITECTURE, CC by 2.0

In 1997, the famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld visited Casa Malaparte and later on issued a book of his Polaroids.