Fans of Sophia Loren will be ecstatic to learn new independent label CultFilms is in the process of releasing a collection of her award-winning movies. Launching this fine set is the wonderful
are to follow. This collection showcases Loren at the top of her acting game and will be warmly welcomed by her fans and fans of Italian cinema generally.
Fascist housewife and mother of six Antoinetta (Sophia Loren) is busy trying to ready her family so they can attend a parade to celebrate Hitler’s state visit with Mussolini. Rushed off her feet, it becomes apparent she won’t be able to attend the momentous occasion as she has too much housework to deal with and is getting no help from her husband. Deflated that her family has left her with this mountain of work, she resigns herself to another mundane day and sets about her daily chores. To make things worse, their pet bird escapes and lands on the ledge of a neighbouring apartment. This seemingly innocuous event leads to a chance encounter with neighbour Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) which changes the course of her day. Instead of endless chores with no appreciation from those around her, she converses, dances and even begins to fall for this charming stranger who, like her, cannot attend the parade. The pair discuss life, love and politics and, in a short space of time, seem to enjoy each other’s company. But does Gabriele harbour a dark secret which has kept him away from the parade? Will Antoinetta be as loyal to the ideology of the fascist state after her educational encounter with Gabriele? Will things ever be the same for either of them after this day?
Most people think of Loren as a glamorous leading lady, able to make men drool at her phenomenal beauty while women can do nothing but begrudgingly acknowledge what a stunning woman adorns the screen before them.
deliberately goes against this perceived image, making Loren look far from glamorous as a character who is haggard and severely run down due to the strains of motherhood. She plays a woman expected to wait on her family slavishly: a dutiful wife trapped by the Mussolini-era philosophy that women should be viewed simply wives and mothers, nothing more, mere baby-making machines and domestic workers. In real-life, Mussolini introduced incentives to men whose wives bore them lots of children: it was the fascist dictator’s way of increasing the Italian population. In the film Antoinetta and Emanuele are shown to have six children, and it becomes apparent he wants her to have another as soon as possible as a seventh child will make him exempt from paying taxes. So many children will obviously take a toll on the mother, but none of that comes into anyone’s considerations. Instead of the usual glamorous make-up and elegant clothing, we see Loren wearing dull, oversized and scruffy garments which merely serve a practical purpose. It’s clear from her demeanour that she has given up on life. In one scene Emanuele needs to dry his hands and, unable find anything close at hand, he simply uses the skirt of his wife’s outfit. From very early on viewers are prompted to be angered and outraged at Antoinetta’s treatment at the hands of her ungrateful family.
Like Loren, Mastroianni puts in a remarkable performance as a radio journalist who has been fired from his job due to his sexual orientation. Right from his opening scene, Mastroianni shows great passion, fighting his demons while contemplating suicide. At this point we don’t realise what issues are weighing so heavily on his mind, making him consider ending his life. The characterisation could have fallen flat in another actor’s hands, but he performs it superbly and generates audience sympathy right from the start. He keeps us engrossed with his poignant performance throughout.
Loren and Mastroianni worked together on a number of films, including
(1975), among many others. They were an acting duo to rival Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Here, they manage to convey an important message to their audience: even when it feels like all is lost, you may yet find comfort and support in the strangest of places.
Throughout the duration of the day, it becomes increasingly apparent that Antoinetta is becoming attracted to Gabriele and believes he reciprocates her feelings. This leads to an altercation between the two, forcing him to share his sexual secret with her. Regardless of this, Antoinetta’s overwhelming need for human contact - for someone to view her as a human being, an equal - overpowers everything else and causes her to be drawn to him once more. Eventually they make love, though Gabriele seems very dazed and confused throughout the event. This scene has caused considerable debate, with some audiences questioning whether Antoinette takes advantage of Gabriele, forcing herself on him. Anyone who watches carefully, though, will note how he tenderly grabs her breast while she is kissing him. It can be interpreted that both give the other something they need in order to survive. Gabriele is about to be sent to exile and lacks companionship. His sexual orientation means he is classed as a degenerate who people want little to nothing to do with and Antoinetta needs to feel like a beautiful woman, to be appreciated and not treated like a baby-making-machine or slave. Gabriele knows he can give her the contact she craves even though we see the pain and conflict on his face as he allows events to unfold. These two people show each other that there is more to life if you are prepared to take a chance. They know that once the day is over, things probably won’t really change; everything will go back to how it was but, for the moment at least, they can feel a sense of hope and take solace from the knowledge they don’t always have to be so neglected and isolated.
Director Ettore Scola’s use of sepia colouring throughout the feature is a marvellous touch. It makes the apartment blocks look as uninviting and depressing as possible, providing the perfect backdrop for the story of these two damaged souls. Scola makes his film heart-breaking one moment and uplifting the next - a serious story, yet full of wit to break the tension. He does a superb job, and it’s no surprise he was nominated for (and won) a number of awards including a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and a Cesar Award for Best Director. In recent years, it also won the Venazia Classici Award for Best Restored Film at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
The film’s conclusion is bleak, very much in keeping with the cinematography and locale. No-one gets the happy-ever-after ending we hope might lie in wait for them: Antoinette doesn’t escape her miserable life and doesn’t persuade Gabriele to reconsider his sexuality to ride off into the sunset with her. She instead goes back to her husband’s bed where he intends to get her pregnant with their 7
child, and Gabriele is escorted from his apartment by the secret police. In some hands, a film with such a forlorn ending could have had a negative effect on the viewer’s enjoyment, but in this case it is an effectively bleak conclusion which works well with the rest of the narrative.
This edition released by CultFilms also boasts the inclusion of two documentaries. Firstly the superb Sophia Loren documentary
. This hour-long insight in to her life features an exclusive interview with Loren, some never seen before footage of her life and conversations with her closest friends and family. Secondly, the award-winning documentary about the films’ director -
. For any fan of Loren, Mastroianni or Scola this certainly warrants a special place amongst their collection. With special features such as these, it’s a pretty irresistible package.
(Allow me to close on a note of trivia: the actress cast as Maria Luisa – one of Antonietta’s daughters - was in fact Mussolini’s real-life granddaughter, as well as Loren’s actual niece. Under the guidance of Loren, Alessandra Mussolini had a short acting career with 11 credits to her name. These days she is more famously known as an Italian politician. Funny what nuggets of information we glean from being a film fan!)
Posted by Cinema Retro in DVD/Streaming Video Reviews & News on Tuesday, November 1. 2016
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