After a lifetime of indulging in crass exploitation, your intrepid reviewer is now officially in severe danger of appearing highbrow. I had a close call there with my review for No Shame's excellent DVD release of BOCCACCIO '70 (review here), but managed to keep my analytical focus by explaining that the movie was primarily about bountiful European bosoms. Well, now they've gone and done it - No Shame is back with another cherished Italian cinematic confection: Vittorio De Sica's Oscar-winning IERI, OGGI, DOMANI. Thankfully, the bosoms are still there, namely those of unbearably hot Sophia Loren - the tastiest Neopolitan import since tri-colored ice cream - so I can still fall back on crude sensationalism if my aesthetic sensibilities fail me. And they usually do.
At the peak of her international fame, Sophia co-stars with another of Europe's most cherished matinee idols, the dashing Marcello Mastroianni (fresh off Fellini's classic 8½), in this latest offering from the "omnibus" movie craze of the '60s (a trend arguably kicked off by BOCCACCIO '70), in which several short films are linked together with a common theme, or just a clever hook. In this case, the gimmick involves casting the two lead actors as new characters in each of the stories. This has been done several times since, but never so effectively, thanks to De Sica's warm, sympathetic approach to his subjects. Though not separated by historical eras the title might suggest, these stories are divided more along class lines; the conflicts unique to each social strata of '60s Italy play a prominent role.
The first segment takes place on the colorful streets of Naples, where the poor but happy Adelina scrapes out a living selling contraband cigarettes to support her unemployed husband Carmine and their young children - with another one on the way. When Adelina's finally caught by the amiable local constable and slapped with a fine she can't afford to pay, she exploits a loophole in the local laws to avoid jail by making sure she's preggers on a near-constant basis - much to her hubby's chagrin. Now, as long as you can suspend disbelief and imagine the glamorous Sophia as an impoverished mother of twelve (and that having to, ahem, service Adelina in a husbandly manner would be as unpleasant as Carmine seems to think it is), this is by far the cutest and most charming of the three stories. It depicts the kind of warm, fuzzy picture-postcard charm that we always imagine exuding from quaint little Mediterranean towns like this - where neighborhood kids burst into spontaneous parades, street vendors sing of their wares, and everyone talks loudly with their fingers stuck together.
Chapter two forgoes charm for dry wit in its depiction of Anna, a spoiled, self-involved socialite on a crazed cross-country joyride with Renzo, her hapless beau of the moment, who has no idea what he's in for. Anna, we learn, feels compelled to escape the drudgery of an unhappy marriage to a government bigwig by going on manic escapades with handsome, urbane men like Renzo... and also by driving her Rolls-Royce like a complete lunatic. As a socially conscious writer, Renzo is skeptical about Anna's claims that she just wants to escape the prison of her wealth, and decides to call her bluff... the results of which he should've seen coming. Although cleverly written, this segment is essentially a twenty-minute conversation between two not particularly interesting people. Thankfully, it's also the shortest piece of the three.
In the third and best-known chapter, Sophia goes redhead to play Mara - the classic "hooker with a heart of gold" - with Marcello at his goofiest as her client Rusconi, a neurotic Bolognese businessman with low self-esteem and a high-maintenance libido. While their many attempts at a naughty rendezvous are thwarted by calls from his abusive father (who's also his employer), Mara innocently flirts with the handsome young seminary student across the wall from her apartment, leading to a war of words with his over-protective grandmother, a massive attack of Catholic guilt, a vow of temporary celibacy (hers, that is) and a severe case of blue bocce balls for poor Rusconi, whose frustration triggers bizarre, Tourette-like outbursts. It's a light, breezy tale, with an ultimately old-fashioned sensibility - considering its claim to fame is a lengthy striptease by the goddess herself, which no doubt induced males in the audience to make odd noises of their own.
This vibrant, cheerful film, much like the "Raffle" story from BOCCACCIO (in which Loren also starred), shows a side of director De Sica that runs counter to his memorably grim depictions of Italian life in THE BICYCLE THIEF and TWO WOMEN, falling more in line with the happy-go-lucky style of Fellini's films from the same period. It does contain a keen awareness of social class dilemmas, but manages to make light of the frustrations of day-to-day life, rather than focusing on the pain these trials often bring to the characters. It also shows a tremendous affection for the people of Italy as a whole, celebrating their resilience, family bonds and desire to do what's right. This empathy comes across not only in his intimate directing style, but in the lush, gorgeous widescreen photography by Giuseppe Rotunno (also a frequent Fellini collaborator) that accentuates the character exuded by every roof tile of every building: watch the sweeping final shot of Act I and see if you don't find yourself toying with the idea of a trip to Naples... or at least a big bowl of three-cheese ravioli.
This film is also a prime example of Loren's much-deserved popularity with audiences and critics alike in the '60s; her performances in this, as well as her Oscar-winning role in TWO WOMEN, proved to the world that she was more than just a gorgeous face and figure ("All that you see, I owe to pasta," she once famously said), and indeed more than just a movie star - her warmth, vitality and earthy sexuality make her the embodiment of her country's passion for life. That may sound overly rhapsodic, but it also happens to be true.
In proper reverence to the source material, No Shame Films has applied the same loving treatment here as they did with BOCCACCIO - and good thing too, because this widescreen gem has been waiting a long time for a proper video presentation. Remastered from the original negative, Rotunno's compositions and colors are restored in loving detail (check out the cherries on the vendor's cart in part I - you can practically smell them), with no noticeable flaws. The naturally soft graininess of '60s film stock is apparent, but that's all part of the charm. The mono tracks in English and Italian are clear and fairly robust (although I would have enjoyed the excellent music score in a stereo mix). Though nearly all Italian movies of the period had post-synched dialogue, the dubbing is barely noticeable in the Italian-language version. (Forget about the clunky English-dubbed track, though.) Subtitles are decent, though some of the colorful banter between characters is not always fully translated.
Extras are light but worthwhile: the lengthy American-release trailer (which exploits Sophia's striptease in its near-entirety); a detailed promotional still gallery, and another super-cool insert booklet filled with international poster reproductions. I hope inserts like these are the mainstay of No Shame Films, since they make groovy collectibles for cinephiles.
There, see? I wrote this entire review and never mentioned boobies once. Except just now. Oh, and that part in the beginning. But still, you can't blame me for ogling Sophia's unmistakable assets. If nothing else, I now have a much greater appreciation for the Mediterranean diet and its beneficial effects. Viva Italia!