Ettore Scola’s lonely souls drama speaks sotto voce, but is so beautifully observed & such a technical tour-de-force, it transcends what is, in essence, a stage-worthy two-hander. (The original screenplay was indeed later adapted for live theater.) The ‘special day’ in question comes in May 1938 when half of Rome is out watching Hitler & Mussolini seal their alliance via grand military parade. Left nearly alone in their large apartment complex (a magnificent structure, sort of Italian Bauhaus/Futurist in style, and a major character in the drama - see our poster for a peek) are Sophia Loren’s overworked/underappreciated stay-at-home mom (six kids; unfeeling husband); and, across the courtyard, Marcello Mastroianni, a worldly bachelor who’s recently lost his radio job for being ‘degenerate,’ code at the time for homosexual. (Playing against type, each superb & fully committed.) Their relationship has to start some way, so Scola lets Loren’s pet myna bird get loose, perching just outside Mastroianni’s window. It’s the first of many slightly forced moments in the film as the two find excuses to meet up thru the day. But so well played, and so stunningly designed & executed you go along with it. Pasqualino De Santis’s lighting & camerawork is quite extraordinary. The man who gave rapturously golden light to the studio set artifice of Luchino Visconti’s CONVERSATION PIECE/’74, here using real locations and a palette paradoxically desaturated and rich to set the tone. Some of the tracking shots, like the opening tour of Loren in her apartment getting the family up, are gasp-worthy. So too, the film; flaws, obvious touches and all.
DOUBLE-BILL/ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Favored @ Cannes, Jury Prez Roberto Rossellini threatened to walk if the Taviani Brothers weren’t awarded for PADRE PADRONE/’77, much more his sort of film. Some say the stress led to his death months later. Try ‘em both, have your own contest! Back @ Cannes, they made up for the snub in 2014, giving Scola a ‘Best Restoration’ award.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Almost twenty years later, Loren campaigned for the leading role in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY/’95, losing to that well known Italian Meryl Streep. No doubt, Sophia was too old for the role, but look here to see what she might have done with it.