THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (***)

Ieri, oggi, domani (Italy, 1963, 119 minutes)
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Cast: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni

Every Baby Boomer male knows the iconic picture of Sophia Loren above, but few have actually seen the movie from which its taken, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which is most famous for this Sophia Loren striptease scene:

True Confessions: I was always more drawn to the gamine Audrey Hepburn-type screen divas as an adolescent, but as a developing lad even I could not ignore the zaftig sexuality on display from Italy's reigning spaghetti-slurpin' sex siren. I was particulary susceptible to stockings and garters and, well, this was a "leg show" that stuck with me for years.

Luckily, I came across this on TCM while channel surfing last night. De Sica's film won 1964's Best Foreign Film Oscar and deservedly so, as it's quintessentially Italian and offers an acting worksohop for Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni (who was nominated for a BAFTA Best Actor award). It's told in an amusing three-part vignette format, each named after a different woman and Italian city ("Adelina" of Napoli, "Anna" of Milan, and "Mara" of Roma), which gives De Sica the opportunity to riff humorously on regional and class differences (I love how Northern Italians dismissively snort, "Oh, they were Sicilians," as if synonymous with being a hillbilly or thug!).

The "Adelina" story is the longest and, arguably, the best, with its obvious criticism of the Catholic Church's birth control policies (and the even more obvious conclusion that overpopulation, poverty and apathy go hand-in-hand in a never-ending cycle). It tells the story of working-class Napoli housewife Adelina (Loren) supporting her out-of-work husband Carmine(Mastroianni) by selling Black Market cigarettes. Due to a loophole in the Italian legal system, she can't be jailed for her transgressions as long as she's pregnant or nursing newborns, so she beats the system by continually getting knocked up by her willing husband. Unfortunately, as the head count of little ones increases, Carmine's desire decreases, as he succumbs to fatigue from stud duty and headaches from the constant pitter-patter of tiny feet. When Carmine starts shooting blanks, Adelina finally goes to prison. But her case becomes a national sensation and, following a pardon, she returns to a fully-rested Carmine to start the cycle all over again.

The short "Anna" vignette takes place in Milan and, naturally (this being the affluent industrialized home of Fiat and rich football clubs like A.C. Milan and Inter Milan) deals with class and privilege issues. Loren's Anna is a rich northern industrialist's trophy wife who has grown bored with her life of luxury - or has she? She hooks up with Renzo (Mastroianni), a writer (i.e., poor/artistic type) that she thinks can offer her passion and excitement. But she freaks out when he crashes her Rolls Royce, and when a well-to-do motorist stops to help, Anna the Material Girl takes off with him in his spiffy sportscar.

In the famous finale, in which Sophia does her striptease, she plays an upscale Roman hooker named Mara, who has caught the eye of her young seminary student neighbor, Umberto (Gianni Ridolfi). In fact, Umberto is ready to chuck his starched collar for a date with Mara - until his grannie pleads with Mara to help her save the lad's soul. In order to do so, Mara vows to give up her work for one week if the saints will reclaim Umberto's soul and make him a man of the cloth again. The loser - as in all the other storylines in De Sica's film - is Mastroianni as Mara's regular customer, the sex-starved Augusto Rusconi. Poor Marcello!

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