Marriage, Italian Style (1964)
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
You cannot count the pleasures of Vittorio De Sica's Marriage, Italian Style on one hand alone. For starters, there's Sophia Loren at the peak of her prowess, an airheaded, indignant Marcello Mastroianni, a lush score by Armando Trovajoli, and of course that redolent 'Scope cinematography that comes with any jet-setting Carlo Ponti production of the early 60s.
But the film—Vittorio De Sica's followup to Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which had the same two leads—is more than a mere confection. Loren stars as Mastroianni's beleaguered mistress, chewed up and spat out by 20 years of unrequited love. Saddled with a dead-end job managing his bakery, she feigns terminal illness, leaving him no choice but to marry her on her deathbed—call it Responsibility, Catholic Style. Sure enough, she gets better, and brings her three bastard sons to live in Mastroianni's mansion against his will, challenging him to help her sort out which one is his. Hijinks—along with a whole bunch of agonized soul-searching—ensue.
Marriage is a big-hearted essay on a very particular type of woman, the supposed harlot with a head as hard as a brick and a heart that can't break, because it breaks a little every day. As it spans a long romance, many of the film's scenes are point/counterpoint flashbacks—so it's worth pointing out that Mastroianni's memories are both sunnier and sexier than Loren's. There's no question that this is her show, and De Sica photographs her from lusty angles that play up the one-track-mindedness of both Mastroianni's character and, presumably, any dudes in the audience.
Ultimately, the director uses absurdity—often in the all-too common form of screeching bit players for comic relief—to get at some fundamental truths and teach viewers a Very Important Lesson. It may not cut as deep as Antonioni's austere indictments of class culture, and the kooky, free-wheeling plot is a fairly flimsy setup.... But if, as leftist writer Giorgio Bocca posited, Italians believe in "public lies and private truths", then Marriage, Italian Style represents an earnest attempt to correct that equation. The film represents an almost perfect explication of Loren's perennial character. De Sica's vocabulary is soapy and vivacious, but here he unleashes some of her more heartbreaking work, as she publicly demands Mastroianni's respect—and, more to the point, his love. Who are we to disagree with Sophia Loren?
Curiously, the Film Forum is screening Fellini's hour-long The Temptation of Dr. Antonio alongside their revival of the De Sica feature. It's the maestro's first color film, the "half" precipitating 8 1/2, made for the Boccaccio '70 omnibus film in 1962. The film is an overlong but joyously cheeky parable about a prudish geezer (Peppino de Filippo) who dedicates himself to protesting a massive "smutty" billboard of Anita Ekberg, advertising milk. As the ad takes up poor Antonio's entire apartment window, Fellini has fun puncturing his pontifications and demonstrates a tantalizing hipness to classic monster-movie tropes. If only...
Opens September 23 at Film Forum