Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Down and Dirty

[Originally published in The Weekly, 1979]

…Another, more peculiar Italian film has opened this past week: Ettore Scola’s Down and Dirty. A surrealistic comedy bedrocked in a card-carrying realist milieu, it deals with a dirt-poor Italian family living in a shantytown. The catch is that the family numbers in excess of twenty—in-laws, outlaws, legitimate and illegitimate children—and they all live in one (1) crumbling hutch on a mudflat. Although their occupations include housekeeping, nursing, pursesnatching, and several varieties of prostitution, they have one thing in common: they all hate papa Giacinto and he hates them.

Story is rarely the long suit in Italian movies and Down and Dirty is no exception. Having established the basic situation—embellished by the fact that Giacinto has received a sizable insurance settlement for the loss of one eye, money that he must constantly shift from hidey-hole to hidey-hole and guard with a sawed-off shotgun—Scola simply plays it and plays it. He gets away with this, keeps it all interesting, because he has a truly grotesque sense of humor and boundless capacity for visual invention within carefully maintained limits.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: We All Loved Each Other So Much

[Originally published in The Weekly, October 12, 1977]

The Pizza Triangle opens with an all-male reenactment of a crime of passion before a judge and jury. Everything else but the final scene is flashback, a reconstruction of the cockeyed lovelife of a bungling leftist, a streetwalker, and the protestor’s best buddy, a pizza chef. The prostitute first sees the protestor while she is riding in a delirious, fluorescently colorful circle above a makeshift amusement park; he is lying on some rubble. She disembarks, walks over to him, and kisses him back to life. They become a couple. She meets the buddy. Everyone is friends for a while. Then she and the buddy make love. Alliances form, shift, realign. Everyone gets older. The three inadvertently meet again after time has passed and the girl and buddy have married. There is a clumsy fight, fully as graceless and absurd as—and much more moving than—its comic reenactment; the original is funny, too, but the woman ends up dead.”

That’s from a review I wrote six-and-a-half years ago. You’re reading it now because Ettore Scola, the director of that idiosyncratic 1970 comedy, is the guy who made We All Loved Each Other So Much, and because I was struck, upon rereading the piece, how true it also seems of the newer film. Make it a girl and three men instead of two, expand the time frame by a couple decades, change the lethal reunion into a self-designated “ambiguous conclusion” wherein three old friends discover a fourth is not what he pretended to be, and you have much the same film, in style, essential scenario, and sadly comic spirit.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Videophiled: ‘Adua and Her Friends’

AduaAdua and Her Friends (Raro / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray) are prostitutes from a Rome brothel attempting to take charge of their own lives after their place is shut down in the aftermath of Italy’s Merlin Law, which ended legalized prostitution in 1958 (the film was released in 1960). Adua (played by Simone Signoret), a veteran of the life, has a plan to open a restaurant as a front for their own little brothel in the rooms upstairs and her friends—cynical and hot-headed Marilina (Emmanuelle Riva), naïve and trusting Lolita (Sandra Milo), and practical Milly (Gina Rovere)—pitch in for the purchase and start-up and fake their way through running a real business. Adua may be a dreamer but she has a lot invested in this project. She’s the oldest of the four and, as anyone familiar with the films of Mizoguchi will attest, life on the streets isn’t forgiving of age. But what really charges up the film is the feeling of accomplishment and ownership as they work their way through each problem and, almost without noticing, create a successful business out of the restaurant.

For all the stumbles along the way, director Antonio Pietrangeli and his screenwriting partners (which includes future director Ettore Scola and longtime Fellini collaborator Tullio Pinelli) don’t play the disasters for laughs but rather a mix of warm character piece and spiky social commentary. It’s not simply that their pasts follow them around but that the Merlin Law has actually made things worse for women, whether they remain in the life (without any legal protections) or attempt to transition into another career. Palms need to be greased and officials cut in on the business; they haven’t even started up and they’re already paying off a pimp. And no, it’s not Marcello Mastroianni’s Piero, a charming hustler who hawks cars and woos Adua, who enjoys engaging in a romance that she gets to define for a change. He’s a pleasant distraction and something of an ally, but he’s better at looking out for himself.

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