[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]
Dustin Hoffman is seen without being heard in Pietro Germi’s Alfredo, Alfredo, but the disadvantage is minor, so adroitly does he adapt himself to the characteristic and very photographable behavioral style of the harried Germi male, made iconically vivid and familiar by Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce ItalianStyle. As there and in subsequent films like Seducedand Abandoned and TheBirds, the Bees, and the Italians, Germi employs hectic, sardonic, sometimes slapstick comedy to exemplify the very real agonies that result from the clash of love, sex, and social strictures in his native land. Whereas DivorceItalianStyle satirized an existing dilemma, Alfredo celebrates historical progress: something like divorce American style has finally replaced the last resort, upholding the Unwritten Law, and the new picture actually begins with the protagonist in the lawyer’s office preparing to shed his less-than-ideal spouse. Not that divorce is the be-all, end-all, and cure-all in Germi’s scheme of things: he and his hero conclude the film with shaky optimism at best, almost certain that the new marriage being made in the final scene will also prove unworkable.
Antonio Pietrangeli is the greatest Italian filmmaker of the sixties you’ve never heard of and his bittersweet I Knew Her Well (1965), starring Stefania Sandrelli as a country girl in Rome trying to break into show business, is his masterpiece. Young and beautiful, Adriana (Sandrelli) is able to get by on her looks, taking temporary jobs between modeling gigs and screen tests, and she’s savvy enough to understand that sex is a commodity to be traded for favors from press agents, managers, and minor celebrities. But she’s far from cynical, at least at first, as she plays the game and enjoys the nightlife, and she’s even a bit naïve, constantly hooking up with charming, good-looking cads who have a habit of abandoning her. It’s episodic by nature, a series of snapshots from her life, and directed with the light touch of a frothy Italian comedy that belies the mercenary society and cruel behavior of the rich and successful.
Pietrangeli co-wrote the film with Ettore Scola (among others) and they offer a satirical portrait of the shallow celebrity culture and Roman nightlife of La Dolce Vita with both a more vicious edge—the callous treatment of a washed up actor (played by Ugo Tognazzi) is truly painful—and a breezy, easy style. The simple irony of the title isn’t hard to fathom. None of the men ever bothers to get to know Adriana at all, dismissing her as a silly beauty good for a one night stand, and Sandrelli plays her as a seemingly frivolous, capricious young woman with nothing on her mind, kind of Italian Holly Golightly without the cynical calculation. Yet she’s more perceptive than anyone realizes as she navigates the mercenary world with energetic optimism before she grows disillusioned in the final act of the film. Sandrelli has a kind of blank, oblivious beauty that makes her great casting for simple, silly, not-too-bright characters (see The Conformist) in her youth, and Pietrangeli uses that surface frivolity beautifully. She’s simply heartbreaking.
The new 4K restoration of Ran (1985), Akira Kurosawa’s epic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear in sixteenth-century Japan, runs for a week at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the aging warlord who divides his empire among his three sons and slips into madness as he is neglected, betrayed, and stripped of his dignity. Kurosawa is not merely true to Shakespeare’s story, he brings scenes alive with a cultural twist and a visual mastery, from the pageantry of warriors filling vast fields of green with red and white flags and uniforms to the howling storm that strikes during the warlord’s spiral into madness. The spectacle is brought home with delicately observed performances and beautifully sculpted relationships, an intimacy that gives the epic its soul. I haven’t seen the restoration but I imagine those colors are more vivid than ever. Chris Marker’s documentary A.K.: The Making of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), a profile of Kurosawa on the set of the film, also plays at SIFF Film Center.
Jacques Becker’s Antoine and Antoinette (1947), the first film in SAM’s “Cinema de Paris” series, plays on Thursday, March 31 at Plestcheeff Auditorium. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.
The Cinerama is one of the only ten theaters in the country to show Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in a 70mm film print. It will run for a week on film, and then revert to DCP on Friday, April 1, so celluloid junkies should make a plan for that first week. And remember: the Cinerama sells reserved seating so you may want to purchase in advance. The Cinerama webpage is here.
[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 WeAll LovedEachOtherSoMuch, 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.
[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]
Partner is the film Bernardo Bertolucci made following BeforetheRevolution and prior to The Conformist, TheSpider’sStratagem, and Last TangoinParis. It is nominally based on Dostoevsky’s TheDouble. There are some really extraordinary things in it, but it is also the least satisfying of the five Bertolucci films that have found their way to the United Stares (his first feature, TheGrimReaper, is not in distribution here). While there are sometimes two Pierre Clémentis on screen at once, the movie and the character suffer less from split personality than from multiple fractures. Clémenti plays Jacob, a young intellectual haunted by his own double; and here, as elsewhere, Bertolucci is concerned with the gap between political awareness and political action. But despite the film’s basic conceit, he has failed in Partner to find illuminating forms and figures for this very contemporary emotional ailment. The double device signifies in only the most obvious ways: mostly it provides opportunities for Bertolucci to create some fascinating shots. Toward the end, we are told that the revolutionary side of Jacob is a part of all of us that may some day find expression. But this neither suggests nor compels much conviction, especially since Bertolucci, his film, and the characters trail off into self-doubt … at which point the film ceases to continue.
The Conformist (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD) opens in the deep blue of dawn, an intense, vibrant azure with a hint of ultramarine that blankets the city like an ocean. Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a petty bourgeois Italian who just wants to disappear into the fabric of his society, specifically Mussolini’s Italy in the 1930s, has volunteered to be an informant for the Secret Police. He doesn’t believe in the Fascism, he just wants to belong, and under the glow of this overwhelming blue he heads off to oversee the political assassination he has been called to facilitate. This is the temperature of his dispassionate nature, the calm of conformity that he desires, but even under this comforting ocean of reassurance, he remains anxious and out of place, a pretender to this society who wears his convictions like a suit. It’s all about appearance.
I focus on this blue because until now, it has never enveloped me so as I watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970). I’ve seen the film on 16mm college prints, on 35mm revival prints, and on Paramount’s DVD from a decade ago, but this restoration brings out Vittorio Storaro’s colors with a richness and a depth I’ve never seen before. For the first time those hues have reached through the screen and into my experience.
Color is central to the experience of The Conformist, pushed to intensities beyond what we could call natural yet nothing so actively artificial as the great MGM Technicolor musicals or as symbolically loaded as Antonioni’s Red Desert. It’s not some much unreal as hyper-real, a subjective reality as seen through the eyes of Marcello, a man seeking comfort in conformism and compromise. Those blue filters create a deep blue ocean of a sky, a perpetual twilight that is at once calming and unsettling. If it represents Marcello’s ideal state of stasis, it threatens to drown him as much as comfort him, and its chilly atmosphere suggests his amoral compromise. He may desire Anna (Dominique Sanda), the young wife of his former professor, but it sure isn’t love, and he’s quick to shut off any human connection to her when his mission as an agent / informer for the Secret Police comes to fruition. He has no love for his own beautiful, shallow, and silly petite bourgeois wife Guilia (Stefania Sandrelli), who is “all bed and kitchen,” he tells his best friend, a blind radio personality who spouts Fascist propaganda on a daily basis.