Wednesday Editor’s Pick: Marriage, Italian Style (1964)

by on September 21, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Fri Sept 23 thru Thurs Sept 29 at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]

 

Steve Macfarlane for L Magazine;

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.


 

Macfarlane continues:

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?

 

Sofia Loren reminisces:

 

Aaron Hillis for the Village Voice:

Vittorio De Sica lost his fifth Oscar nomination (after previously winning four for Best Foreign Language Film) with 1964’s sneakily moving, Neapolitan battle-of-the-sexes comedy—a two decade-spanning click of “it’s complicated” between cake-eating preener Marcello Mastroianni and his live-in mistress, Sophia Loren. A new 35mm print screens with another for The Temptation of Dr. Antonio, Federico Fellini’s first work in color, which posits the fantasy: What would you do with a gigantic Anita Ekberg?

 

 

Keith Uhlich for Time Out New York:

So-FEE-uh and Mar-CHELL-oh! That was surely the major draw for audiences who flocked to Vittorio De Sica’s frivolous, Oscar-nominated dramedy—which examines the tempestuous relationship between prostitute Filumena Marturano (Loren, radiant even sans makeup) and playboy Domenico Soriano (Mastroianni, delightful as a slick-haired rake)—and it’s the only reason to see it now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Star power can make up for a lot, and these two burn extra bright. The opening’s a grabber, as Filumena, seemingly at death’s door, is carried to her bed by a crowd of neighbors while the self-involved Domenico, busy trying on hats, is called to her side. Cue a pair of lengthy flashbacks—one from each character’s perspective—that trace the duo’s decades-spanning love-hate affair.

 

History rolls along (“Eisenhower elected U.S. President!,” screams a newspaper headline—must be 1952) while Filumena and Domenico deal with ebbing and flowing attractions, illegitimate children and a fraudulent wedding. Then the wet-eyed stuff comes: sacrifices, reconciliations and a marriage (in da style of de Italianos) for real this time. De Sica is no stranger to jerking one’s tear ducts, but the central duo here doesn’t have anything approaching the emotional resonance of, say, a pair of bicycle thieves or an old man and his dog living on the street. Yet we still get Loren and Mastroianni. So why complain too churlishly? Also on the bill is Federico Fellini’s amusing 53-minute short from Boccaccio ’70 (“The Temptation of Dr. Antonio”), about a censorious prude badgered by an Attack of the 50 Foot Woman–sized Anita Ekberg. It’s a scenario that’s milked (literally) for every drop of amusement.

 

 

Andrew Pragasam for The Spinning Image:

De Sica offers a satirical look at the sexual attitudes of Italy’s upper middle classes. Domenico uses Filumena for his own gratification, but excludes her from significant episodes in his life for fear she will taint his “respectable” name. Given Domenico makes this uneducated but fiercely moral and intelligent young woman feel like a whore, it is little wonder she takes on the role for real with other men. On an allegorical level, one can see Filumena embodies the commoner and Domenico the corrupt Italian state that, metaphorically and literally, screws her until through ingenuity she manages to reap her just reward, not just for herself but for her sons as well. As a comedy, the film leans more towards wry humour laced with pathos rather than belly laughs. The scenery-chewing histrionics of the supporting cast border on caricature, with many a “Mamma Mia!”, and while geared towards a vintage Italian audience, may strain the patience of contemporary viewers. Although Loren plays every emotion to the hilt, some of the film’s attempts at heart-rending sentiment are undermined by the three blank planks cast as Filumena’s sons.

 

The film is at its best whenever it concentrates on the Loren-Mastroianni team going full force at their volcanic battle of the sexes. As the epitome of suave lechery, Mastroianni miraculously retains his charm in spite of Domenico’s often despicable deeds. It is a sleight of hand performance only he could have managed. Meanwhile, the Oscar nominated Sophia Loren turns in a truly spirited performance as she morphs from timid teenager to twenty-something temptress and finally fiery middle-age, all the while looking suitably glamorous. Those who caught this film at an impressionable age never quite forgot that transparent dress. “Mamma Mia!” indeed.

 

 

Bosley Crowther in the original New York Times review:

Whenever Vittorio de Sica gets together with Sophia Loren to make a motion picture, something wonderful happens. The something wonderful that’s happened is the conception and projection of a film so frank and free and understanding of a certain kind of vital woman—and man, too—that it sends you forth from the theater feeling you’ve known her — and him — all your life.

 

Let’s have clear, first, that the title, “Marriage Italian Style,” doesn’t give a precise comprehension of the dramatic situation in this film. It isn’t exactly a marriage that is placed under candid scrutiny. It is more in the nature of what you might call a domestic relationship. And is isn’t the sort that can loosely be labeled Italian-style. It specifically happens in Naples, which is known to be a quite unusual place, where the people are highly individual and may have bizarre relationships.

 

This one is in that category. It is a tacitly respected one between a prosperous middle-class merchant and a woman who was a prostitute. That is the subtle difficulty. She is eminently marriageable, and the merchant has generously allowed her to assume the functions and prerogatives of a wife — which is to say, he has promoted her from the bordello to an apartment of her own and then to the respectable environment of his tyrannical mother’s home. This is the seriocomic issue in this wonderfully flamboyant film—how can Filomena force the merchant to marry her? How can she make the big transition from wife in practice to wife in name? How can she bridge the formidable chasm of social propriety?

 


A few words on Fellini’s “The Temptation of Dr. Antonio,” excised here from its inferoir company in the omnibus film Boccacio ’70.

 

Gregory S. Burkant for Monsters at Play:

The second act, “Le Tentazioni del Dottor Antonio” (The Temptation of Doctor Antonio), is the crown jewel of the whole ensemble, and a taste of the always-amusing Fellini at his absolute peak. It tells the sardonic morality tale of the title character (Peppini de Filippo), a self-declared protector of public virtue who spends nearly every waking moment loudly declaring his disgust at the moral decadence of modern-day Rome. Dr. Antonio is the kind of would-be censor who shines a spotlight into cars on lovers’ lane, storms onto burlesque stages demanding that the girls cover themselves, and slaps a buxom young woman for daring to show cleavage in public. His worst nightmare (or perhaps his repressed fantasy?) literally comes to life in the form of an enormous billboard featuring the gloriously stacked Anita Ekberg (of Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA) encouraging passers-by to “Drink More Milk” (accompanied by an annoying little jingle that plays relentlessly throughout the piece). The Doctor’s tireless attempts to have the sign removed provoke the model to step out of the picture – all 50 feet of her – and begin stalking him, Godzilla-like, through the nighttime streets, finally picking him up like a doll and stuffing him between her Volkswagen-sized breasts. Words fail me in describing how deliriously amusing this segment is – but rest assured, it packs more fun and charm in its 50 minutes than the rest of the film put together.

 

Macfarlane again:

A 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…

 

Crowther in the Times:

it is quite an extensive and amusing little jab at all those who lose their sense of proportion and reason in figuring what is decent and what is not. And Signor Fellini has made it with his familiar grasp of irony and scorn in his pictorial compositions and in his posing of grotesque characters. It is a fine little one-hour composite of realism, farce and trick photography, with another dandy musical score by Nino Rota, who laces some familiar phrases from his “Dolce Vita” score through it.

 

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