Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Aldo Giuffr�, Agostino Salvietti, Lino Mattera, Tecla Scarano, Silvia Monelli, Carlo Croccolo, Pasquale Cennamo, Antonio Cianci, Armando Trovajoli, Tina Pica, Giovanni Ridolfi, Gennaro Di Gregorio
Written by: Eduardo De Filippo, Isabella Quarantotti, Cesare Zavattini, Bella Billa, Lorenza Zanuso, based partly on a novella by Alberto Moravia
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 12/19/1963
IMDB

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Time and Place

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of the major Italian Neo-Realists, Vittorio De Sica had one of the strongest starts, and then perhaps the least interesting late period. Fellini, Visconti, and Rossellini all evolved into more ornate, more elaborate, but still personal styles, while De Sica seemed to become more impersonal, and on the path to more awards and more acclaim (he won the Best Foreign Language Oscar four times, and was nominated a fifth time). Yet, by some miracle, he lucked into a long-term working relationship with the sex goddess Sophia Loren; they acted in several films together, and De Sica directed her in eight movies, beginning with The Gold of Naples (1954) and ending twenty years later with The Voyage (1974); he even guided her to an Oscar in Two Women (1960).

Now Kino Video has released a three-disc box set -- available on DVD or Blu-Ray -- of De Sica/Loren movies, including Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian Style (1964), and Sunflower (1970). The first is the best, an Oscar winner for Foreign Language film, where De Sica uses his observant qualities for a delightfully comic effect. The movie consists of three segments set in three different cities. The first, set in Naples, is a broad, bold parody in which Adelina (Loren) sells black market cigarettes and is unable to pay a fine when she gets caught. On the verge of her arrest, she learns that she gets a reprieve for being pregnant (plus an additional six months, post-birth, for nursing). During this time, she goads her loving husband Carmine (Marcello Mastroianni) into making her pregnant again. This continues for years, until the couple has a large brood of children, and Adelina becomes inexplicably more and more beautiful. But unfortunately Carmine has become more and more run down and exhausted, and eventually unable to perform his duties.

In this, the longest segment, De Sica makes the most of a wide, colorful frame filled with worn-out working class surroundings; the well-loved atmosphere gives rise to the warmest passions. In the chillier second segment, set in Milan, Anna (Loren) is married to a wealthy businessman and picks up her lover Renzo (Mastroianni) in her fancy car. They go for a drive, or barely, since Anna can't drive very well. Anna complains about her opulent lifestyle, and they flirt with the idea of running away together, but they never seem to connect at the right time, and the day ends unsatisfactorily. This is the shortest, and subtlest segment, with more use of wide-open space. It has an underlying tension caused by the bad driving, and by the general disconnect of the dialogue. It was based on a story by the great Italian author Alberto Moravia, whose work also inspired the movies Two Women, Contempt, The Conformist, and L'ennui.

Finally, we get the Rome segment, in which Loren plays Mara, a high-priced prostitute. Her best customer, Augusto Rusconi (Mastroianni) comes to spend some time with her, but she catches the attention of a young seminary student (Gianni Ridolfi) living across the way. He becomes so smitten with her, that he's willing to quit his training, much to the chagrin of his suffering grandmother. Mara becomes distracted with this problem, routinely delaying Augusto's pleasures; Mastroianni is hilarious here, playing a lovable scatterbrained fop, who sometimes makes Loren laugh in spite of herself. Again, De Sica uses the locations, mainly inside Mara's apartment and the outdoor balconies, to glorious effect. But the real high point of this segment is Loren's famous strip tease; though fairly chaste, it's still smokin' hot.

After seeing this, I came to have a new appreciation for the force of nature that is Loren; very few actresses moved better across the screen. But I also newly appreciate Mastroianni, who, aside from his famous work with Fellini, had a wonderful arsenal of comic moods and gestures. Clearly Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is not at the same level as Bicycle Thieves or Umberto D., but it's another masterpiece all the same, bringing a much-needed humor, warmth, and sexuality to the director's work.

The disc comes with a feature-length documentary, Vittorio D., and trailers for all three movies in the De Sica/Loren set.