Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, Romy Schneider, Tomas Milian, Peppino De Filippo, Marisa Solinas, Germano Gilioli, Luigi Giuliani, Alfio Vita, Romolo Valli
Written by: Giovanni Arpino, Italo Calvino, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Mario Monicelli, Goffredo Parise, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, Luchino Visconti, Cesare Zavattini
Directed by: Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 204
Date: 02/22/1962

Boccaccio '70 (1962)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Love, Sex, and Lottery Tickets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For us culturally dim Americans that do not know, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) was an Italian poet and author, best known for "The Decameron." According to Wikipedia, he was known for realism, as well as bawdy humor and sex. In 1962, four of the top Italian directors decided to make a tribute to him, and the result was Boccaccio '70; the "70" was added presumably because the movie was eight years ahead of its time. Like most anthology films, it has its ups and downs, though the ups generally outweigh the downs.

First up is Mario Monicelli, the director of Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), and arguably the least known of the four. When the total length of the movie came in at three hours and 24 minutes, the distributors balked and snipped out Monicelli's episode. Kino's new DVD and Blu-Ray restores it for American audiences. That's great news because it's one of the best. It concerns a young couple -- Luciana (Marisa Solinas) and Renzo (Germano Gilioli) -- who marry in secret and must hide their relationship from their employers. (Things get a bit more complicated when it looks as if Luciana may be pregnant.)

Most of the situation concerns the fact that the couple is forced to live with Luciana's huge family and can never get a moment of privacy. (Even working two jobs, they can't afford much else.) Meanwhile, Luciana's slimy boss has taken a liking to her. Monicelli could have played all this as big and bawdy, but instead he takes a bittersweet route, settling on a strangely satisfying ending that's both lovely and symptomatic of modern life. Some of his images, such as thousands of men in bathing suits crowded around a pool, are likewise strikingly beautiful and simultaneously disturbing.

Federico Fellini comes in next, and it's odd that the great director, in-between his masterpieces La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 ½ (1963) could come up with something this vapid. Peppino de Filippo stars in an over-the-top performance as a puritanical busybody Dr. Antonio Mazzuola, who spends his time trying to get "smut" removed from public places. He meets his match when a giant billboard is erected outside his home; it features the glorious Anita Ekberg selling milk (get it)? Antonio rages and rages and eventually the giant Anita comes to live and torments him. There are a few thrills seeing the massive Ekberg stomping around -- and the cheesy visual effects used to achieve this -- but overall the tale is heavy and obvious.

Luchino Visconti's episode is decidedly more subtle, but also very dry and airless. The entire thing takes place in the opulent wing of a ritzy house, where trophy wife Pupe (Romy Schneider) has discovered that her husband Conte Ottavio (Tomas Milian) has slept with a number of call girls; the story is in every paper in town. Pupe decides to get a job, and they argue and talk for the entire episode. Pupe bathes and dresses, preparing to go out on the town, and it seems as if something is finally going to happen, but both characters decide to stay home and argue some more. Eventually Conte sees how beautiful his wife is, which leads to a dreadfully ironic ending. It's like one of those plays that just leaves you feeling drained and tarnished.

Then Vittorio de Sica steps in and saves the day with one of his many Sophia Loren movies; as gorgeous as she is, it's hard to argue that she ever looked better than she does in this movie. She plays Zoe, who helps run a shooting gallery in a traveling carnival. But her real job comes at night: she becomes the prize in an auction, and her sexual favors go to the lucky winning man. (No red-blooded man would pass up a chance.) Most of the episode consists of feisty Zoe shooing away leering males, come to check out the "merchandise." The men also join together, and begin a war of bids for the winning ticket. Meanwhile, Zoe has fallen for a local boy with a motorcycle and would rather spend the evening with him.

Some of de Sica's movies could be too long or too heavy, and this one feels just about right; even the potentially sexist subject matter is easily diffused by Loren's power and control. (Just wait until you see her sing and dance the "money, money, money" song. She will win your heart.)

Kino has released this king-sized movie on a gorgeous new Blu-Ray and also on DVD; it's also available as part of their new "Great Italian Directors" box set. Extras include a generous still gallery and trailers.

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