Review for Boccaccio 70’
Not all anthology films are that great. But ‘Boccaccio ‘70’ is absolutely fantastic. But with four Italian directors of such repute - Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Vittorio de Sica – each creating a beautifully self-contained mini-movie of approximately 50 minutes duration, this was always going to be special and indeed it is. What’s even more remarkable is that, despite this hailing from 1962, some 55 years ago, the themes and stories are as fresh as a daisy and as relevant today as they were back then. A lot of stuff changes but human nature is pretty consistent it would seem.
I suspect that, whilst relatively tame by today’s standards, that the film was deemed somewhat risqué by English audiences. Each of the tales takes an unflinching view of sexuality and its impact on individuals and society at the start of the swinging sixties. Divided into four so-called ‘Acts’, although all sharing a theme, each of the vignettes is highly distinctive with no two seeming the same. As a result, there is never a dull moment throughout its three-and-a-half-hour run.
Act 1 – The Temptation of Dr. Antonio
Things kick off with a really surreal and humorous entry from Federico Fellini, here directing his first foray into colour movie-making. Pitched as a satirical attack against the prevalence of hypocritical prudery (think Kenneth Williams in Carry-Ons tutting over a salacious picture whilst craning his neck to see more of it), this is so much fun that you won’t believe that it’s just short of an hour long. It plays out like one of the longer Twilight Zone episodes, featuring an uptight, hat wearing, righteous citizen (Antonio Mazzuolo played by Peppino de Filippo) who spends his free time in parks shouting his disgust at lover’s cars and shining lights into them.
When an ad agency erect a giant billboard in a vacant lot in front of his home, featuring an erotic image of bosomy sex-bomb Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita), advertising milk of all things, he protests loudly. But his obsession leads to a breakdown where he sees a giant Anita Ekberg climb down from the poster and chase him through the streets, finally capturing him and caressing him like a child at her breast.
There is more than a passing nod to ‘The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ here too – the same studio techniques are used to create the effects. But the real joy is the combination of Ekberg’s unbridled, sultry sexuality and Mazzulo’s comedic protestations. Hilarious and lots of fun.
Act 2 – The Job
Luchino Visconti's contribution is perhaps a little more serious, but perhaps more poignant, again featuring a beautiful woman. It starts with a scandal. The husband of a beautiful wealthy socialite (Ottavio, himself a Count, played by Tomas Milian) has been caught out using the services of call-girls. Whilst his business team do what they can to handle the press and make the best of the situation, the biggest fear for all is that his wife (played by elegantly beautiful Romy Schneider) will throw him out. She has been missing since the news broke.
When she returns she at first seems completely sanguine about the affair(s). However, all is not as it seems and it transpires that she has been out to meet the girls in question in order to check the validity of the accusations.
Although the drama is mainly confined to a single room, this doesn’t stop Visconti indulging in a series of outfit changes. Although less amusing, perhaps, than any other Act, it does pay dividends if you stick at it with a somewhat unexpected ending, which I won’t share here.
Act 3 – The Raffle
Perhaps the headline act of the film, featuring Sophia Loren at the height of her early fame, The Raffle is a bawdy comedy with a poignant twist. Sophis Loren, positively oozing self-conscious sexuality, represents a completely unattainable level of glamour to a small rural town when she arrives as part of a travelling fair.
When it’s learned that an unofficial lottery is underway, where the winner gets to sleep with her, the tickets sell like hot-cakes. Even the local clergy are in. Of course, it’s all fairly unpalatable. Zoe, we learn, is from a poor part of Italy (Loren herself came from such humble roots) and her family are in desperate need of cash, having been charged with ten year’s worth of back taxes which they don’t have.
The locals line up at the shooting range where Zoe works to get a look at their prize and we soon see that Zoe is no push-over. She gives as good as she gets. When a young local manages to stop a charging bull attack her stall, we can see there is some chemistry between them and, despite her commitment to sleep with the winner of the raffle, she steals a few moments alone with him, before he discovers who and what she is. The winner of the raffle is, of course, the least likely man in town and after much comedic awkwardness, the films ends on a positive if unexpected note. Loren is absolutely stunning throughout and delivers the performance of a lifetime, making this, perhaps, the most memorable of all the vignettes.
Act 4 – Renzo & Luciana
The final act, by Mario Monicelli, is a humorous look at the life for young lovers in Italian cities in the very early 1960’s. A delivery driver, errand boy (Germano Gilioli) secretly gets married to a bookkeeper (Marisa Solinasi) in the same firm where he works. They suspect she may be pregnant so decide they cannot wait. What’s worse is that the firm they work for forbids any workers to marry another.
Living a lie at work, they can’t seem to share any intimacy at home either, as they share a small flat with her parents and siblings. They literally have no space to make love. Desperate, they try to get together in his tricylcle style bubble car but are watched over by workers. Wherever they go in the crowded city, thousands of others seem to be there too.
The cinema has standing room only, barely enough room to steal a kiss, and the local swimming baths are so busy there is hardly a space to sit. The best they can do is sit on chairs facing away from each other. The protestation and frustration is brilliantly hammered homw by the two young actors and some brilliant direction. A fine ending Act to a great compendium.
The transfer for this set is superb and, I guess because it’s HD and can take it, some of the smallest and most elegant subtitles I have ever seen which were a joy.
The disc comes with a lengthy documentary about Sophia Loren, Sophia, yesterday, today and tomorrow, which features an interview with Sophia Loren and fans and colleagues like Woody Allen, Giorgio Armani and others, as well as some family. This is badly let down by its quality – it looks like third generation VHS.
Boccaccio ’70 is one of the best anthology films I have ever seen. Don’t be put off by the subtitles or its length; it’s an easy and fun watch and a film that I will definitely be watching again. Highly recommended.