Il Cinema Ritrovato presented a season of Italian shorts, culled from the compendium films that were so popular in the fifties and sixties. I kept hearing that Alexander Payne had declared one of these to be the find of the festival, but nobody who told me this could remember which one he was talking about. Could be Scola, Rosi, Rossellini & Greco, or De Filippo. I also heard that Giorgio Simonelli’s episode from 1954’s ACCADE AL COMMISARIATO was a standout, with an endless array of outrageous plot twists, beginning with the best-prepared “pull back to reveal no trousers” gag in Italian history.
I saw a few.
Alessandro Blasetti, recently undergoing a renaissance thanks to Scorsese’s campaigning, inaugurated the whole anthology movement in 1952 with ALTRI TEMPI (OTHER TIMES, screened at Bologna last year), which collected stories from different historical periods. He followed it up with TEMPI NOSTRI (OUR TIMES), an episode of which was introduced by his 90-year-old daughter, who talked up a blue streak and nearly exhausted her poor interpreter. But she provided vital background to this story of an amorous Neapolitan bus driver played by Vittorio De Sica — the piece was originally intended to co-star Gina Lollobrigida, who had successfully paired with VDS in the previous film, but she declined the chance to play a deceived wife, arguing that it was not plausible that any husband would cheat on her. (She has a point, though one could point to the case of Gardner Vs. Rooney as precedent.)
Blasetti recast, but for some reason also rewrote to make the woman not De Sica’s wife, but a foundling raised as is sister, which very nearly wrecks the story. However, thanks to De Sica’s ebullience and charm, and some very funny lines, he gets away with it. British attendees were amused by the set-up of a randy bus driver and a sour, long-faced supervisor who hates him — the exact set-up of 70s sitcom On the Buses, adapted for the cinema for Hammer films and best avoided in both televisual and film form. Blasetti shows what that premise could be like with appealing characters and a sexiness that eschews seaside postcard grotesquerie. And it’s nice to see De Sica in a working-joe role.
STORIA SULLA SABBIA was directed by Riccardo Fellini in 1963. Ahah! I thought, another Idiot Brother to add to my collection. But perhaps not — R. Fellini, who acted in several of his brothers, most notably as one of I VITELLONI, creates a touching, funny mood piece out of a working class wedding on the beach at Rimini. He can’t match his sibling for visual flair, but the less artful style allows a more naturalistic humour to emerge. The film was poorly received and Riccardo turned to documentary in the end — he also fell out decisively with F.F., who demanded that he change his name if he was going to be a director. There could be only one Fellini! What a dick. I am almost ready to declare Fellini the idiot brother.
TOBY DAMMIT screened in its correct multilingual version, but without English subs for the Italian parts — the only movie offered without translation, so I have to assume it was an oversight. Still, it freshened the experience, and made me realize that Tim Lucas’s suggestion that the film evokes the strangeness of being in Italy without speaking the lingo is not quite right. Terence Stamp as Toby is able to reply to questions asked in Italian, even if he answers in English. So the film is really about how strange Italy is even if you DO speak the lingo.
A clue to the nature of Italy — Chaplin’s EASY STREET, in Italy, was called LA STRADA DELLA PAURA — THE STREET OF TERROR! If we could understand this, we would know many things, like the fox of legend.