The Sunday Intertitle: The Big Day

BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET / I SOLITI IGNOTI (Mario Monicelli) works as a parody of RIFIFI and as a yarn in its own right, a tricky task since it all has to fizzle out in a display of incompetence and bad luck, without seeming like a complete let-down.

Great films tend to come out of nations brimming with self-confidence, though there needs to be an ability to question things too. Post-war Italy would seem to have the right circumstances — they’d just won a war, though admittedly using the technique of changing sides midway which had worked so well for them in WWI. They had a new democracy. And they had the economic miracle. Things were going so well financially that neo-realism had to evolve into something else because its pessimism was unsustainable. A more mordant, cynical attitude, however, was possible.

The premise of BDOMS seems to be that if RIFIFI (more-or-less explicitly referenced in the dialogue) happened in Italy, the “scientific” heist would totally miscarry, the heisters defeated not by existential noir fatalism and external forces but by their own bungling. In RIFIFI there are rival gangs. IN BDOMS there’s the ousted former ringleader, but instead of ruining their schemes he’s removed from the narrative by a ridiculous/tragic accident. The whole plot is a series of dead ends like his, winding up in a baffled little newspaper story that gives the movie its original title (PERSONS UNKNOWN).

It’s very funny — the humour comes from an eye-rolling awareness of human folly, but there’s a lot of sympathy too — crime is a “left-handed form of human endeavour” as Huston put it, and there’s no moral judgement on the shady heroes. Crime seems like their best hope to get on in a difficult world, only they’re no damn good at it.

The intermittent intertitles add further ironic amusement.

3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The Big Day”

  1. I am not sure of the idea of great films coming from nations in a period of confidence holds up well. Like Iran produced a lot of great films under the current theocracy, and even in the 80s during the Iran-Iraq War. And you know the best period of Polish Cinema was during the Communist Era, as well as for a number of Eastern Bloc nations. Some of the best films of that era was actually made and released during glasnost, the period when the system was collapsing and the economy was tanking.

    And of course American Cinema never really had a bad decade until the 80s, and even then the weakest period, say The 60s, was actually the height of post-war American prosperity.

  2. OK, so maybe I’m thinking mainly of Britain, where WWII and its aftermath and then the sixties were the most productive periods. But Thatcherism also produced some interesting counter-reactions, so maybe the key is to have good enemies, which might apply to Iran and Poland et al…

  3. That was true for Italy as well. Italy’s best period is 1946 (around Roma Citta Aperta) to Pasolini’s death. Bertolucci himself considered the latter event as the capstone for a particular period of Italian cinema. That was of course the period of post-war prosperity, what many call the Keynesian Consensus era. Then the bad guys (Reagan, Thatcher and successors) came to power and remain in place since, and their time in power has vastly exceeded the period of the consensus.

    Andrej Wajda did say after independence, that Polish Cinema would have to look inwards rather than rally against a single target. And I think that’s probably the bigger test for a national cinema, the ability to look inside. French Cinema is quite good at that, maybe too good…since they with select exceptions (Tavernier, Chabrol) lack the skill to be analytical and sociological in a concrete sense. American Cinema used to be good at that during the 50s and the 70s. But now only few are doing that.

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