Archive for Marcello Mastroianni

See Naples and Die

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2016 by dcairns

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GIALLO NAPOLETANA isn’t a giallo in the usual, Dario Argento sense, being more interested in detective mystery than drawn-out setpiece assassinations — all of the murders are committed by defenestration and seen from outside, so they’re unusually brief. It’s also as much of a comedy as a thriller, with Marcello Mastroianni as a humble mandolinist, legs disabled by polio, who has to contend with his gambling-addict father, played by popular Italian comic Peppino de Felippo (like many comedians from Italy, very much a local/acquired taste), before getting embroiled with gangsters, the police, and a serial killer.

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I guessed during the movie that it might be adapted from a book, but it isn’t: it does however have a separate credit for story, which ties in which the strange disconnect I was feeling as I watched: the tone is just OFF. Mastroianni is playing a low-status loser, like Jim Rockford, pushed around by all the other characters, so we’re sympathetic, but the movie seems to want us to laugh AT him, or at his Job-like travails. Mastroianni does his best with a typically spirited turn, topped off with a ludicrous hairstyle.

There’s also tacky jokes about the insane asylum where some of the action takes us, though this wasn’t as bad as I feared, and then the story turns out to have an unexpected Holocaust connection, which jars so badly with the would-be jaunty manner of the movie that I would probably have bailed on it in disgust if it wasn’t virtually over by that point.

On paper, the best joke may be the way everybody keeps falling from windows/high places, but this plays out in a slightly weary way. The very last moments before the final freeze-frame are laugh-out-loud funny, which is saying something because by then we were feeling pretty hostile to the movie. one the whole, a serious giallo from this director — Sergio Corbucci of DJANGO and THE BIG SILENCE fame — would have been a more attractive proposition.

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This is a shame because the movie looks quite nice, despite it being almost the eighties, and its twisty narrative unfolds in a genuinely intriguing way — you have to find out what happens next, or Fiona and I did. Plus you get Ornella Muti, Michel Piccoli, and Capucine (but the movie wastes her beauty and comic talent).

So, only occasionally funny, not a proper giallo, likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth… but perhaps worth seeing as a lesson in slick mystery plotting. And also it’s a Christmas movie! Watch it in a month and feel bad.

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Forbidden Divas: Jacqueline Bisset in The Sunday Woman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2016 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove returns with another in his series, Forbidden Divas, about one of his very favourite stars — can you tell?

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

Always (and Ever So Discreetly) on a Sunday

“Your obsession with being witty at all costs…it just makes you a bitch.”

~ Marcello Mastroianni to Jacqueline Bisset, The Sunday Woman

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For a few short summers in the late 70s, Jacqueline Bisset was the official Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Every hormonally challenged adolescent boy wanted either to sleep with her or to be her – and a few, perhaps, wanted to do both. Nobody even pretended her films were any good. The Deep (1977) was five minutes of La Jackie scuba-diving in a wet T-shirt followed by two hours of…does anyone remember or care? The Greek Tycoon (1978) was the ‘strictly fictional’ story of a US politician’s widow who marries a shipping magnate. It was about as interesting as reading HELLO! magazine with the names changed. Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978) was a comedy-thriller that was devoid of laughs or thrills – but it did star Bisset as the skinniest dessert chef in the history of haute cuisine.

All these movies were wretched, but the public turned out because Jacqueline Bisset was in them. On a screen ruled by the woeful likes of Sally Field and Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh, audiences were starved for a glimpse of a proper old-fashioned star. You know, one with beauty and glamour, style and class. One who wore clothes well but refused – with a frosty ladylike hauteur – to take them off. (In 1978 when Bisset was at the height of her fame, some ungallant souls re-released a sleazy little item called Secrets (1971) where she did precisely that. They did not make as much money as they hoped, perhaps because most of Bisset’s fans were too young to get in to see it.) A star who could even act – when she had to – although that was one secret that Jacqueline Bisset kept largely to herself. Critics used to say she was better than her material. Well, it would take a truly Olympian lack of talent to be worse.

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In truth, a number of films had proved that Bisset could act – but most of them were made in Europe and had titles the teenagers who flocked to The Deep could not even pronounce. La donna della domenica (1975) is a tongue-twister even for native Italian speakers but its literal English translation, The Sunday Woman, will do just as well. It was directed by Luigi Comencini, one of those mid-level Italian auteurs – neither an artist nor a hack – whose work is slick and watchable, but only rarely interesting. It takes place amid the upper bourgeoisie of Turin, a photogenic northern city that was the centre of the Italian film industry until World War I, but has been sadly neglected by movies ever since. You might call it a giallo but it is really too refined and elegant for that. This tale of skullduggery and murder never stoops to a display of severed limbs or spurting blood. There may be some erect penises on show – and impressively large ones, too – but these are sculpted in stone for use as decorative objets d’art. Mind you, they also come in handy as murder weapons…

The film opens with Bisset sitting in her stylish Futurist villa, pretending to listen as her industrialist husband drones on about his business. We hear an internal monologue inside her head, saying that “he only ever talks of the economic crisis and his liver.” He also spends most nights away from home with his mistress but Bisset – or her character, Anna Carla Dosio – seems to take that as a point in his favour. Her monologue is addressed, not to herself or to the audience, but to her best friend (Jean-Louis Trintignant) a patrician gay man who rejoices in the name of Massimo Campi. (Let it be said, in fairness, that Trintignant’s performance is remarkably subtle and restrained.) Bisset and her GBF form an exclusive and deeply snobbish clique à deux. They find the rest of Turin society unbearably vulgar and conduct endless debates on the socially acceptable way to pronounce certain words. Their current object of loathing is a fat, lecherous architect who wiggled his tongue at Bisset at an art opening. She is writing a letter to her friend, to decree this man must be eliminated. Things look rather awkward when he promptly turns up dead.

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The problem is not that this letter exists, but that it finds its way into the hands of the police. The morning after the murder, Bisset dismisses her Sardinian houseboy for having the temerity to serve a drink without a tray. He pockets her letter (which she has carelessly left lying about) and takes it to one Inspector Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) a down-to-earth Roman poliziotto who finds Turin society too rarefied and snooty for words. The cop may not take the letter seriously as a clue – after all, it is a shade too obvious – but he is intrigued by the woman who wrote it. He tumbles quickly to the fact that she is beautiful and bored. Nor does Bisset entirely mind being dragged into a murder investigation. (Her husband, of course, is aghast.) “This is the most exciting thing that’s happened since I got a flat tyre four years ago,” she says at one point. Most exciting is the close proximity of Mastroianni, an actor known for making every woman in every movie he makes…

Most of The Sunday Woman is a stylish pas de deux of mutual attraction and resistance, between the haughty socialite and the earthy cop. It is one of a very few films that explore Bisset’s gift for high comedy in the manner of George Cukor or Mitchell Leisen. (At least Cukor lived long enough to direct her best Hollywood role in the 1981 Rich and Famous.) Learning that the victim was bludgeoned to death with a large stone phallus, she drives Mastroianni out into the country, to the factory that manufactures these objects in secret. Surrounded by a warehouse full of giant cocks, she must fight the temptation – as Lady Bracknell would say – to “look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh, which is worse.” When the sculptor unveils his king-size model, her composure threatens to crack. She knows that Mastroianni has something quite similar on offer. How much longer can she pretend not to notice?

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Her scenes with her gay pal Trintignant are played just as smoothly. It would be two decades before Hollywood dared show a similar friendship – between Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) – and they did so with all the matter-of-fact sangfroid of Marie Curie discovering radium. The Sunday Woman takes their alliance as a given, as both characters are too intelligent and ultimately too vulnerable for the vacuous cocktail party world they are forced to inhabit. While Everett’s love life would be kept timidly off screen, Trintignant has a cute but far-too-clingy boyfriend (Aldo Reggiani) who wants to protect his lover and starts his own investigation into the murder. Let’s just say he lacks Bisset’s savoir faire and has no sexy police detective to look out for him…so he comes to a bad end. Our delight in The Sunday Woman is not in the plot but in the supreme elegance with which the characters pick it apart.

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Every so often, one grows tired of films that beat the audience over the head with their sheer dogged determination to be Great Art. (The latest Paolo Sorrentino film Youth is an egregious case in point.) The Sunday Woman labours under no such delusions. It confines itself to being witty, sexy, literate, stylish, suspenseful and – once you realise just how arid its characters’ lives truly are – touching in an odd and wholly unexpected way. Jacqueline Bisset has never acted more elegantly or looked more exquisite. She reigns over it all serenely, like a queen to the manner born. Faced with two of Europe’s very greatest actors, she twines each of them neatly round one little finger and then looks about her for more amusement. Did nobody think to impound her passport before she caught that plane back to Hollywood?

David Melville

Handbag Bowls

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2014 by dcairns

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In LA NOTTE, Antonioni’s existential urban ennui driftalong dream of directionless decadence and the isolation of togetherness, Monica Vitti, making an “extraordinary appearance” (though as the director’s wife, it’s not so much extraordinary as inevitable), invents a fun new game, sliding her handbag across a checkerboard floor, the object being to land on the last square. It’s not quite the only fun anyone has in the movie, but it feels like it, perhaps because Antonioni has invented the best excuse for cleavage shots in screen history.

As another disaffected, casual, despairing party guest, Vitti still manages to be more alive and productive than the principles (tellingly, the most vivacious guy is the friend who’s dying), with her tape-recorded observations, made purely for self-expression, but even she ends up drained by the vampiric energy-void of Mastroianni and Moreau. Also, she represents such vivacity and allure that Mastroianni, drawn zombie-moth like towards her, never seems to lose sympathy despite the fact that he’s trying, in a listless way, to cheat on his miserable wife. I was on his side.

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The excellent bit with the stuffed cat.

But I was on Moreau’s side too — she’s much more appealing than him. It seems surprising to see Moreau cast as nothing but a wife, and a passionless one too. It helps that she smiles quite a bit — but a gentle smile, none of her usual edge. JULES ET JIM located that smile as belonging to an ancient statue: the smile of the sphinx. I have no idea how thoughtful the real Marcello was — I have my doubts — but he makes a just-credible intellectual here. But it’s Moreau who more strongly  suggests hidden depths.

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Her flaneur sequences, wandering a Milan that’s gradually being corroded into another international Tativille, were the bits that hooked me, evoking as they do the mysterious intensity of L’ECLISSE’s final, protagonist-free street corner hang-out zone (analysed here).

Hard to imagine how the film’s celebration/suicidal despair at the clean angles of modern architecture would have played when all this was actually new. Despite an opening shot that pointedly contrasts old and new structures, LA NOTTE doesn’t generally offer a Tati-style dialectic on differing ages of design, it essentially takes up discrete vantage points amid those glossy, glassy planes and bides its time. And it’s bravely devoid of a sense of humour, even if Marcello does sprout a set of glittering deely-boppers for an instant.

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The final party, endless party, all jazz and dark angles, strikes me as more successful than anything in LA DOLCE VITA — it doesn’t seem to have dated, and in eschewing the cartoonist’s eye for tabloid-friendly excess, it captures public aloneness, isolation in a crowd, melancholy pleasures amid revelry, solitary pensiveness and also portrays a party I’d actually kind of like to go to, even if I would just find a quiet corner and read.

UK Blu: LA NOTTE [THE NIGHT] (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray)

UK DVD: La Notte [Masters of Cinema] [1961] [DVD]

US Blu: La Notte (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]