Reviews of Italian Movies on DVD by Richard J. Brzostek

Story of a Love Affair (1950)

Directors: Michelangelo Antonioni;

More often than not we influence the cards we are dealt in life. Worst of all is when we do something that starts a chain of events that cause us misfortune. Story of a Love Affair is a classic Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni that is exactly about this subject.

When a wealthy businessman finds some old photographs of his wife Paola (Lucia Bose), he gets to wonder about her past. They have been married for seven years, since they met in 1943 during the war, but her history was always a mystery. Instead of asking her directly, he hires and investigator to look into what kind of woman she was before they met. He is partially motivated by curiosity, but mostly just jealousy.

And Paola's past certainly is mysterious. The story slowly unravels her past by the details the investigator uncovers by interviewing her former friends. The investigator's inquiries alert Paola's old boyfriend and actually brings him back into her life after all these years. Ironically, Paola's husband brings about trouble for himself with the investigator and helps his wife find the road to infidelity. We cannot help but see how much Paola must have changed in these seven years. She now lives the life of luxury and has no financial obstacles, while those she knew still struggle with daily living.

There are some subtle details that give this movie a deeper meaning weaved throughout the entire story, giving it a sophistication that will make this film appealing to those with fine taste. There is a strange balance of opposites in nearly everything that happens. When Guido reaches for Paola, she withdraws from him; when Paola reaches for Guido, he withdraws from her. Their love for each other always seems to be a beet or two off and they are never in synchrony. Their love for each other may be deep and strong, but it is a tormented one that never finds peace.

There is also a greater irony to the story. Paola can have the life of extravagance, but not a life with happiness. Paola could have a life with love, but not with lavishness. She is faced with these choices and it isn't too difficult to figure out which path she chooses.

While there are crimes of action or omission, is just thinking of a sin a crime as well? As we find out, Paola and Guido commit al three, but are any one of them less traumatic on their psyche? As you will see, Story of a Love Affair isn't a simple tale of adultery.

L' Avventura (1960)

Directors: Michelangelo Antonioni;

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The Job (Il Posto) (1961)

Directors: Ermanno Olmi;

The Job (Il Posto) is Ermanno Olmi's 1961 classic film about getting a job. Most of what we see in this movie is pretty ordinary in the sense that there isn't anything sensational happening. The main character, Domenico, is a young man that lives with his parents and younger brother. He hopes to land a job with a large company, but he just needs to pass their tests first. The simple nature of the story is what draws us into the movie, as most of us can relate with looking for work and working for a living.

The tests Domenico must endue include exams both mental and physical. Those that pass these tests are ensured work, so there is a lot of pressure on the applicants. During a lunch break, Domenico meets a young woman named Antonietta. While I wouldn't call their interaction a romance, one might conclude that it is the beginning of one. This detail isn't spelled out very clearly as are many things in this film. The messages in the movie are very subtle and let us decide what we should make of what is going on.

Toward the end of the film, some of what was going on was actually funny, in a dark humor type of way. From the only way an opening in a department occurs is if someone dies to squabbles over who gets to sit in what desk, there are some funny parts to the movie even if they were not intentional. If you ever tried to get an office job or had an office job, the humor may be appreciated, even if we never experienced anything quite as extreme what happens in the movie. I couldn't help but notice that there must be something timeless about office work that makes it possible to appreciate the messages presented in this movie some fifty years later.

Boccaccio 70

Boccaccio '70 (1962)

Directors: Federico Fellini;

Boccaccio '70 is an Italian film that is made up of four parts, each being directed by a different person. Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio de Sica direct the four shorts. The only thing they have in common is they deal with love and life. Furthermore, they each have an unforgettable woman that is beautiful and enchanting. The four parts addd up to be a great sampling of Italian cinema and show why it is fun.

The first story shows us how ridiculous life can be. A woman working at an office is forbidden to be married or even have a boy friend, so she must secretly marry the man she loves. Keeping her secret from her boss isn't so easy and is quite funny.

Next, a man that goes out of his way to uphold morality and force women to cover up is faced with a provocative giant-size advertisement. He finds the woman on the billboard, which encourages people to drink milk, too stimulating. He becomes just as obsessed with the woman on the billboard as he does with his quest to cover it up.

The third part is probably the most somber. A wealthy count is exposed in the press using the services of expensive call girls. His beautiful wife is faced with this trying situation and professes to find work so that she can make her own money. But living a pampered life, her options are limited.

The final story stars Sophia Loren as a carnival worker who schemes a way to make some fast money to pay her bills. She ends up selling tickets to a lottery in which she is the prize for one night. The guy courting her isn't too happy when he finds out and the winner is so timid he hardly knows what to do.

Although all of the stories are entertaining, my favorite one is the fantasy about the giant woman. It is fortunate that these shorts were assembled into this package because as stand alone films they probably would not have been as marketable and remained unknown. Boccaccio '70 makes an enjoyable introduction to Italian cinema.

Mamma Roma (1962)

Directors: Pier Paolo Pasolini;

Mamma Roma is an Italian film about a mother and her son. The story starts out at a wedding, where Mamma Roma is there to haunt her ex-husband and his new bride. Momma Roma is a loud woman that is often on the crude side. She brings three pigs and tells the guests the in-laws have finally arrived. Mamma makes many jabs and jokes about the couple, and we soon see she had a son with this man, who witnesses this entire spectacle even if he doesn't fully understand it.

The story resumes when her son Ettore is now a teenager and Mamma Roma wants to give him a chance to get away from the country life to live with her in Rome. Ettore is set in his ways by this point, so it isn't easy to mold him into something else. Although Ettore walks like a tough guy and is always giving some cold looks to those he meets, he is naive and inexperienced, and his mother knows this.

There are a couple scenes that approach having a surrealistic feeling where Mamma Roma is walking at night. There are many lampposts in the background that give off their light, and as Mamma Roma walks, there always seems to be more of the same lights everywhere. She talks to someone next to her and as one person leaves, another comes. But as the lights in the background still look more or less the same, it seems she hardly went anywhere at all. It makes an interesting backdrop as Momma tells her life story to people on the street.

Mamma Roma is haunted by her past; she was a prostitute and her reputation still follows her. Roma takes many steps to better her life and she wants the same for her son, but shaking free of the past isn't easy. Ironically, Ettore is attracted to a young woman that has the reputation of sleeping with the entire city. Mamma Roma is a mother that means well and really wants the best for her son, but it is an uphill battle. Most of the story is unpredictable, so there are some surprises in story for us as we learn about Mamma Roma.

The Grim Reaper (La Commare Secca) (1962)

Directors: Bernardo Bertolucci;

The grim reaper is the icon of death; he is a figure that is feared all over the world, as his only goal is to take life away. However, The Grim Reaper isn't a horror movie, but more of an Italian murder-mystery. Although the title and opening sequence are morbid, the rest of the story isn't gruesome.

The story begins with a woman's body being found under a bridge. The police are investigating her murder and interview men who were in the park the night she was killed. All of them are shady characters and they tell their stories about their lives just before the murder. The flashback stories we see are mostly about lovers and would-be lovers, but as nearly all of them have a degree of money problems, so they all appear potentially suspicious.

What I liked the most about the movie was when the stories get to the park. We see the same place, just from various viewpoints. The further we get into the movie, the more we see the personal stories of everyone that was in the park that night. The park has a surreal feeling to it - as if it was a place where time stands still and lives on and on in the stories that are told about that night. As we watch the stories that have little to do with anything violent, we are always reminded that there is a murder among those at the park. We swing back and forth between the problems people face in everyday life to the realization there is a killer among the people. The Grim Reaper keeps its viewer guessing as we take in the details of the people who were a witness, if not the murder itself, to the location of a murder.

Marriage Italian Style

Marriage Italian Style (1964)

Director: Vittorio De Sica;

Marriage Italian Style (1964) has enough romance, drama and comedy to be considered all of them. The story begins with us seeing Filumena (Sophia Loren) on her deathbed and quite a fuss being made about it. The people there send for Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni), who was her lover for some 22 years. We learn about the couple's strange relationship in a series of flashbacks. The story of this pair is quite amazing and unusual.

I wouldn't call their romance very typical. Domenico met Filumena when she was just 17 and worked in a brothel at the end of World War II. He is quite slick and does just enough to keep her from protesting stringing her along for so long. The story spends some time developing and showing us how Filumena isn't always treated so well and doesn't have an easy life. The story takes a few unexpected turns and there is much more to it than the above, which is where the humor comes in. What I like most about this film is that it has a story that comes together beautifully.

For those unfamiliar with Sophia Loren, she could be considered one of the most famous and most beautiful Italian actresses of all time. She also stared in many American films, which made her world-renowned. Her performance in Marriage Italian Style is remarkable.

Although I prefer to watch movies in their original language, this edition of Marriage Italian Style also has the option to watch it dubbed in English or German. Or if you are like me, there is the original Italian audio too (with an option for English subtitles). If you heard about this film and want to finally see it, love Sophia Loren's work or just can't get enough of Italian cinema, don't miss this one.

Casanova 70 (1965)

Director: Mario Monicelli;

Andrea Rossi-Colombotti (Marcello Mastroianni) is a NATO Officer and a real ladies man. He has no problem finding women but his problem is that he only gets aroused if his life is in danger. If there isn't anything life threatening going on, he is impotent. He sees a psychologist about his problem and is told he must give up women in order to control his demon and pursue spiritual interests.

But giving up women is a great challenge for our Casanova as just about everywhere he goes he meets a bombshell. Andrea has more than a few adventures with women from the General's wife to a prostitute that is supposed to be so unlucky that everyone that is with her dies. He loves these risks and the way his life works out borders on the ridiculous but is equally hilarious.

Although this movie doesn't have anything to do with the legendary Casanova from the 18th century, those enamored with him may also appreciate the suaveness of this modern version. Casanova 70 is a delightful Italian comedy that is both funny and very amusing. The story is charming and the six writers who worked on it disprove the saying that too many cooks spoil the soup. Mario Monicelli's Casanova 70 is a gem of Italian cinema. This comedy with a sexy side is not to miss.

Chung Kuo China (1972)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni;

Michelangelo Antonioni's 1972 documentary Chung Kuo China brings us on an exotic adventure deep into the country everyone knows of, but truly little about it. Antonioni acknowledges he doesn't have some profound insight into China that he will share with us, but as we go along with him, we feel like we are on a personal tour in this ancient land. We see famous landmarks like the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square, getting an appreciation to their significance. We get a tour of cities like Beijing and Shanghai, learning about their past and present. But regardless of where we go on our travels with Antonioni throughout China, we see countless people going about their regular life.

It is actually pretty amazing that so much of this film just shows the regular events one sees in from the street and the many expressions of the people who happen to be there at the time. So this documentary manages to show the mundane in an interesting way. The narration helps us understand what is occurring and the historical importance of what we are viewing. I have to add that there were actually escorts accompanying Antonioni and his crew when they made this movie. The escorts always remain off camera, but told them where they can and cannot film (and some of what they were told not to film they did anyway). If anything, we also get a good taste of communism and the culture that goes with it. China still embraces its past and we get to see a few things that might only occur there and no where else on earth (like acupuncture using huge needles for pain control during birth or groups of people moving their body like they are practicing martial arts out in the public).

I have to admit I like Antonioni's style, so it isn't a surprise for me that I found this film to be so enjoyable. Chung Kuo is a documentary that provides us with a chance to draw our own conclusions about what we see. The film is broken up into three parts providing us a good point to stop in case taking it all in in one sitting is too much. By the end of this nearly four-hour film, although we may not feel like an expert, we will have a much richer appreciation and knowledge of the noble land called China.

Fellini's Casanova (1976)

Director: Federico Fellini;

Fellini's Casanova is a film that will bring the viewer into a mystical and surrealistic world of the famous lover from Venice. In addition to having a reputation as a lover that follows him throughout Europe, Casanova is also a poet, artist, mathematician, and philosopher. If that isn't enough to have an alluring aura, he is also a nobleman that dabbles in alchemy and the occult.

Although Casanova is an interesting character, he seems to attract just as many unusual people and experiences. In every instance, it just about always inevitably leads to some bedroom romp. His travels across Europe take him to the courts of many countries and unusual women somehow gravitate toward him like a magnate. From a woman pretending to be a nun in a mysterious palace on an island to a woman machine (robot) that is the amusement of the royal court, Casanova doesn't seem to have any problem getting himself into such unusual experiences. But in all the wondering Casanova does, one cannot but help think there is something empty in his life.

This film is musical, theatrical, and filled with amazing 18th century costumes. This is a movie that you will not forget anytime soon after watching it, as it is so atypical. As it is also filled with deeper meaning, if one looks for it anyway, Fellini's Casanova is one that can be watched again and again. I would recommend this movie the most for those who enjoy world cinema or art films, as it does not have any of the ingredients of a mainstream movie.

Identification Of a Woman (1982)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni;

Identification of a Woman is an Italian film about an Italian director. I find the director, Niccolo (Tomas Milian), to be an interesting character as he is both artistic and intelligent, yet not a push over. The story begins when Niccolo gets a call from a mysterious man that wants to meet with him. When Niccolo sees him, he gives Niccolo a very vague threat about continuing to see a particular woman will result in some kind of trouble. Shortly later, Niccolo begins a passionate affair with a younger woman named Mavi (Daniela Silverio). Although Mavi says she doesn't know much about Niccolo, I would say she is even more mysterious. I also found it mysterious that he got a threat about not seeing her before he met her (and I watched it three times to confirm that this is the sequence of events). In the big scheme of things, this is a minor detail and shouldn't be worried about too much.

But the mysteries only grow in this film. Mavi disappears after some time of dealing with the stalkers spying on Niccolo and having to make their affair secretive. So as intense as their passions were for each other, the flames between Mavi and Niccolo seem to be extinguished abruptly, which isn't acceptable at all for Niccolo. He is driven to find out what happened and who was behind the threats. Niccolo then meets another woman named Ida (Christine Boisson) that not only helps him put some closure to the mystery, but also becomes his new girlfriend. Ida is quite different than Mavi and presents Niccolo with a situation in which he must decide if he wants to continue their relationship.

What is fascinating about the movie is that the story is basically normal, but it is also bizarre. While everything that happens isn't too far from everyday events, they are also pretty extraordinary. I found Identification of a Woman to be a intriguing movie, but it also came up short because it left a few details unanswered. Although those these questions left in our mind may have been intentional, as they provide us with quite a bit to ponder, I still would have preferred more concrete answers.

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