Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Vittorio De Sica won international acclaim with his neo-realist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves, shot with an amateur cast, but in later years he retreated into more safely commercial star vehicles such as this offering from 1970, with Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni as a seamstress and electrician who fall in love and get married against a background of WWII. Despite doing his best to worm out of it by feigning mental illness, he’s packed off to fight on the Eastern Front, where he goes missing. Years later, after the death of Stalin, Loren goes to Russia to look for him. That means talking to a lot of Russian peasants, but thankfully she’s a lot of woman.
The film is best early on, with the two stars playing off each other in scenes of relaxed, domestic banter that seem semi-improvised and charmingly relaxed, backed up by some fine summery cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno (who also shot Visconti’s The Leopard) and a typically lilting score by Henry Mancini. Later on, though, the story (co-written by Tonino Guerra, one of Italian cinema’s go-to wordsmith’s during this era) takes some convoluted and melodramatic turns that don’t always convince. In the end, the main reason for watching it is Loren herself, who is on top form, seguing effortlessly from earthy sensuality to an air of Mother Courage-like tragic stoicism.
Given that the movie is supposed to have been restored from the original elements, the DVD transfer is a little disappointing, but the disc comes with a very enjoyable 54 min documentary about Loren, with contributions from, among others, Woody Allen, Giorgio Armani and the lady herself, looking extremely glamorous. Focusing on her work in her native country (especially her many collaborations with De Sica) rather than her sometimes ill-fated excursions to Hollywood, it’s a piece that should appeal not just to fans of Loren but to aficionados of post-war Italian cinema.