Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Italian master honored
at the Castro


Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in director Vittorio De Sica's Marriage Italian Style. Photo: Cinema Italia SF
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The Castro Theatre offers a quartet of films on Sat., Sept. 26, highlighting Vittorio De Sica's (1902-74) range and panache as a commercial entertainer, culminating in one of the most moving cinematic statements on Italy's participation in the horrors of the Holocaust. Despite his claim to being the godfather of Italy's post-WWII neorealism movement – filmmakers who dramatized the stories of Italian cities recovering from Allied bombing raids and the moral collapse of Fascism; realistic stories cast with a small army of non-professional actors – De Sica remains outside Italy's modern-cinema pantheon of Antonioni, Bertolucci, Fellini, Rossellini, and Visconti. He's a prolific cinema artist who got less respect than his body of work would seem to merit, his trio of masterpieces Shoeshine (1946), Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D (1952) (all from screenplays by Cesare Zavattini) seldom seen outside of film classes.

Two Women (1960) Sophia Loren received an Oscar for her portrayal of a mother who flees across war-torn Italy with her 13-year-old daughter. In the first act De Sica introduces us to Loren's character, no typical heroine but rather a world-weary mother who confesses a past affection for Mussolini that's faded as the bombs rained down on her small shop. The bitter realism if not outright cynicism of Loren's mother is related in a conversation with a male acquaintance as the dust settles around them.

Mother: "If something had happened to [her daughter] Rosetta, I would have murdered someone."

Giovanni: "Who would you have murdered?"

"I'm wasting your time, Giovanni."

"I'd do anything for you."

"I know, you were always a good friend to my husband."

"Your husband was a stupid idiot!"

"Why then, you're just as two-faced as all the others!"

"Come on, you were with him day and night. Did you love him?"

"I married him."

"But you didn't love him."

She slaps his face. "I'd like to see you living like I did, in a shack with a chicken. I ate once a day, so I went with the first one who said, 'I will bring you to Rome.' I loved Rome, not him."

"So how was it, with an old man?"

"Don't make me think about it. God rest his soul!"

The balance of the film reflects the chaos of an Italy no longer under Il Duce's iron fist, but facing a postwar future poised between the excesses of American-style capitalism and the drab tyranny of Joseph Stalin's failed utopia, Soviet communism. (11:30 a.m.)

Scene from director Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Photo: Cinema Italia SF

The Gold of Naples (1954) Possibly the first-ever San Francisco screening of an anthology of stories by Giuseppe Marotta, with Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Edoardo De Filippo, and the one-name comic Toto. The collection of short tales includes the travails of a Naples family with a local gangster as an unwanted house guest. In another, a pizza-maker goes temporarily berserk when his wife's emerald wedding ring disappears into one of the pies they sold that day, but which one? The highlight is a comic gem where a boastful old card shark get his comeuppance at the hands of an eight-year-old poker prodigy. (2 p.m.)

Marriage Italian Style (1964) Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni were at the top of their romantic screen games when they appeared for De Sica in a comedy two-hander where Loren tries to coax her long-time boyfriend into martial bliss. The showdown between Mastroianni's patriarch and Loren's long-suffering mistress turns increasingly hilarious as Loren's whore cunningly ropes Mastroianni's prideful pig into supporting her three nearly grown sons, one of whom she insists is his, but she refuses to divulge which one. (5 p.m.)

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) The story of a wealthy Jewish family whose members ignore growing signs of encroaching Fascism garnered the Best Foreign Film Oscar and was a star vehicle for lead actress Dominique Sand. Co-star Lino Capolicchio appears in person.

This domestic tragedy ironically debuted the same year and bears stylistic resemblances to De Sica's fellow director Visconti's haunting Death in Venice. De Sica was quoted that year as boasting, "I'm glad I made it. It brought me back to my old noble intentions." (7:30 p.m.)


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