Thursday, June 15, 2017

From Vittorio De Sica, the Comic Anxieties of la Dolce Vita

by Glenn Kenny

New York Times

June 15, 2017

The Italian director and actor Vittorio De Sica is best known internationally for the searing, poignant, humanist pictures he made in the late 1940s and early ’50s. These are classics of the so-called Neo-Realist movement that include Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. Careers in film often take unusual turns. My film students teared up at Bicycle Thieves and then were both puzzled and amused when I showed them the opening of After the Fox, an elaborately silly 1966 caper comedy starring Peter Sellers that seems worlds away from Thieves but was also, as it happens, directed by De Sica.

The circumstances under which De Sica made After the Fox are too complex to get into here. But as deftly demonstrated by Il Boom, a 1963 film he made that is only now getting a United States release, courtesy of Rialto Pictures and Film Forum, comedy was always a part of this director’s skill set. Written by Cesare Zavattini, who did the screenplays for many of De Sica’s best-known works, the movie skewers the mendacity inherent in the postwar economic resurgence in his country.

Alberto Sordi plays Giovanni, a building contractor with big ideas and a lavish lifestyle that’s mostly enjoyed by his wife, Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale), with whom he is quite properly besotted. But the movie begins with our hero in a bit of a spot, owing a large sum of money he can’t pay. So convincing is his masquerade of affluence that when he asks a rich tennis partner for a loan, the other man assumes that Giovanni is joking. An appeal to his boss ends when that boss falls asleep in the middle of his pitch. During a heart-to-heart with the wife of a megarich industrialist, she makes him a proposition. “What I’m about to ask may surprise you: Would you sell an eye?”


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