Khristine Shares her Favorite Italian Movies and Series: Sophia, Marcello, and Vittorio

The magnificent Sophia Loren is showcased in these movies in the full range of her talents, her ability to convincingly portray deep emotion, her versatility, her tremendous allure, and her unforgettable beauty. During her long career, she has appeared in ninety-eight films, co-starring in seventeen with Marcello Mastroianni. Among many international awards she has received, Sophia Loren also won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her harrowing role in “Two Women” (1960), also directed by Vittorio De Sica. It was the first Oscar ever given for a performance in a “foreign language” film.

Marcello Mastroianni, considered the greatest and most prolific of Italian movie actors, was a great foil for Sophia Loren’s performances, with his sometimes urbane, sometimes romantic, yet often bumbling characterizations. Although he is perhaps most well-known for his breakout roles in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and later in “8 ½,” his talent for comedy is without doubt. His roles in “Ieri, Oggi, e Domani” and “Marriage Italian Style,” as well as earlier roles including his homicidal nobleman with the memorable “tic” in “Divorce Italian Style” (also highly recommended and available through CLAMS), are prime examples. If you like silly sex romps, Marcello is very funny in “Casanova 70,” available on Kanopy.

Vittorio De Sica was an actor, and a renowned filmmaker of the Neo-realist movement, with award-winning films such as “The Bicycle Thieves” and “Umberto D” to his credit. The thirty-five films he directed crossed over into diverse genres, including “Commedia all’italiana,” of which “Ieri, Oggi, e Domani” is a good illustration. De Sica was a matinee idol beginning with “talkies,” and appeared in one hundred and sixty two movies over the course of his long career. Sophia Loren was his favorite actress to direct.

Ieri, Oggi e Domani (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963) 

“Ieri, Oggi, e Domani” is the type of film known as an “anthology,” composed of three separate stories and based in three of the great Italian cities. Each segment is named for the main female character, played by Sophia Loren. She co-stars with Marcello Mastroianni here, in a range of comic roles. 

“Adelina” (Naples), is based on the true story of Concetta Muccardi, a street vendor of black market cigarettes who, as a way of keeping out of prison, had nineteen pregnancies resulting in seven live births.  Adelina (played by Sophia) is busted frequently by the carabinieri at her tiny stall in a working class district of Naples. But she has found a way to stay out of jail…a loophole in Italian law at the time said that a woman could not be jailed if she was pregnant and for six months following the birth of the child. Adelina now has had seven children in eight years and her poor out-of-work husband Carmine (Marcello) is exhausted. He is too tired to contribute to the “production” of more children. One of the classic comic scenes involves a misunderstanding with their family doctor, who incorrectly assumes they want to find a way to not have more children, when for Adelina, the opposite is true. Now that Carmine says he’s not up for it, Adelina must make a choice: get impregnated by family friend Pasquale, or go to prison. The way the entire community rallies around Adelina, Carmine, and their children is wonderful…Neapolitans at their best!

“Anna” (Milan) is the wife of a wealthy industrialist, and spends her days in charitable meetings, and other amusements of the super-rich. In an opening scene of remarkable detachment, we are inside a Rolls Royce convertible, watching Milan pass by, as the unseen driver, (we see only her hands on the steering wheel), Anna (played by Sophia Loren), recites a catalog of what she will be doing for the day. As it turns out, it includes picking up her lover, Renzo (Marcello), along a street where he has parked his small, inexpensive vehicle. This is the shortest of the three stories, for the very reason that their relationship is not much, or even nothing, really. Anna is playing a role. It’s as if she is a caricature of a woman having a passionate, illicit relationship. The question eventually arises, though…does she care more for her Rolls Royce, or for her lover?

“Mara,” (Rome) is the “call girl” with a heart of gold, practicing her trade from her second-floor apartment overlooking Rome’s stunning Piazza Navona. She has regular high-end clientele, we assume, though we never see them.  The only one we see is Augusto (played by Marcello), her frequent visitor, a neurotic, wealthy businessman from Bologna, overly tied to his controlling, industrialist father. In the next apartment, separated by a garden wall, is a young and handsome seminarian, Umberto, about to be ordained and visiting his grandparents. Of course, he falls in love with the alluring Mara…love at first sight when he overlooks her balcony and finds her singing and watering her garden, wrapped only in a bedsheet. His grandmother despises Mara, but Mara’s kindness and generosity of spirit are sure to eventually win her over. Meanwhile, Mara has to contend with the hysterical, neurotic Augusto. The action is confined, like a stage set really, and focuses on just these characters. Get ready for an absolutely hilarious “climax” as Mara, after vowing a week of celibacy if young Umberto will go back to the seminary, performs a memorable striptease for Augusto.

Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style) 1964

Above is the Italian (with English subtitles) movie trailer. It was surprising not to find an American one, since the movie was very popular here at the time of its release. Colorful language you wouldn’t find in an American movie trailer in 1964!

One of the many adaptations of a popular play “Filumena Marturano,”written at the end of World War II by Eduardo De Filippo, “Marriage Italian Style” is the most famous retelling of the story. Although De Sica uses flashback techniques in this movie, he doesn’t over-use them in the way many directors have done. The first flashback scene is to a brothel during a WWII air raid at Naples. While patrons and the “women of the house” are fleeing to the shelters in a state of disarray, the debonair businessman Domenico, “Don Dummi,” (pronounced Doo’mee), nonchalantly adjusting his clothes, is the last to leave. He hears a noise and finds terrified seventeen-year-old Filumena cowering in a cupboard as bombs explode nearby. We never learn for sure why her hair is cropped; we just know that she is too ashamed and frightened to leave and so she remains, clinging to Domenico, her innocent eyes pleading.

In the next scene, two years later, Filumena has transformed herself into a self-confident, redheaded “bombshell” in her own right, and tells Domenico that she now has the best room in the “house.” And it is from here that their relationship, which lasts twenty-two years, begins. She loves him, and he plays at loving her, but she has to keep her regular clients until the time when he finally makes her his full-time mistress. He continues to take off on trips for months at a time, indulging himself in relationships with a string of women. (Honestly, don’t you think Sophia Loren would be enough for anyone!?) 

In time, Domenico moves Filumena into his family home as unpaid housekeeper and bedpan wielder for his truly repulsive mother. (She’s so appalling that she’s funny, and thankfully only plays a “cameo” role). Filumena is used and humiliated as the years pass, and she is now in charge of the family bakery business, which allows Dummi to take off for parts unknown whenever he feels like it, while she wears herself out slaving for him. But he eventually goes too far, at which point the real drama begins. We are now back to the very first scene in the movie, where Filumena is being carried into the house by neighbors, apparently at death’s door. She has a secret she has been keeping for years, and she will eventually have her way, no matter what. You can count on it.

No one can portray contempt like Sophia Loren; her expressive face, her body language, the way she uses her clothing, her language itself, are all redolent of it as she turns her fury on the contemptible “Dummi.” And yet in following scenes, she is the embodiment of dignity, courage, and self-sacrifice. All her talents aside, though, this is absolutely great direction on the part of De Sica, and at the end of the movie, it would not be inappropriate to stand and applaud.

To check out more of Khristine’s Italian movie recommendations, check out Un Progetto Speciale – Part 2!