Vittorio De Sica
1 Hr., 59 Mins.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow / Marriage, Italian Style May 10, 2018
here seems to have been a surreptitious language shared by the actor-filmmaker Vittorio De Sica and his headliners of choice, Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. After the trio had first acted together in The Anatomy of Love (1954) and What a Woman (1956), both directed by Alessandro Blasetti, a sense of trust, or understanding, rather, had been founded and then quickly built upon. Separately, Loren and Mastroianni would go on to make several films with the director, most notably Loren; in 1960, she won the Best Actress Oscar for Two Women, which De Sica helmed. When the trio joined forces, though, something different hovered
in the air. An aura of ease, palpable in a way akin to the collaborative efforts between Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and George Cukor, for example, was prominent.
Loren and Mastroianni would collaborate a total of 13 times over of a period of 20 years, and three of those efforts — Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage, Italian Style (1964), and Sunflower (1970) — were directed by De Sica. And arguably, that triad of features best captured what has made Loren and Mastroianni a persisting screen couple. Leaning into their respective capacities for comedic and dramatic acting, they both boasted Loren and Mastroianni’s performative versatility and stoked their tangible, sometimes-radioactive, chemistry.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, their first all-in-one collaboration (unless you’re really pressed to count The Anatomy of Love and What a Woman) is largely considered their finest. A commedia all'italiana anthology piece, it finds Loren and Mastroianni playing lovers in three scenarios. In the first, realist but cheeky, they play desperate parents who scheme to keep Loren pregnant in order to ensure they not be reprimanded for their oft-criminal actions. (In the Italy depicted here, a woman cannot be imprisoned during, or six months after, her pregnancy.) In the next, elegant and dry, they are haute-couture wearing members of the bourgeoisie who trade cool barbs while riding in Loren’s tony convertible. And in the last, boisterous and screwball, Loren is a hooker with a heart of gold who tortures her Mastroianni-portrayed client by holding off how often she’s willing to sleep with him.
In Marriage, Italian Style, a patchily comedic soap opera released a little less than a year later, the twosome play longtime lovers whose relationship has proven itself so spinuous that it drives one of them to essentially commit fraud in order to get what they want. We see their decades-spanning relationship in flashbacks — Mastroianni first meets Loren in a brothel, where she started working around the time she turned 17 — and saunter toward a climax that’s strangely fulfilling, in spite of a storyline so defined by frustration.
To see Mastroianni and Loren so superlatively play four couples in the scope of two films speaks both to their polytropic talents and their comfortability with one another. (And with De Sica). Neither Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow nor Marriage, Italian Style are altogether spotless: The former sometimes drags and is pretty-flatly shot; the latter often gravitates toward sensational theatrics to get its “love conquers all” message across. But its stars are so good, and De Sica’s directing is so sophisticated, we’re wont to more often lap up the delicacies these films offer than we are their faults.
The utmost takeaways of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and Marriage, Italian Style, though, are that Mastroianni and Loren were first-rate comedic actors at their primes. The pinnacle of the former feature is its previously mentioned, concluding vignette, in which Loren plays a kittenish high-class prostitute and Mastroianni portrays one of her jejune, immature clients. Here, Loren enlivens a role Carole Lombard might have brought to life well during the pre-Code era; Mastroianni, ever-physical, hops about as if he were Donald O’Connor.
And in Marriage, Italian Style, Loren’s given bounteous scenes in which she gets to deliver loud-mouthed, fast-paced, expressive monologues that might have inspired Rosalind Russell to run for her money circa 1940; Mastroianni’s a satirical version of an oaf who in no way deserves his lover, and yet ends up riding into the sunset with her, the smiles enormous.
Common in these films, then, is the way they capture these actors and this director at their peaks. And how much stronger they are when in a broad-stroked comedy zone the performers didn’t revel in as often as they should have during their long careers.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow B+
Marriage, Italian Style B
Vittorio De Sica
1 Hr., 42 Mins.