Marriage Italian Style
In 1957, famous Italian producer Carlo Ponti (La Strada) married Sophia Loren (Two Women). He then worked to make her an international star, appearing for example in the epic productions of Anthony Mann (El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire). Moreover, since Loren had proved a true alchemy with Marcello Mastroianni (8 ½), Ponti had set out to unite these two stars in 1963 for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, an anthology movie crowned with colossal success, including the Oscar for Best Film in a Foreign Language. Ponti was therefore encouraged to continue their fruitful association under the leadership of the same director, Vittorio De Sica (Umberto D.), and it worked, as the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress at the 1964 Academy Awards, and won the Golden Globe the same year for Best Foreign Film. However, by the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, De Sica was no longer truly the leader of Neorealism that he had been. Actually, ten years after giving a voice to the undesirable by searching with his camera for the little things that meant a lot in Italy’s post-war period, the director of such masterpieces as The Bicycle Thieves or Umberto D. was now becoming a run-of-the-mill craftsman and in Marriage Italian Style there is not much left of the artist dominating his film; De Sica makes himself smaller behind the camera, obsessed with the idea of highlighting his actors and script.
Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni) is a businessman who is used to being in control until he meets former prostitute Filumena (Sophia Loren). Sparks fly and she becomes both his mistress and the manager of his pastry shop. All is well until Domenico begins courting another, younger woman, and flaunts his new relationship in front of her…
Marriage Italian Style is adapted from a stage play by Eduardo de Filippo as part of the Italian Comedy (Comedia ‘all'italiana’) genre, which had started to dominate the screens in parallel with the economic rebirth of Italy in the early 1960s and, in a truly singular way, managed to combine comic energy, social satire and melodrama. The Italian people recognised itself in its spirit and this led to the birth of a true 'Italian' label, which was found even in the titles of some of the productions of the time; for instance Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style or Franco Indovina‘s Menage Italian Style.
The Italian Comedy is based on easily identifiable regional archetypes; for instance, Divorce Italian Style was the stereotype of a violent and passionate Sicily. As such, Marriage Italian Style is anchored in Naples’ exuberance via its filming locations (linen on the windows and onlookers on the terraces, chaotic circulation, etc.) and the dialect used by the actors (Loren, in particular, emphasises her Neapolitan identity through a very strong accent). The first images of the film take advantage of this folklore to immediately inscribe the film in the exuberant proper to the south of Italy, the crowd of onlookers literally carrying Filumena to her apartment.
Marriage Italian Style also obeys a fairly symmetrical construction: until the end of Domenico’s flashback, the film traces the twenty and a few years of the two lovers' common history, with a feeling of bitter melancholy. After this, the film becomes much more comical albeit temporarily, before a second flashback is used to introduce a second part tending gradually towards the melodrama. Obviously, one cannot reduce the film to this schematic succession, the moments of comedy, for example, being scattered throughout. However, this construction also reveals the 'producer’s nature' of the film; as already mentioned above, Ponti was using Marriage Italian Style as a double opportunity to capitalise on the success of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and reveal the acting skills his companion and in a certain sense, the film serves as ‘Sophia Loren best-of’, each of the parties having a vocation to illustrate her talent (romantic, comic or melodramatic). Objectively speaking, Loren shines throughout this film devoted entirely to singing her praises. This is actually quite obvious from her first appearances, respectively as a weak older woman, a frightened 17 year -old, and an archetype of the Italian seductress adequately iconised by De Sica in a lateral tracking shot accompanying her in the street where she’s meeting Domenico.
Mastroianni is also perfect in the role of the ‘Latin lover’, between consolidation and deconstruction of the myth he created. However, if he is obviously at his best in Marriage Italian Style, the personage he portrays is rather unsympathetic and even often odious as an inattentive womaniser and it’s really in the comic register that it proves to be the most convincing.
To conclude, it is worth recalling the enormous sociological virtues of the Italian Comedy of the 1950s and 1960s in a reconstructive Italy, and the way in which the genre has changed over the years was itself quite representative of that evolution. Marriage Italian Style capitalises on recipes that have shown their efficacy. However, almost simultaneously, and even in the few years before this film, Mario Monicelli directed Big Deal on Madonna Street, while Dino Risi was revolutionising the genre with I Mostri, films that can objectively be considered far superior for their insolent vitality. In a certain way, it is not unconceivable to conclude that Marriage Italian Style thus illustrates what the genre was until then and as such, paradoxically, was more oriented towards the past than towards the future…
Marriage Italian Style was released on Blu-ray disc on 10th July by CULTfILMS. Weirdly, in a message, appearing when launching the film, the distributor qualifies the version included in the disc of Director’s version, even if there doesn’t seem to be another existing version.
The movie is presented in a new definition transfer which, despite not being catastrophic, doesn’t really meet expectations for a new Blu-ray release. The amount of grain throughout the movie is correct but in some instances gets quite strong although it doesn’t necessarily disturb the viewing experience. On the plus side, the colours are nicely rendered in many scenes but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a real consistency throughout the film. I’ve also noticed a recurring vertical line halfway through the right side of the image, the worst occurrence being at 68 minutes into the movie. All this shouldn’t prevent fans of the movie to acquire a copy but it is definitely not the kind of work Blu-ray aficionados are expecting.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray disc offers two tracks. The main one, Italian track (labelled ‘Italian audio’ in the disc’s menu) is mostly clear, but quite weak, . There are some minor sync issues but they are acknowledged by the distributor in the message when launching the movie. The other track is the original English dub (also labelled ‘English audio’ in the disc’s menu). No major issues with this track either but a similar level of weakness. The disc also offers English subtitles for the Italian track.
Quite disappointingly, the disc only offers two extras already featured in previous CULTfILMS Blu-ray releases: "Sophia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" on the disc for A Special Day and Two Women, and "Vittorio D." which is on the disc for Umberto D. (you can find my opinion on the latter in my review of Umberto D.). As for the former, it is a 54 minute documentary produced in 2007, in Italian, French (with English subtitles) and English, covering Loren’s life and most famous roles, in particular in Two Women, Marriage Italian Style and A Special Day.