Boccaccio 70 Review

Anthology films are an interesting phenomena that modern audiences don't see much of outside the horror genre. At their best they can tell a distinct story and impart a director's signature style over a short constructive run time. And there is no other group of auteurs with such a distinct visual signature as the Italian directors of the 1950s and 1960s. We all know Italian cinema as the birth of neo-realism and the man who started it all with Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica. We also know it as the home of Federico Fellini, the director of 81/2, and the birthplace of the signature comedy the Italian way as it is distilled by Mario Monicelli. CULTfILMS now brings an anthology film from 1962 featuring four segments, by Fellini, De Sica, Monicelli and a final one by the prolific director of The Leopard, Luchino Visconti, to Blu-ray, called Boccaccio 70.

As already mentioned there are four different segments to Boccaccio 70. The first one, The Temptation of Dr Antonio directed by Fellini, follows an elderly citizen tortured by a milk advertisement that he deems too indecent. Visconti's The Job deals with an aristocratic couple figuring out how to overcome a scandal involving the husband and high-class prostitutes. Vittorio D Sica's The Raffle deals with a lottery, the winner of which gets to spend the night with a strong willed and highly independent woman. The last segment, Renzo and Luciana directed by Mario Monicelli, was originally cut from the film for the international distribution of the film, deals with a newly wedded couple who try to keep their relationship secret in the face of an archaic clause in their contracts.

Each of these films are about Italy; particularly about Italian women, their sexuality and empowerment in the face of post-war patriarchy. For the most part, each of these segments does a fantastic job in examining a different aspect of Italian society and how backwards it seems with regards to the sexual revolution. For instance, The Raffle starts with an incredibly strong visual metaphor, a cattle market, and compares that to the lottery mainly run by men. This isn't the only technique that the directors use in their examination of Italian society, each film uses comedy to perfectly skewer male attitudes toward women, providing a subtle examination of inherent sexism that still exists today despite it being over 50 years later.

Comedy is just one side of this collection though, at other times the films can be heartbreaking and poignant. I point to the end of The Job which is so melancholic that it had me welling up. These sudden jumps in tone within each act are helped tremendously by the outstanding performances by the crème de la crème of European actors. I think the reason why The Job’s ending is so powerful is Romy Schneider's breathtaking portrayal of Pupe, a wealthy married woman forced into an incredibly compromised position.  The other leading actresses are also phenomenal; Marisa Solinas as Luciana carries Mario Monicelli's segment with a quiet dignity; screen legend Sophia Loren, powers The Raffle by strength of will and personality; while Anita Ekberg provides the perfect foil to Peppino De Filippo as a sultry billboard come to life in The Temptation of Dr Antonio.

The cinematography and production design of each film is opulent, lavish and gorgeous. Each scene demonstrates why all of these directors, Fellini, Visconti, De Sica and Monicelli are lauded as great national directors. This also stretches to the use of colour and lighting, which seems to leap off the screen just as vibrant as the women at the centre of the stories.

The films are not perfect; I still struggle with the Italian technique of dubbing dialogue in post. The stories can also go on a little long, the film’s total run time is 208 minutes so that makes the stories run from 45 minutes to an hour each. However, these are just minor niggles, however, there is one problem that cannot be shrugged off as nitpicking. There is always going to be a questionable barrier between true empowerment when a man directs a movie about female sexuality, and at times the overt sexuality perhaps can be a detriment to the overall message of the film. But whatever the intention of the filmmakers, it will spark important debate, which is something to be applauded.

This is certainly a unique set of films, presented on a well-crafted disc. The film, presented in 1080p with a 16:9 anamorphic aspect ratio, looks amazing in high definition, highlighting the bright colours and deep shadows. The disc comes with a series of audio choices, from a the standard Italian with English subtitles or an English language track. For the most part there are no errors in the transfer to high definition. There are however some slight blemishes on certain shots of the film that may have come from the original negative, but they are quite small and easily ignorable because the stories and characters are so engaging.

The menus are plain and easy to navigate in order to set up the film in the way you want. It may be a little simple due to the lack of extra features; the disc only contains promotional trailers for CULTfILMS’ other Blu-ray releases and an hour long documentary called Sophia: Yesterday Today and Tomorrow which explores the life and career of Italian bombshell Sophia Loren. Despite the release of Boccaccio 70 being part of a series of releases, including Marriage Italian Style and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, to celebrate Sophia Loren, just having the one extra can feel like a little bit of a let-down. If you want to see into the influential careers of the directors you will have to look elsewhere.

Overall, though Boccaccio 70 is a stunning series of vignettes that feel as fresh, funny and frightfully important as they did 50 years ago when the film was released. Its own gender politics may not line up with modern sensibilities, but it contributes to a necessary discussion. The inclusion of Sophia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow also seems vital in giving the proper attention to the influential women in an industry that seems all too dominated by men. While it may be seen as intimidating with a three hour run time, Italian language and overt artistry, I guarantee that if you stick with it, it will be a movie to open your eyes to a new world of cinema and a whole host of interesting debates.

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