Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Review
There’s always been a great tradition of anthology films in Italian cinema which culminated during the “Commedia all'italiana” period. Although the genre is still alive nowadays, principally via the prism of horror cinema, it used to represent an ideal means of expressing the great cultural, geographical and sociological diversity of a country undergoing significant changes. It also allowed filmmakers to free themselves from the constraints of full length features to acquire a most welcomed structural freedom.
Anthology films also allowed to attract audiences who loved their freedom of tone and the opportunity to see their favourite stars in a wider variety of roles. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that one of the greatest producers of the time, Carlo Ponti (Two Women), invited one of his Italy’s most famous director, Vittorio De Sica (Umberto D. but in 1962 a more docile studio technician), to direct an anthology film featuring two of the greatest stars of the era: Marcello Mastroianni (8 ½) and Ponti's wife, Sophia Loren (Two Women). As I already mentioned in my Marriage Italian Style review, Mastroianni and Loren have, over the decades, maintained a great friendship and their complicity on screen gave Italian cinema some of its best hours. This prestigious association will lead to Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow will be such a great triumph (Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1965) that Ponti will produce a sequel two years later, Today, Tomorrow, the Day After Tomorrow, without Loren and De Sica but still with Mastroianni.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is composed of three stories supposed to characterise contemporary Italy with a rather narrow temporal prism but a certain geographical diversity; each of the stories opens with a wide panoramic shot on the roofs of a city. This gimmick has a specific importance as, since the 50s, there has been a strong form of regional diversity in Italy between the North and the South of the country, both socially, culturally, politically or economically. Thus, the simple fact that a story takes place in Naples and another in Milan offers the guarantee, by this very location, of fundamental differences in tone, light, characters, etc. Obviously, this comes as much from an incontestable reality as from a form of poetic license which, for years, allowed Italian cinema to play with these regionalist codes and folklores, sometimes even to excess populism. Thus, in Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, De Sica plays with these conventions to push the contrast to caricature (this is quite obvious in the way Loren exaggerates her Neapolitan accent in the first story in comparison with the second and third stories).
The first story, Adelina, takes place in Naples and focuses on a couple who finds a clever way to avoid the wife, a contraband cigarette seller, to go to prison. From the outset, the spirit of Southern neighbourhood is admirably illustrated: the poor but alive community where everyone knows its neighbour, where the streets are full of idlers and children, and where the official forms of authority are struggling to express themselves. Adelina is a great success both for the euphoria created by the general popular and light heartened atmosphere, and by very comical situations regularly involving Mastroianni who, as usual, excels in the register of the good simple man overcome by the events, in this case his astonishing wife. Indeed, as in many Ponti's productions, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and especially Adelina, is entirely concentrated on praising Loren’s acting talents, who demonstrates all the facets of her talent in this role of dominatrix "mamma".
In the second story, Anna (the least interesting), Loren changes register, and the film with her, as she plays the role of an idle Milanese bourgeois, who drives her luxury vehicle alongside her lover, whilst discussing life and love. In this story Loren’s character is the incarnation of the bourgeois society of appearances and, in a sense of the Northern Italy that economic success has transformed into cold and contemptuous monsters. With this contrast De Sica clearly reveals his affection for the more authentic warmth and agitation of the South, and Anna thus suffers in comparison with the first story because of its essentially allegorical exercise nature. This episode is an adaptation by Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves) of a short story by Alberto Moravia, known for his ability to dissect moral aridity, the hypocrisy of contemporary life and the inability of people to find happiness in traditional ways such as love and marriage, who had was regularly adapted in the early 60s in Italian cinema, and in particular by Ponti.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow ends with a story set in Rome which can be regarded as the reason why the film became so popular. As pleasant as this segment is, Mara, also written by Zavattini, is really an extension of the story that Zavattini had written for De Sica’s segment of Boccaccio '70, La Riffa, which was released a year before. The dramatic knots here extremely similar but with a more pronounced accentuation for on the comedy, once again through Mastroianni's hilarious businessman character who just wants to have a good time. However there are also nuances brought by the character of Umberto's grandmother, an old woman with a strong character like it is often seen in Italian cinema. The segment is especially interesting for the balance it finds between morality and irreverence, and more specifically between religion and sexuality.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is far from perfect but its great strength is that, in three attractive stories, it manages to depict a portrait of romantic relationships in Italy in the early 1960s, pointing out the changing role of women in Italian society, and the rest of the world in general.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is released on Blu-ray disc on 21st August by CultFilms.
The movie is presented in a new definition transfer which is just marginally better than the one I reviewed for my Marriage Italian Style piece, i.e. not catastrophic but not really meeting expectations for a new Blu-ray release. The amount of grain throughout the movie is correct but again in some instance gets quite strong, and yet again the colours are nicely rendered in many scenes but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a real consistency throughout the film. I haven’t noticed any disturbing scratches or more serious defects on this release though.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray disc only offers a clear enough Italian track with optional English subtitles. As for the Marriage Italian Style disc there are some minor sync issues but they are acknowledged by the distributor in the message when launching the movie.
Quite disappointingly (again!), the disc only offers two extras already featured in CultFilms’ previous Blu-ray release of Marriage Italian Style: Sophia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and Vittorio D. I’ve already described these, objectively, good documentaries in my previous review of the aforementioned film so I refer you back to this review if you’re interested.