The thing about The Boy is if you tell him there’s a 3 1/2 hour Italian anthology movie from the degenerate ’70s which is probably full of surrealism and perversion, he’ll be all Let’s Do This! He was not put off by Stalker‘s runtime, e.g., and he’s just very much into the whole “cinema” thing, regardless. The reviews on the film are only “good” (not great), garnering in the 75% range on Rotten Tomatoes, but this did not deter him, either.
Now, Bocaccio ’70 is from 1962, so it’s actually pretty sweet on a lot of levels. I had forgotten that “1970” was used for many years much in the way “2000” would be used after 1970: To mean the “not too distant future”. When originally released, 3 1/2 hours was a bit much, so the first film of the four was dropped. This was, apparently, the first time in history all four segments of the movie had gotten a showing in America. (Though that may not be true at all: Who on earth would police such things?)
It is quite the little time capsule, I tell you what. The four segments are:
“Renzo e Luciana”: Mario Monicelli (The Great War) directs this tale of a young girl (Luciana) and her beau (Renzo) who have to get married but also have to keep it hidden from her employer.
“The Temptation of Doctor Anthony”: Federico Fellini (8 1/2) directs this tale of a prudish middle-aged man who is tormented by a giant Anita Ekberg.
“Il Lavoro” (The Work): Luchino Visconti (Death In Venice) directs this first whimsical, then dark story of a marriage of convenience.
“La Riffa” (The Raffle): Vittorio De Sica (Marriage, Italian Style) helms this tale of a raffle held by carnies…for a night with Sophia Loren.
The movie opens with “Renzo and Luciana”, which was the film dropped because it featured no headliners. Luciana (Marisa Solinas, who acted pretty steadly into the 2000s) has gotten herself in trouble with Renzo (Germano Gilioli, who has only one other credit) and they convince Luciana’s parents that they just can’t wait to get married. The parents reluctantly go along with it, bringing Renzo back with them to live in their three room apartment with Luciana’s little sister, the father’s nightly card game, and the giant neon flashing “ABC” light outside the window. (They get 10% off the products, Luciana informs Renzo!)
Now legally married, they cannot find a moment’s peace to be alone and do what Italians do, married or not. The Boy was actually shocked by how crazy crowded Rome was: The movie theater was standing room only—something he’d never even heard of as a real thing. To say nothing of the smoking going on in the theater. The sides of the road are populated by construction workers, even in the late night. The public pool is a sea of humanity where Luciana runs into her wolfish supervisor, from whom she must hide her romantic relationship even as he pursues one with her.
This all comes to a head when she finds out she’s not pregnant and in an ill-time PDA, said wolfish supervisor (believing Luciana to be unattached) fires Renzo for sexual harrassment. Get a load of that! A sexual harrassment firing in 1962! In Italy! Before the phrase was even a thing!
It all resolves in a nice, rather wry way where our lovers get their own space—but basically at the cost of never seeing each other. The Boy said this might have been his favorite. (As a side note, the 1827 novel Renzo e Lucia is one of the most famous in Italian history and involves a couple whose marriage is being thwarted by a local baron.)
Next up was Fellini’s joint, “The Temptation of Doctor Anthony” which is a pretty coherent narrative, only lapsing into WTFism with some surreal filigree at the very end. Italian comedic stalwart Peppino De Fillippo plays the good doctor, who is quite concerned with the moral uprightness of his (rapidly deteriorating) country, and marches around correcting people and warning Boy Scouts (the Italian branch, I guess) of the evils of success when quite unprovoked, the milk council puts up a billboard directly facing his apartment.
I mean, it’s totally unprovoked. And illogical. The board is in a low traffic area, facing his building! They have to actually set up the billboard support, since it’s just an empty lot before. It plays a rather inane tune (I think it plays it, we hear it a lot) that commands him to bevete piu latte! (Drink more milk!) And it looks like this:
Oh. Well, I’m sure that moves a lot of gallons. Poor Doctor Anthony struggles to get the board covered up, and actually succeeds, with much perseverance, in getting the board covered. While basking in the glory, however, he starts to hear Anita Ekberg (the model in the poster, playing herself) lament what he has done to her. And when a storm uncovers the board, he goes down to vandalize it. This results in The Attack of the 50 Ft. Ekberg.
Poor Antonio is completely overwhelmed, metaphorically and literally!
It’s pretty cute, though a little less so 55 years later, I think, when we could do with a little more prudery. Ekberg, herself, just off of La Dolce Vita is certainly imposing at 50 feet—Viking women, amirite?—but we find little sympathy for the poor doctor, who doesn’t appear to be a hypocrite, just not a match for human frailty under constant provocation. There is something rather amusing about the kaiju approach of the era being used for such a purpose, though.
The third story was really dark, and featured Romy Schneider as the rich wife in an arranged marriage where her husband’s infidelities have just been splashed across the tabloids. In “The Work”, we learn that our heroine is not as sanguine about her arranged marriage as she pretends, and as her husband pretends. Her response, however, is that she’s going to make her own way in the world, free of her husband and father’s influence.
The tragedy, however, becomes apparent as she really has no skills. Not only no skills but no concept of life for people who aren’t completely free of responsibility. It’s tragic, and turns especially dark when she realizes she does have one skill.
The fourth and final story, “The Raffle”, should actually be darker and sleazier, as the premise is that our heroine, Sophia Loren, is allowing a carny and his wife raffle off a night with her in order to help them pay their back taxes so that their as-yet-unborn child won’t be without a home (the trailer they do their carny stuff out of). The impression I had was that Loren’s character owed the two a debt, but I couldn’t quite figure out the backstory. (It’s also not clear to me whether they’d done this before.)
But, you know, Sophia Loren. Up for auction. Could raise some money, even in the impoverished post-War Italy. And does. Zoe (Loren) positively drips with contempt over the men who pay for a chance at her—well, not just drips, but actively antagonizes and scolds them, because when you’re Sophia Loren, you don’t have to promote the product. It’s rather funny. Meanwhile, she’s actually pretty sweet on a hunky stableman, which makes more aesthetic sense to the audience, though he turns out not to be too keen on the whole selling-her-body-for-money thing.
In 1962, Italy, you could smack a woman pretty hard, if she had it coming.
Meanwhile, the winner of the lottery turns out to be the town sacristan, a nebbishy little dude who lives with his mother. (Said mother encourages him in this particular adventure, advising him to turn down the copious amounts of money being offered.)
It has a happy ending. No, not that kind, ya perv. Zoe and our sacristan reach a reasonable compromise, though one wonders about the fate of the carny and his wife.
The experience overall is almost that the interest overwhelms the quality of the film. Each segment is good. None of the segments is really great. It could safely be watched in four segments; the four don’t really relate to each other. I would note—when people are amazed that we can sit through the longer films—that a lot of people come home at 6 and watch TV till midnight, so it’s really not that extraordinary, except that the fact that we only go out to do this means we do this about 3 times a year, versus every night.
One does have to comfortable being out though.