Tuesday, June 27, 2017

1964 Winner, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Director:  Vittorio de Sica

Distributed by:  Embassy Pictures Corporation

Released:  December 1963

Country:  Italy

Plot, photography, acting—among other things, those are the cornerstones of a great film.  But star power in a movie should never be underestimated.  And Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, the 1964 Best Foreign Film from Italy, has three stars that make this film pure entertainment. 

First, there’s Sophia Loren.  I’m 50, and to me, Loren has always been more of a name from the past than an actress, one of many women in past cinema that might have been fun to watch years ago, but held no interest for me.  But in this film, you really see that not only is she great Italian eye-candy, but a very funny actress who knew exactly how to get an audience to like her.  Then there is Marcello Mastroianni, one of Italy’s best known actors, who does a great job supporting Loren as a straight man.  And thirdly, Vittorio de Sica, Italy’s lesser known (to Fellini) legendary director, usually filming more heady subjects, shows his talent for making a colorful and entertaining popcorn flick.

Mastroianni and Loren the Adelina of Naples section
And that is exactly what this is—a popcorn flick.  In fact, it's pretty much three popcorn flicks in one.  There are three separate stories, with Loren and Mastroianni playing different characters in different parts of Italy, like three sitcoms in a row.  The parts are named as the characters Loren plays and where the part of the film is set.

Part One, my favorite of the three, is called “Adelina of Naples.” Loren plays Mastroianni’s wife, who sells black market cigarettes in order to support her impoverished and growing family.  And her family does grow.  Italian law, it seems, prohibits a woman from being incarcerated if she is expecting.  So when the polizia come to arrest her for her illegal activities, she simply provides a doctor’s note, which forces the authorities to have to wait until after she has her child.  But once the baby comes, the only way for Loren to stay out of jail is for her to get pregnant again.  And Mastroianni’s character is happy to oblige.  Several times.  But sooner or later, he has to run out of energy, both to raise the many kids and to do his part in making them.

The famous striptease scene
The second section, “Anna of Milan,” has Loren as a Rolls Royce-driving wife of a rich absentee husband, picking up Mastroianni, her presumed lover.  She handles the car about as well as Apolonia in The Godfather ("It's safer to teach you English!"), and Mastroianni has to figure out whether her driving and personality are worth the effort.  In the final part, "Mara of Rome,” Loren is a high-class prostitute and Mastroianni is her impatient client.  Loren’s neighbor is a pleasant young man about to go to the seminary to study to become a Catholic priest, with Loren unintentionally being a convincing argument for him to change his plans. The section includes a memorable strip scene ending in frustration for Mastroianni.

Matthau and Loren, Grumpier Old Men
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow was a fun movie to watch.  Between 1961 and 1964, DeSica would make three movies with Loren and Mastroianni, with Loren winning for Best Actress for Two Women in 1961, and nominated for the same award in 1964’s Marriage, Italian Style.  Maybe she shows her acting chops more seriously in those films, but in Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, with help from Mastroianni and her director, she shows why she was such a star.

The Title:  Ieri, oggi e domain.  Good Italian titles seem to come in threes, with my favorite being Sergio Leone’s Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (a.k.a., The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).  I just wish whoever translated these titles into English had learned to use the Oxford comma properly!

Please use Oxford commas!
The culture:  De Sica shows Italy in three forms:  Small town Italy, where the poor couple lives; glamorous Milan, where Loren unsafely tools around in her luxury automobile; and urban Rome, where future priests and current prostitutes can live next door to each other.  I especially liked how the director transitioned the segments of the film by panning out of the locale and allowing to camera to drift to the next locale.

Agenda danger:  There’s no agenda with a film this fun.

Best Picture that year:  My Fair Lady.

Rating:  It’s refreshing when the Academy rewards good comedy, which is to say, it doesn’t reward it enough.  Loren and Mastroianni, who starred in the previous year’s Best Foreign Film by Fellini, (to be reviewed next week), seem to be made to act together.  For me, Loren is no longer just the old Italian lady who was in Grumpier Old Men (1995) with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.  She is a real star.

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