Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Easy Life

Il Sorpasso; road movie / drama / comedy, Italy, 1962; D: Dino Risi, S: Vittorio Gassman, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Spaak, Claudio Gora, Luciana Angiolillo, Linda Sini

A cheerful man, Bruno, stops by somewhere in his car in Rome, during a holiday when everything is closed. He spots a secluded student, Roberto, looking at him from his apartment window and asks if he can make a phone call. Roberto allows it, and before he can notice, Bruno invites him for a dinner, and then a drive through Rome. The initial short go out intention turns into hours of drive outside of Rome, with Bruno joking and trying to make Roberto enjoy life and relax. At night, Roberto meets Bruno's ex-wife and teenage daughter Lily, who intends to marry an older man. During a wild ride, there is a car accident: Bruno manages to escape, but Roberto is killed when the car falls down the cliff.

"Il Sorpasso" is an excellent little road movie that encompasses the archetypal notion of a wild character taking a timid one from his grey existence for a grand day out in order to enjoy life: not since Demme's "Something Wild" or Bogdanovich's "What's Up, Doc?" has there been such a pure example of  two yin and yang personalities that carry the film thanks to sheer joy, staying faithful to that concept throughout since as soon as the shy one, Roberto, starts loosening up and joking, it seems as if his seriousness is transferred to Bruno, who then switches from an all day happy man to a more somber, depressed individual when we learn that he is alone after his wife divorced him and his teenage daughter estranged herself from him. The opening is one of the most fluent - and quietly hilarious - transitions to the main plot ever, and immediately establishes the hyperactive-sanguine protagonist Bruno who randomly stops his car near an apartment and spontaneously asks a stranger, Roberto, who just happened to be looking at him through the window, if he can make a phone call: before he knows it, Bruno is already in Roberto's apartment, introducing himself and taking a shower, before persuading him to drive off in his car - just like that.

Jean-Louis Trintignant's reaction while playing Roberto in that confusing sequence is pure gold, almost as if a tornado took him out of his apartment by surprise. Bruno works as a fun power generator 24/7, driving through the road, commenting how he fell asleep during an Antonioni film or driving slowly when he spots two attractive women driving a car behind them ("Let's slow down so that the ladies can pass us, and then we can follow them!"). The only problematic ingredient are the last 30 minutes which seem somehow "lost" and without a clear function in the narrative, which is exacerbated by a very polarizing - and sudden - tragic ending, which some may find fitting, while other forced, even though it stays true to the main theme that there needs to be a balance between two yin-yang states or there will be chaos. Vittorio Gassman's performance as Bruno is one of the greatest ones of the 20th century cinema - so genuine, so funny, so compassionate and so full of life. Some great performances are designed to win awards, others, like his, are just genuinely great without any pretension.


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