Friday, November 21, 2014

A Special Day

Une giornata particolare; drama, Italy/ Canada, 1977; D: Ettore Scola, S: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon

On 8 May 1 9 3 8, Hitler visits Mussolini in Rome. Antonietta is a obedient housewife and mother of six children, and stays in her apartment while her husband, kids and neghbors all go to watch the event. Her bird escapes from the cage and lands at the window of a neighbor, Gabriele. She enters his apartment and he helps her catch the bird. Later, since they are the only people in the apartment complex, he visits her and they start talking about life, feminism and art. She kisses him, but he admits he is gay, which is why he lost his job. However, they still have sex. He returns to his apartment only to be taken away by two agents of the special police, while Antonietta starts reading the book he gave her, and starts thinking she is more than just what the society tells her to be.

Ettore Scola came up with a magical title for his film, "A Special Day", a minimalist drama that plays out on only one location for 24 hours, but the film is only sporadically magical itself. The setting and the concept are brilliant: when two Totalitarian dictators, Hitler and Mussolini, meet in Rome, all the scum leaves an apartment complex to watch their "power", while only two human beings with a soul remain, two neighbors, Antonietta and Gabriele, and thus find to each other in this vacuum. There is something opulent in this concept that makes you enjoy "crunching" it down in your mind. The (2nd) opening shot (just after the archive footage of the dictators arriving), in which the camera rises to the window of the apartment and into the room of Antonietta, is virtuoso made, filmed in one take. Unfortunately, the sole core of the film, the interaction between Antonietta and Gabriele, is sadly lukewarm. We never get why they connect, how or on which level, whereas their talk is not that stimulating and lacks true spark and passion. We find out that Gabriele is gay and will thus become one of the victims of the authoritarian regime, while his contemplations manage to transport some anti-totalitarian thoughts in Antonietta, which may explain why he awakened her interest by sparking her feminism and independence, but except for that, little else prevails to hold their interaction on a higher level. We see them, but don't (entirely) feel them. Still, "A Special Day" has a very smooth structure and only one poor scene - while Antonietta and Gabriele are about to have sex, Hitler's voice and the crowed cheering are heard in the background, which is very rough and disproportionate. One can guess what Scola was aiming for, to show the contrast between hate and love in one scene, but it still seems weird nonetheless. Overall, this is a quality, intelligent and contemplative little film that evokes memories of "Brief Encounter".


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