Monday, November 17, 2014

The Scientific Cardplayer

Lo scopone scientifico; comedy, Italy, 1972, D: Luigi Comencini, S: Alberto Sordi, Silvana Mangano, Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten

For years, a strange tradition is upheld: an extremely rich old American lady invites a poor couple, Peppino and Antonia, to play the card game scopone in her mansion, with her driver George. Each time she borrows them money to play with her, but at the end of the night, she wins every time. Peppino, the father of five children, decides to win at least once. And indeed, they win several millions of lire. However, Antonia becomes greedy and persuades Peppino to return to the mansion in order to win even more money from the ol lady. They win a huge amount of money, but lose it again in a 'double-or-nothing' rule. When they even invest their own money, they lose and become homeless. However, their daughter gave a poisoned cake to the old lady before the latter went on a airplane trip back home.

A modern retelling of the Greek mythological figure of Tantalus, in which a poor couple are taunted with the prospect of winning millions of lire in a card game just to lose them every time, "The Scientific Cardplayer" is an appropriately black comedy, a good, but not a great achievement. Considering that the majority of the viewers do not know anything about the scopone card game, nor about the rules or their procedure, it is remarkable that it still manages to carry the whole film, kudos to director Luigi Comencini who tied it with the fate of the poor couple who are always on the edge of their seats and whose lives are at stake in every game, which makes it engaging. However, the movie is very flat in its dramaturgy, which can become slightly monotone after a while, and a few major punchlines in the jokes are "missing". As a compensation, considering that the viewers rooted for the poor couple to win, and that in any mainstream film they would, the ending is a complete, genuine surprise, and catches you off guard. Also, one simply has to mention Bette Davis in the role of the 'sadistic' old rich lady, who seems to be enjoying taunting the poor couple, which is expectadly another great perfromance of hers.


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