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Blu-Ray Review - MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964)

marriage italian style review
De Sica's iconic relationship drama comes to UK blu-ray.







Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Vittorio De Sica

Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Aldo Puglisi, Tecia Scarano, Marilu Tolo

marriage italian style cult films bluray

Light as a soufflé but also tart and bitter, Vittorio De Sica's Marriage Italian Style is a sparkling comedy of attraction with touches of darkness that place it well above that most maligned of genres, the romantic melodrama. For a start, its meet cute couple meet in a brothel, in which patron Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni) finds teenage prostitute, Filumena (Sophia Loren) hiding in a wardrobe as buildings are evacuated during a World War II bombing raid.

marriage italian style

We track their romance through pivotal moments in their lives, but the off-camera lacunae lead to plot revelations that both deepen and complicate the relationship. It’s a structure that makes complete sense as a play (it's adapted from the stage play by Eduardo de Filippo), following the couple and moving on a decade as the curtain comes down and the actors change. The verbal sparring remains but De Sica opens it up into something more cinematic. It flirts with broadness in places but large though the performance of Loren is, it perfectly fits with Filumena’s tough exterior, hiding an upbringing of emotional distress and sadness. Mastroianni’s louche, morally ambiguous businessman, though charming, never hides the cynical and sometimes unpleasant nature of his attempts to control Filumena; a quiet performance of control that is purely cinematic in its execution.

marriage italian style

The film opens with Filumena on her deathbed and Domenico about to marry a woman several years his younger. Rushing to her house as the last rights are given, he agrees to marry her as a symbolic gesture before she passes. Little does he realise that his now wife is faking it in order to snare him and prise him from the clutches of Domenico’s younger lover. Flashbacks then help fill in the details of how we got to this place. In De Sica's film, marriage and romance seem mutually exclusive paths; a moral pact that has no place for a practised seducer and woman of supposed easy virtue.

Unlike most screen romances, this has the feeling of individual lives lived apart. Domenico appears to go away on business abroad for a very long time, while Filumena appears to have a healthy enjoyment of sex with others when he is not around. Mutually dependant they may be, but both are working to an agenda, be it installing a part time fuck buddy into homecare for an ailing mother or installing her as a shop owner in which he can keep her at arm's length for his more frequently flagrant affairs and know exactly where she is. For her part, there is the need for support and stability that her early life denied her. She may be ballsy as hell but her eyes portray the hurt that has hardened the emotional core.

marriage italian style

What makes it a classic of the genre is that pain. For all their faults, you like these people. Played broad, this would just be gold digger tries to swindle seducer, but De Sica is working in a comedic register and he plays the tragedy lightly. An elongated bit of comic business as Loren signs the deeds on her apartment so very slowly, gives way to the realisation that she is illiterate, the loops and swirls from memory an approximation of the words she can’t read. Or a throwaway remark that her father only recognised her when he realised she is another mouth to feed and can now make her own way, an act that leads to pity from a baker who supplies her with food until she pointedly says he recognised her, a journey from teenage rape to incipient prostitution being an all too familiar story for the poor and abused. Both chilling and ineffably sad but with comic brio, it’s a stunning performance that fully deserved the Oscar nom. Mastroianni wisely stays out of the way, using his insouciant charm and cinematic history with Loren to create one of Italian cinema's great modern couples.

De Sica wisely lets his actors rule the film, but his mastery of tone and warm-heartedness flows through. Perfectly paced, beautifully shot and performed, this is unshowy cinema that enriches and delights. One of the greats of Italian cinema now served on blu-ray demanding to be watched by those who love cinema.
Extras:

You get the film in both Italian and English dubbed version. There is also a repeat of the Sophia Loren documentary that is available on other Loren films in this collection. The most substantial new extra is a feature length documentary on the director featuring such heavy hitters of modern film as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Woody Allen, with lots of archive footage of the superlative stage and screen polymath. The tone is respectful and reverential, but as he seems the epitome of old school charm and manners this is entirely appropriate. Well worth watching.

Marriage Italian Style is on blu-ray and DVD now from Cult Films.

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