The ultimate Italian road comedy, Il sorpasso stars the unlikely pair of Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant as, respectively, a waggish, free-wheeling bachelor and the bookish law student he takes on a madcap trip from Rome to rural Southern Italy. An unpredictable journey that careers from slapstick to tragedy, this film, directed by Dino Risi, is a wildly entertaining commentary on the pleasures and consequences of the good life. A holy grail of commedia all’italiana, Il sorpasso is so fresh and exciting that one can easily see why it has long been adored in Italy.
I'm always excited when Criterion announces its monthly releases, and I was completely psyched when they announced that 'Il Sorpasso' (The Good Life) was going to receive the Criterion Blu-Ray treatment. I first saw this movie in college and fell in love with its characters and superb dialogue. Director Don Risi (a former psychiatrist turned filmmaker) flawlessly concocted one of the best Italian comedies ever made, one which follows two men on a road trip through the beautiful landscapes of Italy.
This is considered one of Risi's masterpieces, but one film you might also know that he made was 1974's 'Profumo di donna', otherwise known as 'Scent of a Woman', which was remade in 1992 with Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell. The actor who played the captain (Vittorio Gassman) in the 1974 film, which Pacino played in 1992, famously collaborated with Risi a few times over the years. One of their projects was 'Il Sorpasso'. What works so well with 'Il Sorpasso' is its carefree attitude towards life in general, as these two characters enjoy their new friendship, even though they are opposites, and begin to realize their own flaws and backgrounds, and how it has shaped who they have become.
We first meet Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who is good college student majoring in law and studies. He is shy, timid, and reserved. A luxurious sports car pulls up under his apartment window and out walks a middle aged man named Bruno (Gassman) who asks Roberto if he can make a phone call as he is late meeting up with his friends. Roberto invites him up and Bruno finds out that his friends have left without him. Bruno is a blunt, outgoing, and wacky individual and does not want his evening to be a bore, but due to the lack of restaurants and bar open at this time of year, Bruno offers Roberto a journey into the countryside of Italy to partake in an adventure of good food, great drinks, and comical life lessons.
Bruno and Roberto are instantly likable and make you wish you knew this duo in real-life. Their flaws and strengths are very organic and relatable, and we can venture on this journey with them in the backseat. In these 60's Italian films, both drama and comedy, the stories and characters always seem to maneuver between telling a good story and showcasing the social and political status of the era. Instead with 'Il Sorpasso', Risi gives us the characters at face value and never indulges them in the political climate of the times, which is a breath of fresh air. During their road trip, the two decide to visit their families, where Roberto realizes his childhood wasn't as cracked up as he had remembered it. Roberto also finds out about Bruno's failed family life and the mistakes he had made when he was younger.
It all feels very genuine. Bruno and Roberto are two characters you want to spend more than 105 minutes with. Risi also mixes a bit of drama and tragedy into this comical masterpiece quite well, giving this story a more grounded sense of life. It's no wonder that Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were inspired to make 'Easy Rider' after watching 'Il Sorpasso'.
'Il Sorpasso' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Criterion says that this is a new transfer in 2K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative at Technicolor in Rome. Some additional footage was taken from a 35mm composite as well. Most of the debris, dirt, hairs, and warps were manually removed, giving us the best possible final product. The detail is very vivid and sharp with excellent closeups that reveal fine textures in costumes and individual hairs on the actors.
The wider shots also offer a good bit of depth here as well. During the lower lit scenes, the image doesn't get fuzzy and stays quite sharp. This restoration is pretty incredible. The black and whites are balanced very well with some excellent grays throughout. There is a fine layer of grain over the movie, which keeps it in its filmic nature, and all compressions issues and dirt are non-existent. This is top-notch.
This release comes with a lossless Italian LPCM 1.0 audio mix and according to Criterion, is the original monaural soundtrack that was remastered from the original 35mm soundtrack negative. All of the hissing, pops, and cracks have been manually removed. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow with Criterion's great English subtitles.
The sound effects of the car engine, horns, nature sounds, and the tires spinning out all sound very natural and spot on. The score by Riz Ortolani sounds amazing as well and always adds to the temper of the film as it moves along, while never drowning out any dialogue or effect. I do wish there was a 5.1 option to go with this original 1.0 mix, but Criterion does an excellent job of making this mono track sound well-balanced, robust, and full.
Introduction by Alexander Payne (HD, 6 mins.) - The director of 'Sideways' and 'Nebraska' intros the film and discusses it's rightful place among some of the best films.
Interview with Dino Risi (HD, 20 mins.) - An excellent interview with Risi from 2004 in which he discusses making the film, it's impact on Italian and American culture, and casting the movie. This is a a must-watch.
Introduction with Jean-Louis Trintignant (HD, 9 mins.) - A great interview and introduction with actor Jean-Louis Trintignant from 1983 on the French program 'Cine Passion'. It was conducted by actress Marie Christine Barrault, and the two discuss how he got offered the role in 'Il Sorpasso', what it was like filming on location, and the mix of comedy and drama the story had.
Interview with Ettore Scola (HD, 15 mins.) - Writer and director Ettore Scola conducted this interview in 2013 and talked about his collaborations with Dino Risi over the years. He focuses on 'Il Sorpasso', as he talks about the 50s and 60s, the ending of the movie, and what it was like to make a movie like this during that era.
Interview with Remi Fournier Lanzoni (HD, 16 mins.) - This interview was made in 2014 where film scholar Lanzoni discusses the style, and social aspects of Risi andhis film 'Il Sorpasso'.
Back to Castiglioncello (HD, 11 mins.) - A short documentary by Gloria De Antoni that heads back to the small beach town where the bulk of 'Il Sorpasso' was made. There are interviews with cast and crew along with some film clips.
A Beautiful Vacation (HD, 56 mins.) - A great documentary on the life and career of Dino Risi. There are tons of interviews with the late director himself, a few film scholars, actors and actresses, and even a former mayor of Rome. This was made in 2006 and is well worth the viewing.
Speaking with Gassman (HD, 31 mins.) - Risi and Gassman made quite few films together over the years and in 2005, Risi's son Marco made a documentary about their career together. Here is a short condensed version of that documentary.
Trailer (HD, 3 mins.) - The trailer for the film.
Criterion Booklet - Criterion's famous illustrated booklet that features tech specs for the film, and essays from film critics and writings from Risi himself.
Criterion has knocked it out of the park yet again with this newly remastered print of 'Il Sorpasso'. This is like the godfather of road trip movies, and it paved the way for tons more like it, including 'Easy Rider'. The film itself is brilliant and should be enjoyed by all who see it. The video and audio presentations are top notch with a ton of excellent extras. Do not think twice about adding 'Il Sorpasso' to your collection. Highly recommended!