What happens when you take four giants of classic Italian cinema, Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Vittorio De Sica, throw in some of the era's most gorgeous female stars (including Anita Ekberg and Sophia Loren), and then let a camera roll? Well, 'Boccaccio '70' happens, actually. While most anthology films don't exactly have a great track record when it comes to quality, and are often notorious for being uneven and unfocused, this collection of sensual morality tales proves to be a notable exception, and though some chapters are more memorable than others, each installment has its own charms and insights. From the cheery to the comical, from the tragic to the absurd, each act offers an interesting peek into 1960s Italian romance and sexuality, as filtered through the unique eyes of its respective director.
The first segment, 'Renzo e Luciana,' is a fairly light and breezy look at a newlywed couple's early struggles. Directed by Mario Monicelli and starring Germano Gilioli and Marisa Solinas (as the title pair Renzo and Luciana) the story focuses on the two lovers as they try to keep their recent wedding a secret from Luciana's employers, who apparently don't allow their workers to be married. More drama comes in the form of the couple's difficult living situation and the constant advances of Luciana's repugnant boss. Filled with entertaining bits of comedy and honest observations about the hardships of young love, 'Renzo e Luciana' is a pretty decent but not terribly exciting start to the picture. While arguably the weakest of the inclusions here, it's still a solid effort from Monicelli and is more in line with classic romantic comedy sensibilities.
From Federico Fellini, act two, titled 'Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio,' is probably the most memorable segment of the bunch, and features a deliriously satirical examination of censorship, lust, and sexual hypocrisy. The plot centers on the prudish Dr. Antonio Mazzuolo (Peppino De Filippo) as he wages war upon a provocative billboard that uses a tantalizing picture of Anita Ekberg to advertise milk. Offended by the "tasteless" image, Antonio does everything in his power to have it removed. As he grows closer and closer to achieving his goal, the sensual advertisement begins to haunt his dreams, and in an amusingly cheeky twist, ultimately comes to life. That's right, this segment features a giant, towering Anita Ekberg frolicking through the city like some kind of shapely King Kong as she attempts to seduce the sexually repressed Antonio. Fellini infuses the story with an almost hallucinatory tone of surreal comedy and absurdist humor, exaggerating the situations to great comedic effect, including a particularly amusing sequence that features huddled masses (adult and children alike) singing and dancing around the sexy billboard in joyous worship as Antonio looks on in horror. Everything from the infectiously catchy milk jingle that sounds off with the advertisement, to the tempting, giant apparition of Anita Ekberg, comes together to form a brilliantly bizarre satire on the war against obscenity, the power of temptation, and the necessity for us all to "drink more milk!"
Luchino Visconti directs the third installment, 'Il Lavoro.' The most dramatic of the segments, the majority of the piece plays out as an argument between an upper class husband (Tomas Milian) and wife (Romy Schneider) in the wake of a scandal that has exposed the husband's many illicit affairs. Through their interactions and discussion, Visconti weaves a multifaceted tale on the great divide between attraction and love. Blocking and camera movement are used to great effect, and the director carefully balances and tips the scales of the conversation through deliberate pans, cuts, and compositions. Interruptions by guests, phone calls, and servants all help to break up the action and usher in new phases of the discussion, keeping the pace lively and engaging. The final image of the act may actually be the most potent and telling of the entire film. Featuring a shot of a woman forcing a smile while tears race down her face, Visconti encapsulates the emptiness of a superficial marriage as its hollowness is slowly replaced with something much more sinister and tragic. Though it lacks the cheerful touch of its companion pieces, 'Il Lavoro' fits well within the larger work, and ends up being a very effective and powerful treatise on our desires for self worth and affection.
The final act, 'La Riffa,' comes courtesy of Vittorio De Sica and stars the incomparable Sophia Loren. An amusing story about a raffle that offers one lucky winner a night alone with Loren's character, Zoe, the segment provides a lighthearted and mostly comical examination of our culture's emphasis on sexual conquest and our tendency to objectify women. Loren lights up the screen, making it easy to see why every able-bodied man in the town is so obsessed with her, and De Sica does a good job of balancing the humor with little bits of insight. Loren's character is more than just a figure of lust, however, and as Zoe she reveals the vulnerability, pain, and frustration that comes with being such a prized "commodity." Though one character seems a bit too quick to forgive another after some unsavory actions toward the end, and the plot is perhaps the thinnest of the group, this is still an amusing and fun little segment that does a nice job of capping off the film.
'Boccaccio '70' is a strong example of an anthology film done right. By bringing together some of the most famous and talented Italian filmmakers and stars of the time, the movie manages to entertain throughout. With an often humorous, insightful, and occasionally absurd look at love, romance, and sexuality, the filmmakers present a memorable and worthwhile artistic endeavor. Though some segments are more effective than others, they all succeed, and Fellini's installment may be worth the price of admission alone. Seriously, I can't get that milk jingle out of my head, and it's in Italian. I don't even know what I'm humming, but it seems to be working. In fact, I think I'm going to go have a glass of milk now.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino presents 'Boccaccio '70' on a BD-50 disc packaged in a standard case with a cardboard slipcase. After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Though quality does waver a bit from segment to segment, the film as a whole looks pretty good.
The print is in decent shape but there are some specks visible throughout. A moderate to light layer of grain is present, but the first act in particular has a somewhat harsh look that lacks a rich, textured quality. Some color fluctuations are also apparent, again, most notably in the first segment. Detail is good and the overall quality of the image tends to improve with each act, with the last two segments showing off the most substantial clarity. Despite the aforementioned isolated fluctuations, color is impressive with some strong primary hues and nice vibrancy. With that said, a few scenes do look a bit faded and washed out from time to time. Black levels are solid, but some sequences can appear a hair elevated. Contrast wavers and looks blown out in some scenes (again, primarily in the first act).
While not overly impressive and a bit inconsistent, the film still looks nice on Blu-ray. The quality of the image tends to improve from act to act, but even at its worst this is still a solid looking picture.
The audio is presented in an Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix with optional English subtitles. Dealing with some natural limitations, the track sounds fine but unremarkable.
Dialogue is clear and there are no pops or crackles. Overall fidelity and range tend to be rather flat but effects and music come through the mono channel cleanly. Bass is essentially absent but balance within the mix is handled well.
Like many mono tracks of this time period, the audio here isn't very impressive but still presents the content respectfully. Though it's fairly flat and lacks dynamics, the mix sounds just fine.
Featuring a mesmerizing collection of gorgeous stars and direction by some of Italy's most celebrated filmmakers, 'Boccaccio '70' is one of those rare anthology films that actually works. Through a witty and intelligent examination of sex, relationships, and passion, each filmmaker brings their own distinct style and vision to the screen. The video and audio presentations show their age a bit, but are still solid. Unfortunately, supplements are almost nonexistent. The movie itself is recommended, but with little in the way of extras, this disc may not warrant an immediate purchase. Worth a look.