- Ravi Swami
"Boccaccio 70", Dir: Fellini, De Sica, Visconti, Monicelli, 1962- Part#1
Updated: Jul 3, 2021
With a running time of over 3 hours, I would normally have given "Boccaccio 70" a wide berth, ignoring its' directorial pedigree, but discovering that it is a "portmanteau" style film of 4 short films piqued my interest.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, it is possible that the film compendium concept briefly became popular as a way of countering the influence of television and resulting dwindling audience attention spans from the late 1950's to the 1970's, after which they fell out of favour as cinema-going in general slumped, the theory being that a series of short films would add variety.
Here, the individual directors involved seemed intent upon challenging the notion as much as possible by turning in 4 films of varying length to allow themselves free rein - when I think of shorts I inevitably turn to "The Twilight Zone" as an object lesson in tight, economic storytelling and here only one of the films succeeds in satisfying that criteria, and perhaps not surprisingly it is the film directed by Federico Fellini, with a very Twilight Zone-esque piece of magic realism.
I rarely bother to do research on a film beforehand but the title itself intrigued me - apparently the concept behind it was to imagine how Giovanni Boccaccio (Italian author of a collection of bawdy tales entitled "The Decameron") would have viewed the world of 1970, though the film itself was made in 1962. Another detail is that audiences outside its' native Italy would have seen it in various cut-down versions (reflected in the various poster designs above), frequently omitting Mario Monicelli's entry, "Renzo e Luciana", and perhaps the most neo-realist and least obviously commercial of the four and which in the original release was the first "Act" - the film is divided into "Acts" separated by a cinema-curtain style introduction.
I watched the film in a beautifully presented 4K restoration on Apple TV over a few days - it's the ideal film to watch in parts due to the format and because the 4 films are all very different in tone and pacing - part "Commedia All'italiana", part neorealism and everything in-between.
In this particular version the film opens with Fellini's entry, "Le Tentazioni del Dottor Antonio" ("The Temptation of Dr Antonio") and as its' surreal plot unfolded, I had a sense of deja vu triggered by a jingle (composed by Nino Rota) entitled "Bevete piu Latte" ("Drink More Milk") and realized that I had first heard this on viewing the film on TV in B/W, sometime in the 70's and had completely forgotten its' source, with the lyrics occasionally entering my head as an "earworm" ever since, and this discovery came with a great sense of relief that I was finally able to identify the film, alongside the fact that it wasn't a grainy 4:3 monochrome film (which actually accentuates its' dreamlike quality) but had been shot in colour and Cinemascope :)
It's highly unlikely that the BBC would have broadcast a 3 hour film on TV in the 70's, and even in it's more common 3 Act version I doubt if they would have screened it either so I do wonder if for some TV broadcasts it was broken down into separate films - they are all individually long enough to fill a typical "matinee" slot, for example. This would mean that I would have watched the first "Act", since I have no recollection of watching the other 3 films at all, besides which they would have heavily censored due to the content, though it's not of a particularly explicit kind from the standpoint of 2021.
In Fellini's film, "Dr Antonio Mazzuolo" is a prudish busybody obsessed with assaults on public morality by pornography, stamping on it wherever possible and delivering missives to whoever will hear him out. When he addresses a boy-scout troop he reveals that an incident in his youth involving his seeing his aunt undressing traumatized him and that young men should beware the temptations of the flesh.
Meanwhile, construction workers are busy erecting an enormous neon-lit billboard featuring Fellini's muse Anita Ekberg reclining on a chaise longue and holding a glass of milk with the accompanying jingle of "Bevete Pui Latte" played on a loop, on an expanse of undeveloped land directly in front of Dr Mazzuolo's modern apartment block.
This scenario sets the stage for a typically Fellini-esque fantasy where Mazzuolo hallucinates being tormented by the image on the billboard and reaches a climax when a giant-sized Ekberg literally steps off the billboard and pursues the tiny Dr Mazzuolo through the streets of Rome - sequences beautifully realized using miniature sets and convincing in-camera visual effects that also make full use of Ekberg's voluptuous figure - and ends when Mazzuolo succumbs to his secret desire from his youth and is carted off to a lunatic asylum.
The plot combines aspects of "The Decameron" with François Rabelais' later collection of bawdy tales featuring two giants, "Gargantua and Pantagruel" . The film strains the notion of neorealism while at the same time being a commentary of the mores of Italian society in the post-war period and perhaps reflects Fellini's desire to make more fantastical films, something noted in a previous post regarding his interest in adapting the "Flash Gordon" comic strip, and here he gets to play with visual effects in a way that results in a compelling dreamlike quality that succeeds in burying itself in the subconscious, helped enormously by Nino Rota's score and that annoying jingle.
Something else to note here and which has been pointed out by other reviewers is the fact that all the films featured are very much focussed on the position of women in Italian society and of the period, and all the directors are men, something in common with the entire "Commedia All'italiana" genre, and raises the issue of women directors offering a greater level of authenticity on the subject. A good starting point would be the films of Agnes Varda and in particular "Cleo from 5 to 7", and released in the same year.
Admittedly Fellini's film and in fact 3 of the four films, offer plots that involve sexualized depictions of women but also offer an insight into attitudes that were prevalent at the time and that persist to the present.
Of the fours films, only Fellini's features a typically whimsical touch of a cherubic young girl
representing Cupid or desire and you get the feeling that she would have been retained as a linking device for all four stories, however, she remains unique to the films' first "Act".
End of Part #1
I'll review the remaining 3 films in following posts.