"Ieri Oggi Domani", Dir: Vittorio De Sica, 1963
Updated: Mar 25
Outside of Italy, Sophia Loren tends to be more well-known for a number of blousy, big-budget Hollywood films like "El Cid" (1961), "Heller in Pink Tights" (1960) or "The Millionairess" (1960) alongside similarly top-billed co-stars like Charlton Heston, Anthony Quinn and Peter Sellers and most often where the subjects would make full use of her appearance rather than for any depth of character she could bring to the roles.
This narrow perception inevitably coloured my opinion of her as an actress, and indeed the same could be said for her co-star in "Ieri, Oggi, Domani" (Eng: "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow), Marcello Mastroianni, whose suave performance in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" condemned him forever to remain the character he plays in the film.
Having watched several "Commedia All'Italiana" I thought I'd check out this film comprising a trio of comedic short stories very much in the neorealist tradition in the sense that the comedy has an underlying social aspect, besides the style of storytelling and performances and which chart the shifting of the balance of power in relationships in the post-war years in Italy.
Perhaps unexpectedly, it was directed by Vittorio De Sica, who was possibly attracted to the film as a result of the widespread popularity of the genre at the time via the films of Pietro Germi, Antonio Pietrangeli and others.
Pitched as "sex-comedies", each story is titled after a central female character: "Adelina of Naples", "Anna of Milan" and "Mara of Rome" and of the three "Adelina" and "Mara" could be accurately described as "bedroom farces", with the marital bed in the first instance being the battleground of the sexes.
In "Adelina", Adelina (Loren) and Carmine (Mastroianni) play a couple living in a crowded poverty-stricken street of Neapolitan tenements and are constantly under threat of eviction due to rent arrears since although Adelina is the main breadwinner, selling black-market cigarettes to passing trade, she doesn't earn enough to cover all the bills and Carmine has trouble finding work.
When Adelina discovers that being pregnant will delay being arrested and imprisoned in a debtors prison, she persuades Carmine to ensure that she remains pregnant for as long as possible, which results in a growing brood of children in their already cramped apartment and eventually Carmine is unable to keep up with her demands and escapes to live with his mother due to exhaustion.
With the prospect of imprisonment looming as a result of being abandoned by Carmine, in desperation she turns to Carmine's best friend to impregnate her but relents before she commits an act of infidelity, choosing the women's prison with two of her youngest children instead as the more honourable option.
Eventually Carmine is able to secure the help of a lawyer after rallying the support of his community to raise funds to bail Adelina out of prison and the couple are finally reunited and are feted by their tight-knit and loyal community on their return to their tenement apartment.
The longest of the three stories, what's remarkable about this segment is the level of candour in the script and performances in a way that for the period that it was made is largely absent in films from Hollywood, which was working within tighter strictures of censorship compared to the film industry in Europe - for example, Adelina is seen about to breastfeed her infant child when in the women's wing of the prison and one of the inmates is jokingly referred to by the other women as "Big Boobies", details that lend an unexpected degree of realism to the stories.
In "Anna From Milan" there is a literal change of gear - introduced with a first-person narration by "Anna" and a subjective viewpoint as she steers her Rolls Royce through the streets of Milan - a sequence that is a captivating snapshot of the historic city in the early 1960's in itself - as she drives to rendezvous with her lover Renzo (Mastroianni), a writer, on the edge of the city.
Dressed to the nines in Christian Dior, Loren's Anna is now far removed from the dishevelled Adelina in the first segment - the bored wife of a millionaire, she seeks the attention of Renzo as a distraction and the two head out of Milan, passing through the ultra-modern suburbs that are springing up during the period of rapid redevelopment that characterized the era, and into the surrounding countryside, with both the glamorous Anna and her car attracting the attention of anyone they pass on the way.
Anna suggests Renzo take the controls of the Rolls, which he does reluctantly, explaining that the only car he has ever driven is his tiny Fiat and as Anna relaxes in the passenger seat, she starts to daydream of plans to escape with Renzo, placing her hand on his knee in the process. Momentarily distracted, Renzo loses control of the Rolls when he tries to avoid hitting a young boy selling flowers on a deserted stretch of highway, crashing the car into a parked bulldozer.
They are both uninjured in the crash but the car has been totalled and Anna is furious with Renzo, compounded by his incompetence when she asks him to fetch a car-jack from the boot to remove a damaged wheel.
Anna hails a passing sports car and recognizes the driver who helps her jack the car and remove the damaged wheel as Renzo resignedly sits out of the way on a crash barrier. The driver offers to drive her back to Milan, an offer she accepts, leaving Renzo stranded on the highway with the damaged Rolls Royce and eventually to figure out how to get back himself.
In the concluding segment, "Mara From Rome", Loren plays Mara, a high class call-girl living in a penthouse apartment in the centre of Rome with a string of wealthy clients and whose immediate neighbour are an elderly couple whose grandson is enrolled in a Catholic seminary to enter the priesthood.
The story opens as Mara tends to gifts of flowers from her admirers on her balcony as the young priest watches her, distracted from his studies. She notices his attention and flirts openly with him before disappearing into her apartment to answer the door to Augusto (Mastroianni), one of her clients, who brings gifts and insists that she participate in role-playing by dressing up as a schoolgirl while he wears short pants.
The undue attention given by Mara to the young priest soon comes to the attention of his grandmother who is outraged and threatens to get Mara evicted and she goes to her apartment to complain, which prompts Mara to draft a letter to her saying that in spite of her profession, she is of good character.
Eventually the young priest is driven to doubt his chosen path in life and Mara represents the worldly things he is having to sacrifice to become a priest and events come to a head as he threatens to join the Foreign Legion instead of becoming a priest.
The religiously devout Mara agrees to sacrifice a week of seeing clients and the increasingly sexually frustrated Augusto is reluctantly drafted in to act as a mediator as the young priest is gradually convinced not to abandon his vocation by his grandparents.
The story ends as Mara and Augusto - by now driven to nervous distraction due to sexual anticipation - are in her boudoir and he asks her to perform a striptease for him, which she agrees to, but she stops short when she remembers the terms of her agreement as a holy sacrament.
The exasperated Augusto storms off, vowing to find another call-girl to replace Mara and the film ends as Mara and Augusto, who has relented, watch from their balcony as the young priest boards a bus with his grandparents to join the Catholic seminary.
The striptease sequence has become rather iconic and in fact I saw it long before I watched the film, on YouTube, without much idea of the context or any idea of what the film was about, which gives a wholly distorted impression of a film that is a whole lot more than just that sequence, rather in the way that Anita Ekberg frolicking in waters of The Trevie Fountain in "La Dolce Vita" is only a small part of that film, and likewise it is made full use of in the publicity for the film, as can be seen from the posters above.
Once again Marcello Mastroianni demonstrates a talent for comedy and the ability to inhabit different roles, as does Sophia Loren, an aspect we only get glimpses of in her English language films and I look forward to seeing more of her work in other Italian genre films of the period.