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  • Ravi Swami

"Marriage Italian Style" / "Matrimonia All'italiana", Dir: Vittorio De Sica, 1964

I've reviewed Pietro Germi's "Divorce Italian Style" in an earlier post and it makes sense to check out "Marriage Italian Style", released 3 years later and which, on the face of it, appears to be a film that cashes in on the success of the earlier film. As such, I had earmarked it for viewing but with a slight apprehension that it would just be treading the same path, perhaps a light comedy with its' eye very much on a broad audience and taking advantage of colour cinematography over the monochrome of Germi's film.

Judging by the posters I might be forgiven for thinking that but then it's always nice to be wrong-footed and discover that the film itself remains true to the "Commedia All'Italiana" format of tragi-comedy and incisive examination of society.

The commercial and critical success of "Divorce Italian Style" established both a precedent for producers (Carlo Ponti, in this case) to mine the same territory and an opportunity to exploit the commercial potential of the genre and this time it attracted an "A" list director in the form of Vittorio De Sica, and stars of the calibre of Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, whereas in Germi's earlier film Mastroianni was the sole box-office draw and Stefania Sandrelli an actress whose career was being effectively being launched by the film, with the remainder of the cast being Germi "regulars", of whom, Aldo Puglisi, appears in this film.

Mastroianni is "Domenico Soriano", not too far removed from the aristocrat he depicts in "Divorce Italian Style", and in the films' opening scenes, his wedding plans - conducted in the back office of his family bakery business - are interrupted by an emergency that means he has to rush home. "Filumena" (Sophia Loren) has been taken gravely ill, and at this point we are led to believe that she is simply one of his staff, though their relationship is not made clear at this point.

When Domenico returns home his behaviour suggests that his relationship to Filumena is more than simply that of employer and employee and throughout we gets hints of his character as a vain philanderer - Mastroianni employs a "tic" reminiscent of his mouth twitch from "Divorce Italian Style", here, a glance in any reflective surface as he adjusts his hair with a sweep of his hand.

When Filumena asks for a priest to be in attendance, Domenico fears the worst but at the same time is aware that his wife-to-be has been left waiting at the bakery and his dilemma precipitates a flashback - a cinematic device that had begun to characterise films in the Commedia All'italiana genre.

The plot takes us back to the later years of the WWII as Italy was undergoing allied bombardment, and to a busy Neapolitan bordello where Domenico, a man in his 30's, is grumbling about air raids happening just as he is about to undress. The bordello "Madame" rounds up her women and ushers out punters before they all leave for a nearby underground bomb shelter.

Domenico seems unconcerned and is the last to leave but not before hearing a noise from one of the bordello rooms. When he goes to investigate he discovers Filumena (Loren), then a 17 year old young woman, cowering in a cupboard and unwilling to go to the air raid shelter. This scene sets the stage for their future relationship and ends with a shot of Filumena clinging to his legs in terror as bombs continue to fall.

Jumping abruptly to some years after the war is over, two men are at what appears to be a farmers market in the country loading up with supplies like fresh eggs and flour etc just as Domenico arrives. "Alfredo" (Aldo Puglisi) clumsily drops the supplies and as Domenico berates him we see Filumena watching the chaos from a crowded bus, now no longer the gawky 17 year old with cropped hair, but a beautiful woman.

She calls out to Domenico who turns around, initially not recognizing her until she reminds him of the bordello in Naples and her new look suddenly grabs his attention. He offers her a ride into Naples and tells the two men to follow on the bus.

Enroute, during which it is made clear that Filumena is still a prostitute, a downpour forces Domenico to pull over at a deserted farmhouse and this leads to the two spending the night together and rekindling their initial attraction..

Domenico and Filumena are clearly in love, but the huge gulf that exists between their social status - Domenico as living off inherited wealth and Filumena from a poor background and the social stigma of prostitution - leads to a situation where Domenico continues to pursue casual affairs whilst offering Filumena employment in his bakery business and other concerns, with the possibility of marriage as inconceivable. The final humiliations for Filumena are that she is moved into his home as a housekeeper, first to look after his senile mother and then later to discover that he is conducting an affair with the latest attractive cashier that he employs who is half his age, under her very nose.

The first of two flashbacks ends as a priest arrives to give Filumena the last rites but not before she asks that Domenico finally honour their relationship of many years, with marriage. Suddenly conflicted, Domenico reluctantly agrees and the priest consecrates their marriage.

Domenico leaves the room convinced that Filumena has breathed her last and disappears behind a curtain in an annex to call his 20 year old bride-to-be. This sets up a terrific comic moment as Filumena rips aside the curtain as he is on the phone, revealing that the whole drama was simply a ruse to trick Domenico into marriage.

Domenico is furious, threatening to kill everyone in sight with a pistol he keeps in a drawer since he believes that Alfredo and his housekeeper are part of the plot, as Filumena calmly takes refuge in the kitchen to eat pasta.

Following an angry exchange between Domenico and Filumena that ends when she taunts him with the fact that she has three children by different men that he didn't know about, one of whom may be Domenico's, but she won't say which, the film segue's into Filumena's flashback.

This sequence reveals Domenico's many indiscretions and disregard for Filumena's feelings and, primarily, fills in the details of her struggles to bring up her three sons who are in the care of nuns or family friends in the country without Domenico's knowledge, while she supports them with Domenico's money.

Returning to the present, Domenico is horrified at the truth and demands an immediate annulment, which is granted by his lawyer on the grounds of Filumena's deception and which she accepts. However, her trump card is a locket containing a 100 lire note given to her by Domenico on the night of their son's conception on which she has written the date, which she tears off, and then contemptuously throws the remaining note in Domenico's face.

Now tortured with trying to determine which son is his - in the meantime Filumena has plans to move them into Domenico's crumbling ancestral villa, in spite of his protests - Domenico embarks on a plan to get at the truth by visiting his sons at their places of work, none of which bears fruit.

The penultimate sequence is a meeting of Domenico and Filumena after she has decided to separate from him with her sons and Domenico sees this as his last opportunity to discover the truth. When she reveals to him that one of the sons needs to further his education Domenico decides that he will support him financially but Filomena protests by saying that he must support them all equally or not at all to avoid conflicts and this leads to a tussle between the two that ends with an emotional reunion where Filumena declares that she always loved Domenico despite his faults.

The closing sequence is the official marriage of Domenico and Filumena in the presence of their sons, and he continues to prod them for clues. Her desire for them all to be given the surname "Soriano" and a degree of respectability in society denied to them previously is granted by the marriage and in the closing shots as they leave their mother and new father to enjoy their honeymoon, Domenico smiles broadly as they all call him "father", with a promise that he will see them tomorrow.

This reduces Filumena to weeping with joy, having never cried before over the wretchedness of her life before and after with Domenico, which fills him with shame and guilt.

Clearly De Sica pulled out all the stops to make this a classic example of the Commedia All'Italiana, charting a course that rarely veers toward melodrama and helped by some terrific central performances by Mastroianni and Loren, earning her an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1964 and effectively raising the profile of a genre that was previous confined to Italian audiences, and as a result that became much imitated in Hollywood with a slew of films that featured Italian actors, both male and female in central, often comedic, roles.

From an international critics' standpoint Vittorio De Sica was already the premiere Italian neorealist director of the immediate post-war era next to Federico Fellini and one consequence of this was that many other equally great Italian writer / directors like Pietro Germi and Antonio Pietrangeli who went before, were somewhat eclipsed, but there is no doubt that the film helped bring the genre to a larger audience.

The films draws in commentaries on the role and status of women in post-war Italy, a theme common to films of the period, and the behaviour of men and shifting power balances between the sexes. Interestingly, the film also touches on the theme of Pietrangeli's 1960 film "Adua and her Friends", which details the introduction of the "Merlin Law" in Italy that forced brothels to close in order to drive prostitutes into more respectable professions, and in that sense it keeps the film within the Commedia All'Italiana tradition of incisive social commentary.

On reflection, the clever titling of the film and poster art lure the viewer into thinking the film will be a light entertainment on the level of a classic Hollywood "sex comedy" when in fact it delivers a sharp observation on the mores and contradictions of post-war Italian society while retaining an element of universality.

Armando Trovajoli's leitmotiv music score is supported over the end credits with a song by the popular Italian singer Fred Bongusto, "O cielo ce manna 'sti ccose", and is worth hanging around for.

Based on a novel "Filumena Marturano" by Eduardo de Filippo.

"Marriage Italian Style" / "Matrimonio All'italiana" - 1964

Dir : Vittorio De Sica,

Available to view on Apple + TV.


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