Monday, September 12, 2016

Movie Poster Monday: The Devil's Rejects

The Devil's Rejects (2005). "Joel Robinson created this beautiful The Devil's Rejects artwork to celebrate the film's 10th anniversary." from

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Easy Life/Il sorpasso (1962)

A Passing Warning Sorpasso (The Easy Life) is a ferociously entertaining film that is both masterful and thought provoking. Directed by Dino Risi, Il Sorpasso stars Vittorio Gassman as Bruno and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Roberto. Nick Vivarelli of Variety referred to Risi as, “An undisputed master of Italy’s postwar commedia all’italiana.” Il Sorpasso demonstrates this sentiment beautifully. On the surface, Il Sorpasso is a comedy about a road trip shared by two entirely different strangers. Meanwhile, the film is also deeply tragic, and it provides a reflection of cultures past and present. Bruno is the driving force of the film from the beginning to the end. He is wild and unrestrained. Responsibilities are the furthest issues from Bruno’s mind. Instead, Bruno lives in every moment with excitement and wanton disregard for consequences. He charges through life and the Italian landscape in a peppy little convertible with reckless abandon. However, Bruno’s actions and carelessness eventually result in the tragic death of Roberto.
While Bruno represents a man attempting to transcend his age and a special brand of overcharged masculinity, Roberto is different. Roberto is quiet and reserved. He is ordinary and represents the traditional values of Italian men and families (Candela). From the onset of the film, Bruno makes Roberto nervous, and he is uncertain of Bruno’s intentions. Although Roberto is uncomfortable in the beginning, he eventually begins to relax and gives into Bruno’s influence. The juxtaposition between Bruno’s fun-loving personality and Roberto’s sheltered nature provides an organic humor. The film is a highly entertaining comedy, yet it is also a cautionary tale about economic prosperity and a man that lives without prudence (Powers). While Il Sorpasso is a depiction of Italy in the 1960s, the film’s humor and themes transcend geographical borders and time. of the most essential ingredients of Il Sorpasso is Vittorio Gassman’s performance. Gassman is brilliant as Bruno. Bruno not only convinces Roberto to ride in his car, but also yanks the audience into the passenger seat. Although we are also uncertain of Bruno’s motives and question his level of self-control, we cannot help but join him on his journey. While Bruno provides a representation of problematic masculinity manifested onscreen as a lunatic in a convertible, he is also fun, exciting, and infectiously charming. We see through Roberto that Bruno is not only a potentially dangerous man, but also a lovable boy trapped in a man’s body. When necessary, Gassman seamlessly flows in and out of moments of hysterical comedy and the layers of turmoil that reside within Bruno. Bruno is over the top and out of control, but Gassman’s performance in Il Sorpasso is nuanced and refined. 
The nuances and refinement found in Gassman’s performance harmoniously echo Dino Risi’s directing. Risi’s emphasis on detail is striking. Every frame of the film seems to come alive with subtly and superior composition. Bruno is wild and energetic, but Roberto is calm and restrained. Risi’s directing style demonstrates the same type of relationship. Risi balances each of these forces with control and elegance. Risi can be loud and over the top, yet much like Roberto, he remains in the background in quiet contemplation when necessary. The framing of the characters and the landscape of the film are accomplished with precision. Everyone and everything in the camera’s lens is carefully constructed, and Risi gives purpose to both the central characters and the extras. Risi’s extras are almost just as important as the central characters of the film. By drawing our attention to these branches of reality and alternate modes of existence, Risi adds a depth that assists in bringing the film alive. These details not only provide the audience a greater sense of the world that surrounds Bruno and Roberto, but also a unique perspective of Italy during the postwar economic boom (Lopate).
From the moment the film opens, Risi captivates the audience with visually striking landscapes. A lively jazz soundtrack blares through the psyche. Although the streets of Italy are mostly empty, Bruno and his convertible fill the landscape with energy and excitement. The tone of the film is carefully set. When Bruno stops the car outside Roberto’s home in the beginning of the film, the audience becomes a passenger before Bruno and Roberto meet. Bruno and Roberto are strangers, but Bruno’s overbearing and outgoing personality instantly engulf Roberto’s existence. Upon meeting one another, Bruno asks Roberto to call a woman that is waiting for Bruno. Instead of calling the woman for Bruno, Roberto invites Bruno to use his phone. Roberto is timid and reclusive. He wants to be alone to study, but Bruno quickly convinces Roberto to take a drive in the convertible. Bruno’s driving is erratic and dangerous. He roars through the Italian landscape, furiously honking his horn, and teasing everyone that he passes. While Bruno mocks everyone that he passes, Risi mocks Bruno’s machismo and masculinity throughout the entire film. Despite the comedy that Risi uses to poke fun at his characters and Italy, a deep affection for the characters and country is apparent in Risi’s work.
As Bruno and Roberto drive from town to town, Bruno is never in short supply of sarcasm and practical jokes. He plays jokes on Roberto, the people he meets, and other cars on the road. At first, Bruno’s behavior and bravado make Roberto uneasy, and he questions whether he should continue to engage in the car ride with Bruno., eventually Roberto warms up to Bruno, and it is apparent that Roberto admires Bruno. Bruno’s overbearing personality lures Roberto into Bruno’s way of life. Bruno charges through the world with the carefree nature of a child. While Bruno is uninhibited around women, Roberto is shy and nervous around them. However, as he begins to loosen up and enjoy the ride in Bruno’s convertible, Roberto starts to enjoy the simple pleasures of life with Bruno.
Until the end of the film, Bruno seems without consequence, and he often slips away from danger and authority unscathed. Bruno seems unstoppable until a car crash on the side of the road prompts him to pull over. A dead body lies on the side of the road. Instead of taking the serious nature of the car crash to heart, Bruno remains sarcastic, opportunist, and flippant. He attempts to capitalize on the situation by soliciting a crying truck driver for the merchandise damaged in the crash. However, a police officer quickly interrupts Bruno by honking the convertible’s ridiculous car horn. The police officer writes Bruno a ticket for his reckless driving. Despite the officer’s citation and the foreshadowing implored by a dead body on the side of the road, Bruno remains obnoxious. Bruno begins mocking the police officer, but he is quickly back on the road racing through life more carefree than ever.
Throughout the film, it often seems as though there is no stopping or slowing down Bruno. His vibrant energy never falters.  Until we learn the Bruno has a wife and daughter, it seems that Bruno has led an entirely laid-back and untroubled life. However, as Bruno’s estranged wife Gianna reveals to Roberto, Bruno has struggled to find his place in the world. Underneath the seemingly happy-go-lucky and brash exterior of Bruno, resides a lonely boy that never matured. In fact, Bruno’s teenage daughter Lilly is more mature and self-controlled than Bruno. Once Lilly and Gianna are introduced, it is clear that the lifestyle Bruno leads and the unfaltering masculinity that he clings to have already resulted in negative consequences. It is obvious that Bruno has been absent for the majority of Lilly’s life. Meanwhile, it is apparent that Lilly loves and cares for Bruno, but Lilly generally uses Bruno’s first name when talking to him. She sees Bruno as more of a friend than she does a father figure. the middle of the night, Bruno and Roberto arrive at Gianna’s house drunk. Shortly after their arrival, Lilly’s boyfriend Bibi escorts her home. Bibi is significantly older than Bruno, and Bibi’s age upsets Bruno. However, Roberto offsets Bruno’s frustration by drunkenly laughing at the situation. The presence of Bibi, and Lilly’s plans to move to America with Bibi, mark the point in which Bruno finally begins to question and evaluate the choices that he has made in life. Lilly’s relationship with Bibi is an obvious representation of a young girl seeking out the male role model and fatherly structure that Bruno neglected to provide Lilly in her formative years. Meanwhile, Lilly’s relationship with Bibi is not a manifestation of malice or passive aggressive vengeance. Bruno regrets not being a better father to Lilly and a more responsible person in general. However, when Bruno confides in Lilly, Lilly tells Bruno that he should never change. She cannot help but love Bruno and his vivacious attitude toward life.
Nonetheless, Bruno’s unfaltering reckless behavior ultimately causes Roberto’s death. After a brief respite at the beach, Bruno and Roberto decide to end their road trip. Bruno is just as careless and fearless as even while driving home. Despite Roberto’s fear and uncertainty of Bruno’s reckless driving in the beginning of the film, in the end, he relishes in the excitement of speeding through the Italian landscape. Now, both Bruno and Roberto are screaming and wailing down the highway like two teenagers on a joyride. As Bruno attempts another il sorpasso (the suiting title and Italian term for aggressively passing another vehicle,) he drives the convertible into oncoming traffic, and a semi-truck drives straight at the convertible (Lopate). Bruno swerves the car away from a semi-truck. He loses control of the car. The car smashes into a cement barricade. The impact of the crash throws Bruno from the car as it tumbles down a cliff. Roberto remains in the passenger seat as the car falls, and he plunges to his death.
While Il Sorpasso is a highly entertaining comedy, it is also a deeply tragic film. It is not only a social critique about Italian males and the economic boom of postwar Italy, but also a warning (Powers). Despite the excitement inherent in Bruno’s vibrant and arrogant personality, his carefree lifestyle results in detrimental consequences. Bruno embraced a frivolous and superficial lifestyle, and he can only blame himself for missing his child’s life and the death of Roberto. Additionally, the film serves as a reflection of a culture and a society that Risi saw as speeding recklessly out of control trying to breeze by anyone or anything it passes (Lopate). The film warns that life can be thrilling and fun. However, when we stop paying attention to that which we care about and lose sight of ourselves, tragedy waits down the road.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bread and Chocolate/Pane e cioccolata (1974)

The Hero Nino and Chocolate (Pane e cioccolata) is a delightful comedy by Franco Brusati. The film is rooted in a social commentary and as implied by the title, the juxtaposition of Italian and Swiss cultures. The social commentary of Bread and Chocolate remains relevant in the modern era throughout the world. The film uses humor to address prejudice, problems within the Catholic Church, and the universal theme of a man trying to carve out his place in the world.

At the heart of Bread and Chocolate is the character Nino Garofoli played by Nino Manfredi. Nino is an Italian immigrant living in Switzerland trying to build a better life. Although the audience is continually laughing at the trials and tribulations of Nino, Nino continually faces an underlying tragedy.  Despite Nino’s efforts to fit in and obtain the acceptance of the Swiss people, he must embrace the notion that some goals are never accomplished. moved to Switzerland, because he was not able to make a living wage in Italy. At the beginning of the film, Nino is optimistic and relishes in the Swiss culture, but the audience soon learns that Nino’s unrefined and Italian ways clash with the sensibilities of the Swiss. Nino chain-smokes where smoking is prohibited. He litters next to garbage cans, and he urinates in public. Even Nino’s eating disrupts the peaceful music of the Swiss people. Nino eats a chocolate sandwich during the opening, and the musicians playing music in the park stop while Nino chews. They are appalled that he would chew bread in the park. Nino is allowed to work in Switzerland, but he is not welcomed by the Swiss with open arms. Instead, the Swiss often treat Nino like an uncultured and unwanted buffoon. Despite the conflict of cultures, Nino remains proud to work and live in Switzerland.
On the surface, Switzerland appears to be a place where nothing can go wrong. It seems as though everyone is highly sophisticated and morally superior. During the opening of the film, the Swiss ride horses, listen to violins in the park, and everything they do seems picturesque. At one point, a dog runs with two children elegantly carrying a basket of flowers in its mouth. The image arouses the notion that even the Swiss dogs are more sophisticated than Nino, the stereotypical Italian (Candela). However, Nino quickly learns that Switzerland is not perfect, and many of the Swiss people are highly flawed. Although Nino attempts to have a relaxing day in the park, the discovery of a young girl’s dead body quickly interrupts Nino’s respite. A priest quietly stands behind a tree as Nino attempts to make sense of the situation. Although the Swiss police arrest Nino for the murder of the girl, the priest eventually confesses to the murder, and the police set Nino free. The crimes perpetrated against children by priests are certainly not unique to Switzerland, and the audience gets the impression that internal problems within the Catholic Church transcend borders and denominations.
Meanwhile, prejudice against Italians in Switzerland is also a prominent theme of the film. Nino’s friend arrives to work late, because he was in a fight with Swiss people that were talking poorly about Italians. Although the Swiss find Nino and Italians in general to be crude and unrefined, Nino believes that the Swiss people treat him better than the northerners of Italy treated him. Additionally, one evening when speaking to a photo of his family, Nino proclaims that he could never make the type of money that he makes in Switzerland if he was still living in Italy. Nonetheless, despite many attempts, Nino never ceases being an Italian. In the beginning, Nino is a child trapped in a man’s body, but his failed attempts to relate with children on numerous occasions foreshadow the notion that Nino will eventually lose his innocence and have to grow up. In fact, Brusati signals Nino’s maturation throughout the film, as he grows more and more tired of the delusional optimism of signing Italians.
After the police release Nino, he wanders the streets of Switzerland. While absorbed in thought, Nino urinates on a wall in front of two Swiss people taking pictures. The two Swiss people report the incident, and Nino ends up losing his work permit. Nino gets on a train back to Italy, but he quickly decides that he will not go back to Italy. He goes to his former neighbor Elena for a place to stay. She is not fond of the idea, because she is already hiding her son Grigory from the Swiss authorities. Elena and Grigory are political refugees. Eventually, Elena allows Nino to stay at her home for a short period. Although Nino does not have a work permit, he attempts to work for an Italian industrialist and at a chicken farm. However, both jobs end in tragedy and folly. The Italian industrialist commits suicide and loses Nino’s money. Shortly after, Nino gets an unsanctioned job and place to live at a chicken farm. However, Nino realizes that life on a chicken farm is exactly the type of life that caused Nino to leave Italy. Instead of incessantly signing Italians, on the chicken farm Nino must endure his companions clucking and acting like chickens. Much like Nino, the chicken farmers are too naïve and “chicken” to face the reality of their situation. They stare at the Swiss people with admiration as though the Swiss are gods and goddesses, but they are not. They are simply people with different colored hair., Nino dyes his hair blonde in order to pass as a Swiss native. He looks somewhat ridiculous, but others treat him with more respect. At first, it seems as though Nino is happy to pretend as though he is from Switzerland. Nonetheless, his blonde façade merely mirrors the discontent that he and other Italians mask with humor and signing. During a televised soccer match at a pub, Nino attempts to blend in and roots against the Italian team. Meanwhile, Nino realizes that he cannot be an accomplice to the cruelty and prejudice toward Italians, and he begins cheering for the Italian team proclaiming, “sono italiano” (“I am Italian”) to all the patrons of the pub. He stares at himself in a mirror that hangs in the pub. Although Nino thought that dying his hair would be the answer to his problems, he despises his ridiculous and fake hair. He cannot stand to look at his own reflection, and he smashes his head into the mirror shattering the image he has of himself and the Swiss people. The patrons of the pub throw Nino out of the pub onto the street, and shortly after the Swiss authorities force Nino to leave Switzerland.        
Nino embraces Italian stereotypes as he walks with a Swiss escort to a train back to Italy. He knows that resisting the Swiss’ prejudice toward Italians is futile. He tears posters off the train station walls, blaming his Italian nature. He slaps an older woman on the rear end, and he blames his hand. Before boarding the train, Nino attempts to urinate in the open again, and his Swiss escort merely tells him to stop, dismissing the action as something Italians must do all the time. Once Nino boards the train, a loudspeaker begins calling his name, and Elena walks by the train. Nino is surprised and excited to see Elena, and he rushes back off the train to talk to her. This short exchange between Nino and Elena captures the spirit and tone of the entire film. Nino’s hair is an overtly noted symbol of both Nino’s character and the thematic devices used throughout the film. When Elena comments on Nino’s half-blonde, half-brunette hair, Nino explains that his hair inadvertently reflects who he is, “That’s me, neither here nor there.” However, Elena does not believe him, and she refuses to sympathize with Nino’s tragedy. Instead, she tells Nino that the problem is not Italy or Switzerland, but rather that Nino must eventually choose to live and embrace life. Elena informs Nino that she was able to get his work permit reinstated, but Nino refuses the offer.
Regardless of Elena’s attempts to cheer Nino up and persuade him to stay, Nino decides to remain on the train back to Italy. As the train departs for Italy, the other Italians on the train begin singing about the sun and the sea. Nino knows that he needs more from life than just the sun and the sea. the other Italians sign and play the accordion, the train enters a tunnel into a black hole of frivolous indifference and delusional happiness. Nino pulls the emergency brake, gets off the train, and walks out of the tunnel back onto the Swiss landscape. In this moment, Nino demonstrates a sense of strength and determination. He ran away from his problems from Italy. Instead of running back to Italy from the problems he faced in Switzerland, Nino decides to face his troubles. He accepts that which he cannot change. Nino takes Elena’s advice, and he chooses to live.
Bread and Chocolate is not only a wonderful comedy and social commentary, but also an exquisite example of filmmaking. Brusati’s directing, the use of music, the performances, and the dynamic themes of the film overshadow any minor imperfections, such as the camera going out of focus. Regardless of any imperfections and flaws, the audience cannot help but love the character of Nino, and he is truly an understated hero. The German part of Switzerland depicted in the film was one of the most racist parts of Europe during the time (Candela). However, in the end, Nino transcends the Swiss’ racism. He refuses to let prejudice and rejection dominate his life, and he continues to fight for his pursuit of a better life.