Monday, March 22, 2021

Ettore Scola's A Special Day

On May 6, 1938, Hitler met with Mussolini in Rome. Ettore Scola’s A Special Day (1977) is set against the background of that event. Antonietta (Sophia Loren) is unhappily married to the brutish Emanuele (John Vernon). When her husband and six children join the crowds who have  poured into the streets, she's left alone with the family’s myna which promptly escapes. The lonely housewife meets her cultivated and distinguish-looking neighbor Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) when the bird lands outside his window. The heavy-handed symbolism is mitigated by the dramatic angles that the director employs as he negotiates the deserted Mussolini era public housing, the Caso Popolari, with its arches, striated walls and steep winding staircases. The loudspeakers in the streets provide a particularly effective counterpoint to the interior conflict that begins to take place in the souls of the two major characters. Though the two can see each other through their respective apartment windows, they literally have to jump through hoops to engage, something which is exaggerated by a nosey caretaker (Francoise Berd), a fascist sympathizer, who's growingly suspicious of the housewife's obvious attraction to the neighbor who turns out to be a radio announcer, dismissed from his position, due to his homosexuality. In a moment of passion the two characters escape the entrapment of their respective lives, but it’s a passion predicated on impossibility. A Special Day is a fascist Brief Encounter; it both enjoys and suffers from the melodrama and hyperbole of the David Lean version of the Noel Coward play. While black and white documentary footage of the original event is employed, the unblinking two-tone effect also unfortunately describes the limited palette with which the director paints his characters' emotional lives. A Special Day is a classic star vehicle, noteworthy primarily for the conjunction of two mythic figures of the Italian cinema.

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