Raro Video // 1971 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // March 5th, 2012
"The moment of change has arrived." -- Anna Mastronardi, aka the Countess
Imagine Weekend -- Jean-Luc Godard's satiric, surrealistic meditation on the interconnections and disconnections of modern Gaul -- retold with a linear narrative and an Italian backdrop. Voilà! You've got L'Automobile in a nutshell.
To look at her, you'd think Anna Mastronardi (expertly played by Oscar winner Anna Magnani, The Rose Tatoo), so confident is her stride, owns the busy, metropolitan avenues of downtown Rome. Lately, the successful, semi-retired streetwalker -- affectionately but respectfully addressed as "Countess" by her adoring public -- has her eye on a shiny yellow sports car to convey her precious cargo around town. "With a car you don't even have to worry about skinny legs. They're all beautiful sitting against a car."
In a twist of almost perverse irony, this entirely sexless study of a career prostitute positively fetishizes the automobile, as transport, status symbol, and liberation. No longer a slave to the dictates of public transportation and her own aching feet, the Countess imagines the glory of being able to go anywhere at any time.
Money is no object, as the Countess has worked hard and saved well over the years. But other problems arise, each duly explored by director Alfredo Gianetti's methodical script: Insurance must be purchased and driver's license tests must be passed, despite the fact the 60-year-old Countess has never been behind the wheel. What's that they say about teaching old dogs new tricks?
Once these hurdles are cleverly cleared (Gianetti's deft screenwriting won him an Oscar for Divorce, Italian Style), new hurdles take their place: dealing with rude, impatient, and increasingly competitive fellow motorists; trying to find a decent parking spot; and the seemingly incessant gridlock that makes 1970s Rome a dead-ringer for the traffic problems found in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles today.
Despite Raro Video's claim that L'Automobile "is a deserved gem of '70s Italian cinema," this 93-minute slice-of-life is actually not a cinematic feature at all. Instead, we find one episodic installment of the Tre Donne (Three Women) miniseries presented by the Radiotelevisione Italiana network (RAI) in the fall of 1971. Each installment -- written and directed by Gianetti -- stars Magnani as a different woman in a different historical period, with L'Automobile representing the (then) present day.
Gianetti's creative strength was found in his writing, having worked as master director Pietro Germi's preferred scenarist for years. That's evident here, as his gift for constructing tremendously witty "everyday conversations" outshines his occasionally slack visuals. Fortunately, Gianetti has employed a trio of experts to rectify the creative imbalance: cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis, an Oscar winner for Zeffirelli's Romeo And Juliet; master composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly); and Anna Magnani, "the greatest actress of post-war Italian cinema," according to film critic Mario Sesti, whose brilliant analysis provides this set with its one true bonus feature.
Once the muse of the world's finest filmmakers -- Roberto Rossellini (Rome, Open City), Jean Renoir (The Golden Coach), and George Cukor (Wild Is The Wind) -- -- Magnani made one of her last screen appearances here, easily looking twenty years younger than she was, and proving as charismatic as she'd ever been. It's because of her performance that an otherwise passable telefilm should receive the royal treatment.
Raro Video is fast becoming one of my favorite distributors, dedicating themselves to unearthing rare film treasures and presenting them with such loving care. The standard definition 1.33:1 transfer is wonderfully free of dirt and debris. I suspect the film's televised origins may have something to do with the slightly flat visual fidelity and muted colors. The Italian language Dolby 2.0 mono track is likewise serviceable, though somewhat enhanced by clear English subtitles. Morricone's score, which runs almost the entire length of the film, provides incredible aural color commentary.
Aside from the Marco Sesti featurette, extras include an Italian theatrical trailer with English subtitles, and a fully illustrated booklet accessible through your DVD-ROM (apparently in a valiant attempt to help save the rain forest).
L'Automobile is an admittedly minor rare artifact, but given the pool of major talents involved, I strongly advise any serious film aficionados to invest in this reasonably priced offering while supplies last.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD-ROM Booklet