Judge Bill Gibron's favorite Made-in-Italy item is lovely wife, Angela.
Love…and Loss, Italian Style.
Everyone has seen them, those famous masks meant to illustrate the theatrical arts. One is goofily happy, the other is depressingly sad. Supposedly representing "comedy" and "tragedy," these throwbacks to the days of Ancient Greece and Rome (where actors wore disguises to express the material's meaning) would also be a decent classification of the foreign film genre known as Commedia all'italiana. Supposedly started with Mario Monicelli's I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) in 1958 and taking its tag from the 1961 film Divorce Italian Style, this Mediterranean movie type sees hysterical humor (usually of the social satire or class struggle variety) mixed with a subtext of sadness meant to send the storyline crashing down into the realm of the realistic and sobering. Excellent examples of this surreal '60s schism would be Boccaccio '70, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, much of the output of famed female filmmaker Lina Wertmuller and the unfairly forgotten Dino Risi.
You can also add Made in Italy to this list. This 1965 farce, divided up into six separate vignettes, is an interesting overview of the entire cinematic category. Each segment's seemingly self-contained storylines are set to illustrate a certain way of Italian life, meshed with recognizable personality types that sometimes border on the overbroad and stereotypical. Still, co-writer/director Nanni Loy (another famed Commedia all'italiana name) provides enough context and insight to drive away the derivative.
Set up as a series of anecdotes told by a group of workers emigrating to Sweden, the main narrative threads are divided as follows (via title cards that come up onscreen): "Habits and Customs"; "The Job"; "Women"; "Citizen, State and The Church"; 'The Family" and contain over 30 individual scenes, snippets, and sketches. Within we get moments of memorable girl watching, a sad man caught up in his country's bumbling bureaucracy, a nun window shopping, a woman breastfeeding her baby, a henpecked husband caught cheating, a funeral full of gluttons, a rich couple visiting a lower class eating establishment, and as many reviews point out, an especially poignant sequence starring Anna Magnani (The Rose Tattoo) as a harried mother trying to get her dopey family across as hellaciously busy Italian street in order to get some ice cream.
Your enjoyment of Made in Italy will be determined by how much you know about the country, how much you understand Italian ways and customs, the recognizability of various actors and locations, and your level of tolerance for indescribably irritating dubbing (more on this in a moment). This is a fun film, if an often distant and confusing one. The slams at the Church appears insular while other material plays like a silly Roman sitcom. Without proper set-up, some of the sequences fall flat while others are extended long past their point. One of the biggest kicks one can get out of this, however, is the undeniably kitschy and camp look of Italy circa the Swinging '60s. Like the famed SCTV skit come to life, this is a movie made up of mod sunglasses, insane looking sports cars, thin ties, tight dresses, and, naturally, their dowdy and drab alternatives. If often feels like we're watching a spoof, not a serious cinematic statement.
And one last word of warning—many of these moments end up on the maudlin side. That's part and parcel of the Commedia all'italiana style. So don't be surprised if desires go unrewarded, good deeds are punished, and honest folk find themselves on the lowest rung of the nation's knotty class system. It can be bracing at times. Of course, that was the point of the genre, to mix the mundane with the magical to create both humor and heartbreak. Made in Italy may not be the best example of the foreign film offshoot, but as an enjoyable overview of the archetype, it's endearing and often very entertaining.
Now on to the tech issues, the biggest being that god-awful dubbing. As with many foreign films given the Western makeover treatment, the Dolby Digital Mono mix is filled with American (and other weirdly accented) individuals screeching like chimps in order to get "the emotion" of a typical Italian speaker across. It's ridiculous, and at times, a borderline hate crime. If this were a remaster, and not a simple Sony "burn on demand" DVR, we might have the original soundtrack at our disposal. Instead, it's all shouting and no subtitles (or translations when Italian words appear on screen). As for the visual element, the movie looks amazing, the 2.35:1 image sparkling with nice colors and some significant detail. As with many releases from this series, there are no bonus features.
In the end, Made in Italy is supposed to illustrate the never say die spirit of its subjects along with the often depressing results of living life to its fullest. While you may not always laugh out loud, you're guaranteed to see something of yourself, and your fellow man, in this unusual and amusing movie.
Not guilty. An intriguing curio.
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