Judge Alice Nelson likes a man in an overcoat, but not that weird guy who hangs around the 7-11.
A man and his 'Il Cappotto' shall soon be parted.
The Overcoat (Il Cappotto) is based on an 1842 short story by Nikolai Gogol; the setting changed from Gogol's native Russia to a small village in 1952 Italy. While I've never read the story, the film is a dark comedy with some serious undertones of government corruption and its negative effect on an overtaxed citizenry.
Facts of the Case
Carmine De Carmine (Renato Rascel) is a lovable but not too bright city clerk who works for a corrupt Mayor (Giiulio Stival) and his equally corrupt secretary (Ettore Mattia). Carmine desperately wants a new overcoat but can't even afford to patch up his old one. Through some dumb luck, Carmine gets the money and purchases a beautifully handmade overcoat, which transforms him from meek nobody to respected citizen overnight. But Carmine's glory is short lived when his beloved coat is stolen. Even though the theft sends him on a downward spiral, Carmine never gives up the search for the only thing of value he has in an otherwise bleak and dreary life.
The Overcoat was adapted for the screen and directed by Alberto Lattuada, who manages to meld together a sweet and sometimes funny story with a cold seriousness that isn't the least bit contradictory. Carmine is the everyman who not only wants but needs a new overcoat, surrounded by conniving individuals who witness his suffering but do nothing to help. Something as simple as an overcoat means the world to Carmine who has almost nothing. This is in stark contrast to the government officials whose lavish lifestyle is a result of the hard work of the people they profess to represent; you just can't fight city hall.
Most recent Hollywood movies have a reverence for government, as if it's the answer to all that ails us. In The Overcoat there is no faith in government or the men who are its powerbrokers; the film portrays them as the problem not the solution. Latuada shows just how big the problem is when, in the midst of difficult financial times for the town's people, the mayor and city council have no problem instituting more taxes onto an already overtaxed community, just so they can erect a building to impress visiting dignitaries. Still, Lattuada manages to keep the mood lighthearted, using our protagonist Carmine as a continual positive force against the scheming officials out to line their own pockets.
Even though Carmine's life is less than stellar, Rascel plays him with an almost childlike charm that belies his meager existence. I never feel sorry for Carmine because he never feels sorry for himself. He still has hope, even with the poverty that he is living in. Carmine is the example that people don't need government as much as government needs more honorable people.
Carmine's obsession with a new overcoat gave him something to fight for, but it's also the cause of his eventual downfall. He places so much importance in obtaining the coat, that losing it is like losing a part of himself. In fact, after showing up at work in the new coat, he looked more confident and more alive than he had the entire film. Carmine thought clothes made the man, especially when his coworkers and neighbors treated him with more respect. But when the coat is lost, he is also lost, not realizing the confident man in the brand new overcoat was the same one that wore the old ragged and torn one.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full screen, the image quality is crisp and clear and the subtitles very easy to read. Mario Montuori's cinematography is stunning, with hauntingly beautiful black and white imagery that gives the movie an almost ethereal feel. The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio is in its native Italian and serves the narrative most effective, even if you don't speak the language.
The extras aren't as great as the movie. We get an audio commentary from Falvio de Bernadinis, professor of film at University La Sapienza of Rome; an interview with screenwriter and director Angelo Pasquini; and a few deleted scenes. I would've loved to have seen some sort of behind-the-scenes documentary about the film and its actors, but there is a booklet included which contains a lot of that same information.
The Overcoat is a surprisingly fun film, considering the subject matter. Lattuada does a fantastic job of making you care for Carmine, without making him or the corrupt officials one dimensional caricatures. A truly fine Italian import, right up there with pizza and espresso.
Non Colpevole (Not Guilty).
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