Judge Joel Pearce now knows the definitive answer to whether one woman can be a mother, whore, heiress, and nun.
"Sit down and be good." -Mara
In 1964, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the Academy Award for best foreign film. Now, it is finally available for the first time in North America uncut and presented in its original language and aspect ratio on DVD. The quality of the disc isn't that impressive, but the film itself has aged almost as gracefully as its star.
Facts of the Case
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is an inventive collection of three short, sexually charged comedies directed by Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief) and starring Sophia Loren (Two Women) and Marcello Mastroianni (8½).
Women only seem to get cast in a handful of roles, following traditional archetypes. The mother, the whore, the heiress, the nun…In this compilation, De Sica places Sophia Loren into several of these archetypes, with fascinating results. She quickly becomes the ideal image of each of these roles, but as each segment progresses that role is also parodied and ultimately deconstructed. The title suggests that these stereotypes are persistent: these ideas have been floating around for a long time, they still exist now and they aren't going anywhere. Mastrioanni stands in as the typical response to each of these women, and reveals that the male response to women may be more generic than the women themselves.
In the first segment, Adelina is the idealized mother of the time. She is poor but beautiful, holds down a job and cares for her family while her husband is out of work. More importantly, she has a voracious, limitless sexual appetite and conceives children on a very regular basis. Each child adds to her beauty and appeal, although Carmine is unable to keep up. Ultimately, he reaches the limit of his own sexual appetite, and cannot perform to keep her in children. Suddenly, her limitless desire is a serious problem instead of a benefit for him.
In the second part, Loren trades in her perfection in poverty for a double dose of glamor. Anna speaks passionately about how much she hates the dreadful life her wealth forces her to live, and wishes she could discard it all for the chance to run away with Renzo. Initially, this seems like a great deal for him, because she is carefree and lonely, confident and gorgeous. This dream comes crashing down as he realizes that her feelings for him are as shallow as the rest of her is. This is the weakest of the three shorts, but it's also the shortest by far, and has a few fantastic moments.
Finally, Loren takes a stab at the oldest profession. Mara is a wealthy and independent prostitute, skilled and beautiful enough that she gets her pick of clients. She is so appealing that every man within sight is immediately and hopelessly smitten. This isn't a problem for Rusconi, the obsessed son of a wealthy businessman, but it causes serious problems when she meets the young seminary student next door. Umberto is instantly willing to discard his future to be with her. To an extent, it's difficult to pity Mara. She's a total tease, perfectly willing to discuss how much she enjoys sex and parading much of her body in front of the young boy, only to panic when she learns that her (professional level) charms have worked. The famous striptease sequence at the end of this segment is brilliant too, because the audience is also teased after two hours of having Sophia Loren paraded across the screen.
I'm not sure how Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is meant to be understood. Taken as a light romantic comedy playing with the stereotypes of women, the film works really well. The segments are funny, ribald enough to surprise audiences in the '60s yet clean enough to be accepted as popular entertainment. The satire is clever enough that the film can be understood as a deconstruction of these stereotypes as well. There is a savage quality to the disappointment that Mastrioanni receives in each segment at the hand of this beautiful woman, and there's never a question who carries the power. This is a well enough constructed film that it can be enjoyed on a range of levels. Each of the segments is filmed and scored in a distinct way.
The performances are fantastic. Although Loren was clearly cast for her looks, she also has the acting chops to play these three roles. She is completely different in each role, looking, moving, and sounding like completely different people. Mastrioanni does a fine job, clearly aware that this is not his moment in the sun. The relationship they have in each segment are totally different, so Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow never feels gimmicky. The stories have similar themes, but each one stands on its own.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was undoubtedly ahead of its time in its frankness about sex. Adelina and Carmine had their first child out of wedlock. Anna is completely open about having an affair, and Mara is quite comfortable discussing sex with her friends and neighbors. All that aside, it's hard to know how we are expected to understand some of these characters and situations. The three women that Loren plays here all have some complexity, but in the end they fit the stereotypes that Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow toys with. Some of the attitudes don't sit as well 45 years later, especially in regards to women as having insatiable sexual appetites. Still, this is a minor complaint because it was, after all, a product of the time that produced it, and is obviously interested in exploring and challenging those notions.
The disc itself is generally well produced. Although the video restoration isn't something that Criterion or Warner would release, this is probably as good as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow has ever looked. This is one of the first times that North American audiences have had a chance to see it in its original cinemascope ratio, and it looks stunning. The colors are washed out at times, but the detail levels are there and it's a great showcase for De Sica's gorgeous cinematography. The only major problem with the video transfer is some artifacts during horizontal motion, perhaps an indication that this was converted from a PAL transfer. I suspect it may look worse on a high definition television. (a theory I wish I could test out myself…) The sound quality is better, with a choice between the original Italian soundtrack and an English dub. The Italian is much stronger, although there are some missing subtitle lines. It sounds fine for a mono track, but there is some hissing that indicates the film's age.
There aren't many extras on the disc. There's the original U.S. trailer and a very long photo gallery. There's also a neat booklet with Japanese promotional posters, information on the cast and crew as well as some additional photos. This disc isn't a definitive version of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow on DVD, but it's a whole lot better than nothing.
I can't be hard on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. It has funny scenes that still feel fresh, two great performances, and a satirical edge that makes it less dated than many films released in the era. NoShame Films has made this a vital release for classic foreign comedy. Sophia Loren has earned her place in film history as one of the world's greatest leading ladies.
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