Thursday, November 3, 2011

7. Alberto Sordi Personification of the Average Italian part ten


by Ernesto G. Laura

As a director, Sordi then decided to bring his run-of-the-mill Italian "personage" into contact with great historical events in POLVERE DI STELLE (STAR DUST), written with Bernardino Zapponi and Ruggero Maccari on a story by the latter. The agonizing period, 1943/44, between the fall of Fascism, the armistice and the division of Italy in two, the Germans on one side, the Allies on the other, is recounted through the eyes of a second-rate vaudeville team, Mimmo and Dea (Sordi and Monica Vitti). The armistice takes them by surprise in a small Abruzzi town, at night they run into the car of the fleeing King on the road to Pescara, are embarked by the Fascists and carried to Venice, where Mussolini's republic has concentrated the world of show business, manage to escape and make their way to liberated Bari. Here, an audience craving entertainment after all the hardships endured cheers and applauds them, the only vaudeville company around (the important ones have remained in Rome or are in the North), and leads an impresario to organize a big musical revue all for them in the most important theater in town. After years of hunger and humiliation, success is theirs. But whell all of Italy is liberated and the true glories of the music hall return to Bari, nothing remains for Mimmo and Dea but to go back to the small-time suburban houses, to the dreary life of before. Perhaps a little too long, POLVERE DI STELLE (STAR DUST) is an amusing and at the same time touching description of an epoch, where the grotesque is always used with unfailing subtlety.

In any case, Sordi's best film as a director is FINCHE C'E GUERRA C'E SPERANZA (AS LONG AS THERE'S WAR THERE'S HOPE: 1974), written with Leo Benvenuti and Pietro De Bernardi, where, with a critical relentlessness that gradually shifts the film from the satirical tone of the beginning to the bitterly dramatic tone of the ending, he describes the cynical personality of an arms dealer, Pietro Chiocca, who moves from one African county to the other, exploiting the tensions and conflicts between recently independent states as a way of making money, selling arms indifferently to both sides. When his family, influenced by a newspaper campaign, turns against him, Pietro shoulders them with their responsibilities: they have accepted the prosperity, indeed the wealth that dirty work has made possible and which they are not about to give up.

To complete the picture of Sordi's contribution to comedy as civil satire, two films based on the sanitary system and on the figure of the doctor must be mentioned: IL MEDICO DELLA MUTUA (THE WELFARE MEDIC: 1968) by Luigi Zampa, based on the novel by Giuseppe D'Agata with a script by Amidei, Sordi and Zampa, draws the malicious portrait of a dishonest doctor, Dr. Terzilli, who cures his patients hastily and sometimes even only by phone in order to accumulate a large number of patients and hence higher fees from the welfare state. The following year, the same character returned in IL PROF. DOTT. GUIDO TERZILLI, PRIMARIO DELLA CLINICA VILLA CELESTE CONVENZIONATA CON LE MUTUE (DR. GUIDO TERZILLI, CHIEF PHYSICIAN OF THE VILLA CELESTE CLINIC, APPROVED BY THE PUBLICH HEALTH SERVICE), directed by Luciano Salce and also written by Amidei and Sordi (with the director). The satirical darts of the first film are slightly blunted, because they are predictable, in this second film, which follows the doctor in his increasingly more successful career, until he transforms his clinic into a rest-home for rich old ladies.

UN BORGHESE PICCOLO PICCOLO (A PETTY PETTY BOURGEOIS: 1977) by Mario Monicelli, from the novel by Vincenzo Cerami, does not, strictly speaking, pertain to the comedy genre, indeed in the whole second part it is a gloomy tragic film. It is worth mentioning, however, for the way both the director and the actor succeed, as is typical of comedy, in starting off on a light tone, with various decidedly comic situations (for example, a secret meeting of initiation into a Massonic lodge), and from there to proceed through ever more crucial turnings of the screw to the unrelenting brutality of the final images. In 1979, lastly, he confronted one of the theater classics of all times, Moliere, in the film version of IL MALATO IMMAGINARIO (LE MALADE IMMAGINAIRE/THE HYPOCHONDRIAC), directed by Tonino Cervi, with the action shifted to 18th century Rome, still the capital of the Papal States. Though the adaptation is questionable and certain references to modern-day terrorism seem strained, Sordi's performance is outstanding, pervaded even, as it is, by a certain Pirandello flavor, by virtue of which his Argante, beneath the appearance of a weak and cowardly man who locks himself into the house, frightened by everything, is a lucid critic of the ills of society.

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