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  • TBC
  • Comedy, Romance
  • 1963
  • 119 mins

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

Synopsis

Acclaimed neo-realist director Vittorio De Sica turns his hand to comedy in these three stories of strong, sexy Italian women. Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni star

About

"Please, it turns me off if you laugh. This is serious."

When hot-blooded playboy Rusconi (Marcello Mastroianni) says these words to upmarket tart-with-a-heart Mara (Sophia Loren) in the third part of Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow, he may well be speaking for the audience too. After all, director Vittorio De Sica was best known for making neo-realist dramas like Shoeshine (1946) and Bicycle Thieves (1948), so laughs might be the last thing expected from a frequently sombre social commentator.

There is, however, plenty of bitter to go with the sweet in these three slices of Italian life, in which the same key players take on three distinct leading roles. Here those players are Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, both at the starry peak of their careers, and the (anti-)climactic sequence in which Loren's Mara performs a steamy striptease for Mastroianni's rapt Rusconi, not to mention the equally rapt viewer, has rightly gone down as one of cinema's iconic moments.

So iconic, indeed, that it has risked deflecting attention from the rest of the film. As early as 1964 (the same year Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow would be awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Film), 'New York Times' critic Bosley Crowther was suggesting that the film's first two episodes (entitled 'Adelina' and 'Anna') were merely 'pretentious items' full of 'creeping ennui', which viewers had to 'endure' rather than enjoy while waiting for the main attraction Mara - a 'wonderfully elaborated burlesque' for 'the open-minded'.

So brusque a dismissal of the film's opening two thirds hardly seems fair. For in fact, despite their dramatic differences in tone, pace and location, all three episodes are unified by their strong women and weak men, and by their focus on characters unable (for different reasons) fully to change - and as it happens, all three are, in their own ways, equally risqué.

In a working-class district of Naples, Adelina (Loren) is facing a jail sentence after failing to pay a fine for selling cigarettes on the black market, but when she discovers a legal loophole that prevents pregnant women from going to prison, it is time for her unemployed husband Carmine (Mastroianni) to 'get busy'.

As the years pass and the number of their children rises to seven, an exhausted and undernourished Carmine is no longer able to rise to his wife's procreative demands, and so, when she is locked up, the whole community pitches in to bring the pair back together. Reunited, they spend one Sunday morning lying in, before Adelina must return to selling more contraband cigarettes to support her ever-expanding family.

Unfolding with a breezy economy, this tale is a joyous celebration of (under-)class solidarity - but nonetheless there is a darker suggestion that these characters are always in a prison of their own circumstances.

"Why don't they stay home in bed, these workers?", wonders Anna (Loren) aloud. "At least on Sunday morning." This pampered wife to a Milanese industrialist drives the way she lives - with total disregard for the property and well-being of others. She picks up Renzo (Mastroianni), a journalist she met the night before, and for a while lets this 'Fiat 600' man take the wheel of her shiny, 'recently serviced' Rolls Royce, as she dreams of escaping down the freeway to a different life with him.

Still, when the car is involved in an accident, reality also comes crashing in, and everyone is returned to their former place in the social order. And so the film's centrepiece is also its most acerbic entry, with cars serving as extended metaphors for class and sex but never providing anything like genuine mobility. Loren's perfectly groomed appearance barely conceals her character's moral ugliness.

Meanwhile in Rome, it takes just one glimpse of good-time girl Mara (Loren) singing on her balcony in deshabille to put young novice Umberto (Gianni Ridolfi) off taking his Catholic vows, until she, encouraged by his manipulative grandmother (Tina Pica), takes her own vow to direct him back to the faith - all of which is too bad for Mara's randy gentleman caller Rusconi (Mastroianni) whose every priapic overture is met only with frustrating deferral. Soon Rusconi too will be converted to Mara's born-again piety, finally joining her on the bed - in prayer. It is an elegant exercise in role reversal, except that these characters, like those in the other stories, end up exactly where they started.

After all, as Rusconi himself puts it, "There's only a hair between a devil and a saint" and these three stories trace the common line that runs between an impoverished mother, an affluent socialite and a high-class whore - with aspirations to be a nun.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Tina Pica, Agostino Salvietti, Tecla Scarano, Gennaro Di Gregorio, Marcello Mastroianni, Gianni Ridolfi, Sophia Loren, Armando Trovajoli, Lino Mattera, Aldo Giuffe
  • Director: Vittorio De Sica
  • Screen Writer: Lorenza Zanuso, Isabella Quaranotti, Bella Billa, Cesare Zavattini, Eduardo De Filippo
  • Writer (Story): Eduardo De Filippo, Cesare Zavattini
  • Producer: Carlo Ponti
  • Photographer: Giuseppe Rotunno
  • Composer: Armando Trovajoli

In a nutshell

De Sica may seduce us with his breezy comedy but concealed beneath is his usual preoccupation with class, making the laughs in Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow delightfully brittle.

by Anton Bitel

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