Special Day, A (1977)
Director: Ettore Scola
Cast: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon
Plot: Two neighbors, a persecuted journalist and a resigned housewife, meet during Hitler's visit in Italy in 1938.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes). Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Foreign Language Feature, Best Leading Actor.
Rating: NC16 for some mature content.
International Sales: Tamasa Distribution
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“Order is the virtue of the mediocrity.”
One of Italy's greatest actors meets one of Italy's greatest actresses in this popular 1977 Italian drama that made headway at the Oscars, earning two nominations. Directed by festival circuit mainstay Ettore Scola (Le Bal, 1983; The Family, 1987), who is probably most famous for A Special Day, the film is beautifully composed, shot with a sepia-tone cinematography.
The superb digital restoration of this classic gives the film an added sense of nostalgia. Meant to be a throwback to the Nazi era of the late 1930s when released in the late 1970s, A Special Day can now be enjoyed by a new generation of moviegoers, who would see the film as one made nearly forty years ago, about events happening another forty years ago.
Scola’s work centers on a resigned housewife (Sophia Loren) living in an apartment block. She has many kids, and a husband who thinks she’s a maid. A parrot keeps her company, but flies off to the opposite block when she accidentally lets it loose. A man (Marcelo Mastroianni) living opposite her comes into the picture. He’s a disgraced radio journalist whose anti-fascist ideals and homosexual tendencies cause him to be persecuted.
Developed in a way that follows the trajectory of a quiet affair-esque drama, the film sees the man and housewife visit each other’s apartment longing for a change in daily routine, and maybe more. All this set in the wider, disquieting context of the historic first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini.
At the start of A Special Day, a five-minute long black-and-white newsreel of the famous meeting is shown. People lined up the streets, the army marched into town squares, and Hitler greets important officials and the crowd. Then the fictional plot begins in earnest in the same morning.
Shot entirely within the vicinity of the apartment blocks, slightly Rear Window-esque in approach, the film gives us a dizzying array of angles that orientate us to the environment. Scola also skillfully weaves in a running diegetic radio commentary broadcasting the historic meeting as the hours passed.
Loren and Mastroianni's performances are from the top drawer, riveting to watch, but overall the film is slightly let down by its pacing. Sometimes, the radio broadcast also feels more droning than informative. Still, this classic remains in the hearts of many who see it – its memorable epilogue closes the film beautifully if mournfully.
Verdict: Beautifully composed with sepia-tone cinematography, this quiet affair-esque drama is set in the wider, disquieting context of the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini, drawing top performances from Sophia Loren and Marcelo Mastroianni.
GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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