Boccaccio ’70 is a movie made in the zeitgeist of the changing sexual mores of 1960s Italy, a Catholic country in full economic and cultural boom, and it fully reflects the contradictions and hypocrisies that came with the transformation. It’s loosely based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, a collection of tales that cover a range of sexual, political and moral issues.
The structure is one typical of the period: a film split in to four episodes, each with different stars and each directed by a different hot-shot director. This movie is a veritable showcase of Italian cinema at that time, as the directors involved were none other than Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Most anthology movies from that period had a common thread and were actually shot by the same director using different actors in the various episodes. The common link here is the Boccaccio theme: a sublime satire of its time loosely inspired by the allegorical sex tales in his Decameron opus.
Contrary to what the title suggests, the movie was made in 1962, not in 1970, with most directors and actors involved at the height at their creative powers (Sophia Loren and Federico Fellini were even fresh Oscar winners).
The first episode, Monicelli’s Renzo e Luciana, was cut from the film’s release outside of Italy, provoking a mutiny from the other three directors, who boycotted the Cannes Film Festival were it was being presented. It is a lovely affair, star-free and focusing on the vicissitudes of newlyweds, who live in a cramped flat with the rest of their family and also have to hide the fact they are married from their employers, as a clause in their contract forbids it (can you im and the performances fresh. It’s a good kickstart to the film, but sits uneasily with the star-studded cast of the rest of the movie.
Second up is The temptations of Dr Antonio, where a censor is put into turmoil by a huge billboard displaying a buxom sexy siren in a black evening gown (Anita Ekberg) advertising the goodness of milk. This is likely to have been informed by Fellini’s own experiences with censors and bible-bashers only a year or so previously, when La dolce vita had been released to widespread acclaim but also accusations of obscenity in his own country. It has a very surreal feel, which makes it perfect as a short segment, although the idea could have probably supported a full-length feature. Incidentally, this was his first movie in colour.
Next up is Visconti’s film, Il lavoro, the longest of the lot, at 53 minutes. It is beautifully shot, like all of Visconti’s output, but as part of an ensemble it slows the film down. It sits at odds with the other humour-filled and faster-paced episodes. It portrays the wealthy and shallow lives of Pupe and Count Ottavio (Romy Schneider and Thomas Milian), whose marriage was more about merging their capitals, and the reasons that keep them together.
The last episode, La riffa, sees Sophia Loren in virgin-whore mode, as a carny who auctions herself to lusty locals in various towns she visits in order to save enough to have a better life. She is sexy, humorous and towers over the whole episode. De Sica has a ball directing his star, and the segment is funny and warm-hearted. At a whopping three hours 15 minutes, this film is not for the faint-hearted – just as well that it is divided in episodes then, so you can split the viewing without taking away from the individual narratives.
Extras The DVD contains the whole film, previous versions had the episodes shortened, and outside Italy, the Monicelli-directed opening episode was omitted entirely. This social satire is a great film to have for admirers of Italian cinema, it is a compendium, a ‘best of’, that mirrors a changing society. Shame about the lack of extras, though. It comes with English subtitles.
Boccaccio ’70 is out now.