BOCCACCIO ’70—-literary history owes much to 14th-Century Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), notably for his bawdy short stories of “The Decameron.” In 1962, four big wheels of the Italian film industry offered a quartet omnibus of Sex & the Sexes tales, tweaking the subject’s hypocrisy component. The rather precious title suggests the hopefully more advanced attitudes that ought to lie in the future, then eight years down the cleavage gap. Thirteen contributors (Italo Calvino among them) pitched in on the screenplay/s for the segments, and three composers (including Nino Rota) added their efforts. Originally running 208 minutes, for international markets the opening segment was dropped, bringing it down to 150.
Restored, the first piece, ‘Renzo e Luciana‘ (‘Renzo & Luciana’) was directed by Mario Monicelli (Big Deal On Madonna Street), deals a slow 43 minutes and stars Marisa Gominas and Germano Gilioli as newlyweds burdened by work (they’ll lose their jobs if their marriage is revealed), living conditions (cramped in with family), debt and probable too-early pregnancy. The real-life complications are more bittersweet than funny; Gominas is fetching, and the finale is touching. Best part is a scene at a city municipal swimming pool, crowded with what looks like a couple thousand people. It made sense to drop this first episode, because it lacked a known star and is too slow-paced and ‘everyday’ to launch a three+ hour night out at the movies.
#2 is Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio (‘Temptations Of Dr. Antonio’), 53 minutes of satire-as-fantasy directed by Federico Fellini. Per Fellini, it’s the wackiest segment, with guarding Rome’s supposed purity (a joke to start with) the self-appointed mission of a zealot prude (Peppino De Felippo) who goes off the deep end when a giant poster of Anita Ekberg is erected in a park across from his apartment. Ekberg’s bod-flaunting poster advertises milk, none too discreetly. When he loses it completely, the poster girl comes to life—as a giantess—and literally boobs him into submission. Ekberg plays along with her image, and Fellini worshipers will enjoy the director’s selection of faces and parade of images. It makes its point, and then goes on too long with it.
The third entry has a good deal of subtle humor, but that turns effectively painful at the finish of its 53 minutes, as directed by Luchino Visconti. Il Lavoro (‘The Job’) takes place on one evening in a few rooms of a mansion, with lawyers (led by Romolo Valli) advising an aristocrat cad husband (Tomas Milian) that his tom-catting with call girls has been discovered by his convenience-married wife (Romy Schneider), who turns the tables on him with an offer for conjugal service. The decadent lifestyle is conveyed adroitly, and Schneider is excellent, and rapturous in some stunning close-ups. The decidedly more serious tone, and especially its conclusion, make for a good tonal bridge between the preceding segment’s grotesque absurdity and the downscale titillation comedy of the concluding episode.
Finally, La Riffa (‘The Raffle’) brings out the biggest star, Sophia Loren, directed by Vittorio de Sica, the guide who brought out her best work as an actress. Though this 47-minute romp isn’t in the class of his previous collaboration with Loren (her Oscar-winning dramatics in Two Women) or their later triumphs Marriage Italian Style, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow and Sunflower, it still registers, thanks to the earthy sincerity of the star. She plays the draw-card attraction for a carny booth trio. She suffers endless ogling from horny customers and allows herself to be ‘auctioned’ for a night with a lucky lottery winner (male, natch) in order to take care of her sister and save them from debt. Naturally, a virgin bumpkin (also a nice guy) wins the lottery, which provokes the attractive fella Sophia really cares for. As in her other De Sica films, her sensational physical appearance works to winning effect because she’s such an expressive, natural actress, especially in her native language (as was the similarly sex-bomb pigeonholed Brigitte Bardot). She ends the movie on a sweet note.
Though hardly prime work from the directors, the movie holds interest through the time capsule visuals, and of course the beautiful and compelling actresses. Yet there’s more than meets the eye (plenty as it is) in the social commentary subtext present in all the episodes, where every male character seeks to exploit or dominate the women in one way or another. Yet in each instance it’s the women who wield the power, not with obvious sexual allure, but with wit, wisdom, practicality and heart.