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  Marriage, Italian Style Mamma Mia!
Year: 1964
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Stars: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Aldo Puglisi, Tecla Scarano, Marilu Tolo, Vito Morriconi, Generoso Cortini, Gianni Ridolfi, Pia Lindstrom, Raffaello Rossi Bussola, Vincenza Di Capua, Vincenzo Aita, Alfio Vita, Enza Maggi, Rita Piccione
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Filumena Marturano (Sophia Loren) is taken gravely ill, the urbane Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni) rushes to be at her side. The pair have been secret lovers for the past twenty years, although the wealthy, middle class Domenico has no intention of settling down with the beautiful servant woman, and has plans to marry the young cashier (Marilu Tolo) at his bakery. Unfortunately for Domenico, Filumena is faking her illness to trick him into a long overdue marriage. Outraged at her ruse, Domenico calls on his lawyer to have their union dissolved, but then Filumena reveals she has three sons, and one of them is Domenico's.

Back at the height of the American art-houses' love affair with Italian cinema, Marriage, Italian Style ratcheted up a slew of international accolades including an array of acting trophies for the incandescent Sophia Loren. Seen today however, the film is rather one-note, an innocuous battle of the sexes, handsomely mounted but somewhat insubstantial in spite of its classy pedigree. It was one of many movies partnering Sophia Loren with Marcello Mastroianni under the guiding hand of actor-turned-neorealist auteur Vittorio De Sica, the man who made Loren a star with The Gold of Naples (1954). De Sica first worked alongside the glamorous screen couple as a co-star in the comedies Too Bad She's Bad (1954) and The Miller's Wife (1955), but it was the Oscar winning Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) that cemented this triumvirate in the hearts of the Italian public, where it endured for two decades. While some critics never forgave De Sica for seemingly abandoning his neorealist principles to make frothy romantic farces, for many moviegoers these films were the embodiment of Italian charm, cheek and intelligent wit.

Marriage, Italian Style was based on the stage play "Filumena Marturano" written by Eduardo De Filippo, which first reached the big screen in 1951 with De Filippo himself directing and playing the lead opposite his sister (?!), Titina De Filippo. Interestingly the Neapolitan audience (the story is set in Naples) were less than happy with the beautiful Loren and handsome Mastroianni "usurping" these roles from the earlier, earthy, unglamorous duo but their performances were warmly embraced throughout the rest of Italy and beyond. Much of the story is relayed through flashbacks recounting the love affair between the young Filumena and Domenico that is very much a bittersweet romance.

De Sica offers a satirical look at the sexual attitudes of Italy's upper middle classes. Domenico uses Filumena for his own gratification, but excludes her from significant episodes in his life for fear she will taint his "respectable" name. Given Domenico makes this uneducated but fiercely moral and intelligent young woman feel like a whore, it is little wonder she takes on the role for real with other men. On an allegorical level, one can see Filumena embodies the commoner and Domenico the corrupt Italian state that, metaphorically and literally, screws her until through ingenuity she manages to reap her just reward, not just for herself but for her sons as well. As a comedy, the film leans more towards wry humour laced with pathos rather than belly laughs. The scenery-chewing histrionics of the supporting cast border on caricature, with many a "Mamma Mia!", and while geared towards a vintage Italian audience, may strain the patience of contemporary viewers. Although Loren plays every emotion to the hilt, some of the film's attempts at heart-rending sentiment are undermined by the three blank planks cast as Filumena's sons.

The film is at its best whenever it concentrates on the Loren-Mastroianni team going full force at their volcanic battle of the sexes. As the epitome of suave lechery, Mastroianni miraculously retains his charm in spite of Domenico's often despicable deeds. It is a sleight of hand performance only he could have managed. Meanwhile, the Oscar nominated Sophia Loren turns in a truly spirited performance as she morphs from timid teenager to twenty-something temptress and finally fiery middle-age, all the while looking suitably glamorous. Those who caught this film at an impressionable age never quite forgot that transparent dress. "Mamma Mia!" indeed.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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