By Don Simpson | May 8, 2011
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Writers: Eduardo De Filippo, Isabella Quarantotti, Cesare Zavattini, Billa Billa
Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni
Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni were brimming with sex appeal when they enlisted to work with maestro director Vittorio De Sica on Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. De Sica, who is better known for making seminal neorealist dramas (The Bicycle Thief), opted to make three comedy-farce vignettes with Loren and Mastroianni; and it paid off, as Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film beating out Jacques Demy’s far superior The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert and Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders are two notable exclusions from the Oscar nominees that year).
It is important to note that the three vignettes “Adelina”, “Anna” and “Mara” — all named after Loren’s respective characters — are completely separate entities, save for the facts that they are set in Italy, co-star Loren and Mastroianni, feature a masterful use of color by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno and herald beautiful musical scores by Armando Trovajoli.
Adelina (Sophia Loren) illegally sells cigarettes on a Naples sidewalk in order to support her family. She has been fined 28,000 lire for the infraction but does not have the funds to pay the fine. We begin “Adelina” as the authorities arrive at Adelina and Carmine’s (Marcello Mastroianni) house to impound their furniture; however there is no furniture to be impounded — the neighbors pitched in and hid the furniture before the authorities arrived. Of course this was just a short term solution because now Adelina faces a court trial and imprisonment; but Adelina and Carmine are not educated enough to figure that out for themselves.
Lawyer Verace (Agostino Salvietti) finds a legal loophole — Adelina is pregnant. (“She’s expecting, she’s expecting, she’s expecting, cha cha cha!”) The authorities cannot arrest Adelina until three months after she gives birth; but if she becomes pregnant again (and again!) within those three months, Adelina’s prison sentence will be postponed again (and again!). The question is: how long can Adelina and Carmine maintain this pace of impregnation.
Both actors are usually quite graceful and stunning; yet, in “Adelina”, Loren’s performance is amazingly gritty and vulgar while Mastroianni is ruffled and haggard. Their performances alone make “Adelina” a fairly unique production. The plot, however, is a single joke that is stretched out far too long; but at least De Sica had the sense to not elongate this story into a feature length production.
Based on a short story by Alberto Moravia, “Anna” takes place almost solely inside Anna’s (Sophia Loren) Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce. The bourgeois wife of a manufacturer picks up her newest lover (Marcello Mastroianni) alongside a road in Milan. Together, they go for a drive, watching the colorful countryside near Milan fly by. After bumping a few bumpers, Anna hands the controls over to her lover — but he has only ever driven a Fiat! They have an accident that renders the Rolls utterly undrivable; Anna hops in the car of the next bourgeois man (Armando Trovajoli) who drives down the pike, leaving her ex-lover on the country roadside to contemplate his actions.
Loren and Mastroianni’s characters a cleverly juxtaposed by De Sica with their characters in the first vignette. These are the sophisticated and sexy characters we are used to seeing Loren and Mastroianni portray; and “Anna” is photographed out in the “real world”, which is more typical of De Sica’s neorealist aesthetic. The construction of the driving scene is an interesting experiment — but thankfully “Anna” is the shortest of the three vignettes, because the single narrative trope gets old rather quickly.
The third vignette, “Mara”, pits religion and sex against each other. Mara (Sophia Loren) is a Roman courtesan who strikes up an innocent conversation with an angelic Catholic priest-in-training, Umberto (Giovanni Ridolfi), while standing on their neighboring terraces overlooking the Piazza Navone. Mara’s stunning beauty convinces Umberto to abandon his higher calling; while Umberto has a more pietistic affect on Mara (after she performs one last loin-tingling strip-tease for a client). Umberto’s grandmother (Tina Pica) is devastated that Mara’s feminine wiles have lured Umberto away from his higher-calling; while Mara’s boisterous client from Bologna, Rusconi (Marcello Mastroianni), is distraught that Mara has made a one week vow of abstinence to coincide with his visit.
“Mara” serves two purposes — to showcase Loren in seductive lingerie and allow Mastroianni to be a total goofball. Otherwise, the plot is, once again, over-reliant on one simple narrative trope that gets played out a few minutes too long.
What Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow does well is provide the audience with women-centered stories in which Loren’s character always maintains complete control of the action. Sex is directly utilized as a tool for Adelina and Mara’s power — and it could be argued that it is indirectly being used as a tool for power by Anna as well — while Mastroianni’s characters are all weakened, if not hammered into submission, by Loren’s feminine wiles.
Lorber Films recently released stunning new HD transfers of three Sophia Loren films (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow [packaged with the documentary Vittorio D.], Marriage Italian Style, and Sunflower) on Blu-ray. The films are also available on DVD as a special Sophia Loren Award Collection four-disc set. Each disc comes with special features, including trailers and stills galleries. Stay tuned to Smells Like Screen Spirit for our upcoming reviews of Marriage Italian Style and Sunflower.