Sunday 2 August 2020

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 64. Il Sorpasso

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces and fascinating curios that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Il Sorpasso
Director - Dino Risi
Country - Italy
Year 1962
Runtime - 108 minutes

Il Sorpasso is a sublime Italian road movie about an unlikely friendship that blossoms between a liberal man, Bruno, and a conservative law student, Roberto, after a chance encounter in Rome. Bruno drives a stylish convertible and stops to ask Roberto for the use of his phone when he spies him taking in the scenery from his fourth floor apartment window. At first Roberto is reluctant to abandon his studies but Bruno convinces him to join him for a wild road trip involving drink, food, and alluring women, where they both learn a lot about themselves and each other.

Dino Risi's charming comedy takes you on an enchanting tour of Rome and the surrounding area as Bruno leads the charge with his charismatic personality that enables him to talk the pair out of almost any trouble they encounter on their journey. The stunning historic architecture of the city and the scenic vistas of the countryside roads act as a delightful backdrop which Risi exploits to its full potential, painting a magical picture of an enticing part of Italy. This vivid imagery ensures that Bruno's aimless adventure with Roberto is a journey that any audience would love to be a part of; if not for the wonderful company, then the beautiful views would surely be enough to convince you to go along for the ride.

Roberto is initially convinced to join Bruno for a short trip but as the day progresses Roberto's introverted and polite nature makes it increasingly difficult for him to conjure up an acceptable reason for parting from Bruno. Their road trip becomes more decadent as the day draws to an end and we are exposed to Roberto's inner monologue as he wonders how he became embroiled in such a madcap adventure. Bruno is of course the sole reason for this situation and Vittorio Gassman, who tackles the role of this mischievous rogue, brings an irresistible charm to the character, even when he is insulting those he meets. Jean-Louis Trintignant is suitably reserved in his role as Roberto; providing a fresh challenge for Bruno when he endeavours to bring him out of his shell, and embodying the performance with a genuine curiosity that unfurls as Roberto becomes more comfortable in Bruno's often overbearing presence.

Their contrasting personalities and outlooks on life lead to a number of fascinating conversations as the two traverse the roads of Italy, with Bruno honking his horn and overtaking every vehicle in sight. Il Sorpasso translates as either the passing or the overtaking and, whilst on the surface it can be inferred as a description of Bruno's dangerous driving, it is clearly a commentary on the boom in the post-war Italian economy in the fifties and sixties. Agriculture and tradition was making way for commerce and consumerism and Bruno embraces this change wholeheartedly despite the detrimental impact it has on certain aspects of his life.

Comparisons can be made to Frank Perry's The Swimmer, in which the titular, charismatic character embarks on a fun but frenzied journey home whilst struggling to maintain the facade that everything is fine underneath the surface. It is not clear if Bruno even has a home but as we learn more about him on his journey we understand his motivations and realise he is grappling with personal demons the only way he knows how - by pushing them to one side and indulging his inner child. This child-like, free-spirited nature can be interpreted as an attractive character trait by those who only have a brief dalliance with individuals living in such a manner. However, the cracks begin to show as Bruno's wild adventure drags on through the night and into the next day.

The swinging sixties appear to be in full force as the pair indulge in copious amounts of alcohol and hop from one location to the next in Bruno's aimless search for further distractions from a reality he would rather forget. As Roberto and Bruno visit bars, beaches, and restaurants, we are treated to a rocking, evocative, sixties soundtrack that enhances the playful nature of Bruno's cheeky interactions with the multitude of ladies he encounters. It is unsurprising that Roberto's quiet and shy nature receives just as much attention from the opposite sex; those deterred by Bruno's brashness find Roberto's presence appealing, even if he struggles to make any reciprocated feelings known.

It is not until the third part of the film that we are introduced to any female characters with more than a passing appearance, and the introduction of a mother and daughter - Gianna (Luciana Angiolillo) and Lilli (Catherine Spaak) - throws a dramatic curve ball into the scenario. Spaak is exceptional as the enchanting Lilli, with a suitor old enough to be considered her grandfather, which Bruno obviously points out, time and time again, as per his usual persistent yet playful mockery. Her vibrant and excitable personality belies a strong-willed teenager who is wise beyond her years and appears to be far more mature than Bruno. Bruno is clinging on to his youth but Lilli is embracing her adulthood, and this realisation comes as a tough notion to digest for our plucky protagonist.

Like many great comedies, there is a tragic undercurrent to Il Sorpasso that adds depth to its humour as the senseless decadence reaches a heartstopping climax. Risi has crafted a funny and dramatic time capsule of a fascinating part of Italian society during the sixties, in a film that will linger on in your memory with the passing of time, even if the era it depicts will now be just a distant recollection for anyone who would have experienced it first hand. This is an accomplished piece of art that showcases the wit and acute cultural awareness of Risi and is a fitting testament to his exemplary contribution to the world of cinema.

If you take the time to watch Il Sorpasso then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

No comments:

Post a Comment