Tuesday, May 08, 2018

2018 Cannes Marathon: A Special Day

(Played in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival)

Directed by Ettore Scola and written by Scola and Ruggero Maccari with contributions by Maurizio Costanzo, Una giornata particolare (A Special Day) is the story of a woman and her neighbor who choose to stay home on the day Adolf Hitler arrives to Rome to meet Benito Mussolini during the era of Fascist-Italy in 1938. The film is an exploration of a period in time where a woman who is married to a Fascist-loyalist bonds with a neighbor who isn’t fond of Fascism nor Nazism as they would also see the persecution of both camps towards homosexuals and others during this period of Fascism. Starring Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Francoise Berd, and John Vernon. Una giornata particolare is a majestic and rich film from Ettore Scola.

It’s May 8, 1938 as Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler has arrived to Rome to meet with Italy’s leader Benito Mussolini in a landmark meeting that would solidify their alliance as many Italians go to the parade in Rome to greet the two men. The few who don’t attend the parade is a housewife and a journalist who lives across the same apartment building as they meet by accident and cope with their lives. It’s a film that is about these two people as it’s set entirely in this apartment building where they hear everything about the parade from the radio and what’s going on outside. The film’s screenplay by Ettore Scola and Ruggero Maccari takes place in the course of an entire day from Antonietta (Sophia Loren) helping her husband Emanuele (John Vernon) preparing for this day as he and their children would attend the parade to celebrate their leader and Hitler to the end of the parade as she would stay home to clean up their apartment and make dinner.

When her pet myna bird escapes and lands on the window still of her neighbor from across the building, Antonietta would go to the neighbor in a journalist named Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) who would help Antonietta as he also stays in his apartment due to his lack of interest in attending the parade. Yet, there’s a bigger reason why he’s not attending the parade which he doesn’t divulge as it relates to his job and who he is where he and Antonietta befriend one another during the course of the day. Even as they have different views on Mussolini and Fascism as it’s something Gabriele admittedly isn’t fond of as it relates to his situation. He’s also vilified by the building’s caretaker (Francoise Berd) who thinks that Gabriele is a subversive figure who has gotten into a lot of trouble. While Gabriele opens up about his situation and repression, Antonietta would unveil revelations about herself and her life.

Scola’s direction opens with real-life newsreel footage of Hitler’s arrival to Rome in May of 1938 as he is greeted by Mussolini as if they’re old friends. Then it shifts to the main story as Scola would use some intricate and sprawling crane shots to get a scope of the apartment building inside the exterior of the main lobby as it’s shot in a largely sepia-like photography style where the only glimpses of colors are in a few objects including the flags for Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Scola would also create some unique long from this wide crane shot into a close-up of Antonietta’s apartment as she is getting her children ready while her husband does some exercise to get ready for the day. The usage of close-ups and medium shots add to some of the theatricality and intimacy into the scenes with Antonietta and Gabriele as they’re talking throughout the film while the one sequence where they’re outside on top of the apartment rooftop to get the former’s laundry is presented in a wide shot.

Scola’s usage of long-takes in the conversations between Antoinetta and Gabriele has him establishing not just their immediate awkwardness early on but also how they would get on during the course of the day. The camera would often move at times to get a look into the space of their respective apartments as well as what it looked like in the hallways and staircases. There is also this air of sexual tension yet it is Gabriele that is resisting as he knows someone who is gay that has been taken away as it play into the concept of masculinity from the point of view of Fascism. There is also a sense of repression in Antoinetta’s role as a housewife as it all revolves around the lack of power women have in their place in Fascism other than just be supportive. Its ending is about the state of the world and what Antoinetta would have to face though there is a little bit of freedom she would have in this world of Fascism. Overall, Scola crafts a mesmerizing and haunting film about two neighbors staying home during a celebratory parade for Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis does incredible work with the film’s sepia-drenched cinematography as it gives the film a look and feel that breathes an element of nostalgia but also repression in the way it looks while the few colors that are shown are on objects including the flags. Editor Raimondo Crociani does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward to play into the drama without devolving too much into style. Production designer Luciano Ricceri does brilliant work with the look of the interiors of the apartment from the rooms that Antoinetta and Gabriele live to the staircase and hallways. Costume designer Enrico Sabbatini does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into the Fascist uniforms that many of the people wear with the exception of Antoinetta’s ragged dress and the suit that Gabriele wears. Sound mixer Franco Bassi does terrific work with the sound to capture the sound of the parade from afar as well as the sound of planes flying over the building. The film’s music by Armando Trovajoli is amazing for its bombastic and triumphant film score that is played on location as source music for the parade while the soundtrack also features elements of rumba and somber music that play into the drama.

The film’s wonderful cast feature a couple of notable small roles from John Vernon as Antoinetta’s husband Emanuele who is a fierce loyalist to the Fascist party with Marcello Prando providing dubbing on Vernon and Francoise Berd as the apartment building’s caretaker who isn’t fond of Gabriele believing him to be subversive and full of trouble. The performances of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni are phenomenal in their respective roles as Antoinetta and Gabriele. Loren provides a repressed sensuality to her performance as a woman that is just trying to maintain the household as well as having to do all of the things expected as a housewife. Mastroianni is also restrained in his performance while displaying bits of charm when he tries to teach Antoinetta how to dance the rumba. Yet, Loren and Mastroianni display a chemistry that is just intoxicating in the way they get to know each other as well as deal with their own sense of anguish as it’s a master class in acting from two of Italy’s finest.

Una giornata particolare is a tremendous film from Ettore Scola that features spectacular performances from Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Along with its gorgeous cinematography, intimate setting, and themes of repression and longing, it’s a film that explore two people dealing with what is happening outside of their apartment as well as being aware of a world that is in chaos with neither of them having a say in this oppressive world. In the end, Una giornata particolare is a sensational film from Ettore Scola.

© thevoid99 2018

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