So many great films came out of Italy in the two decades after World War II that only a handful of surnames (De Sica, Rossellini, Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni) instantly evoke the power of the age, of masterpieces of humanism that grip the heart (“Bicycle Thieves,” “La Strada”) to stunningly styled epics (“8 ½,” “L’Avventura”).
But right next to them in the 1950s and 1960s, and a direct consequence of neorealism, were the comedy all’italiana hits: satires and sex comedies that hold a broken mirror up to the mores of Italy as they collide with a newly vibrant capitalism and significant political change. Mixing the theatricality of commedia dell’arte with contemporary situations created for a hard-hitting cocktail of laughs and angst, and one of his teachers was Dino Risi (“Il Sorpasso,” “I Mostri”), perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated “Profumo di Donna” (remade as ” Women perfume”). But his 1961 film “Una Vita Difficile” (“A Hard Life”), one of his most Billy Wilder-esque films, was never released in the United States. That has now been corrected with a 4K restoration via classic specialists Rialto Pictures.
No year is too late to enjoy this sour love story—think Albert Brooks’s politics-filled “Modern Romance”—between a self-absorbed Resistance veteran played by Alberto Sordi and Lea Massari’s war love-turned-wife; the former went from fighting the fascists to protecting his ideals from corruption, the latter seeks to breathe easier in Italy’s economic miracle.
It is a battle of wills and compromises across 17 years of Italian history, unfolding in the timed exchanges that anchor Rodolfo Sonego’s narrative, the no-nonsense vitality of Risi’s stage work, and Sordi’s tough, expressive performances (of the fame of “Mafiosi” already comedy all’italiana pilar) and Massari (just out of “L’Avventura”).
His is a love forged, no in iron but by an iron, which is the one used by the Lake Como hotel worker, Elena (Massari), to kill a German soldier who is about to shoot Silvio (Sordi), a Roman journalist and guerrilla fighter. After three months sheltering as lovers in his grandparents’ old mill, Silvio rushes off unceremoniously to join his comrades, but a year later, now that the war is over, he finds himself back in the Lombardy region in a mission for his small underfunded left-wing organization. newspaper. Putting her grief aside, Elena agrees to move to Rome with her radical lover, even though her meager income hardly matches the rosy picture of city life he had painted.
What occurs is a series of joys and misfortunes, sabotage and sacrifice, that make encouraging this marriage (which produces a child) something of a wild ride, and a cunning parallel for a country reconciling its needs and desires. There is enough referenced postwar history that this restored version begins with a list of events and dates mentioned. But even without that timeline information, the social tensions that underscore everything in “Una Vita Difficile” are perfectly understandable, as in a hilarious scene where cash-poor and starving Silvio and Elena are unexpectedly invited to dinner. with nervous and eccentric aristocrats at night. Italy’s national referendum on whether to abandon the monarchy and become a republic. It’s an awkward banquet worthy of classic silent comedy.
Sordi, of course, had a youthful cup built for fun, and it pairs well with Massari’s rolled-up portrait of uxorial frustration. In the last scene, perfectly silly and serious as the conclusion to Silvio’s absurd attempt to demean himself for the sake of his family, it’s his face that you focus on when the film’s title reasserts itself. But it’s Silvio’s unfortunate cause-driven arrogance that makes this Sordi’s tour de force, maximizing Risi’s shrewd confidence that a camera fixed on talented actors will produce plenty of funny, moving and gritty life.
Cinema doesn’t suffer for applause from the great Italian stylists of the grotesque and/or grim, but we could also use more descendants of Risi’s steadfast faith in the alchemy of long shots, long shots, and close-ups in real time. stages of the world to reveal simple, enduring, and bittersweet truths about people.
‘A difficult life’
In Italian with English subtitles.
Execution time: 2 hours
Playing: Begins March 17, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Downtown Laemmle, Encino