24 February 2006 | debblyst
Quintessential road-movie is simply miraculous: hilarious, moving and thought-provoking
Bruno (Gassman), pushing forty, is a no-good con artist, a "vitellone": loud, hyperactive, exhibitionist, self-centered, narcissistic, immature, confrontational, untrustworthy and...irresistible. He leads the "easy life", his talent to cause trouble is only surpassed by his talent to disentangle himself from it — not always unscathed. One mid-summer holiday (the "Ferragosto"), he meets by chance Roberto (Trintignant), a young law student in his early 20s, terribly shy, slightly bored, docile, self-effacing and inexperienced. Bruno practically drags Roberto to his convertible Lancia Aurelia and together they hit the road from Rome to Lazio and Tuscany, an initiation trip for Roberto — and when it's over, you know this movie will remain in your heart and mind forever.
"Il Sorpasso" is THE definitive combination of tragicomedy and road movie, and quite simply miraculous: how can a film be so funny AND emotional, light AND thought-provoking? I'd point out some of the reasons:
-- The fabulous script. Dino Risi (a bona-fide graduated psychiatrist, as his eye for psychological details shows) and experienced writing duo Ettore Scola/Ruggero Maccari (who had by then written about 18 scripts together!) create two of the most fascinating, three-dimensional characters in movies: Bruno's layers coming off and Roberto's self-discovery building up before our eyes. Bruno may be crass but also very smart: he outguesses all the dynamics of Roberto's country family instantly. Roberto may be the prey but a conniving one. The film excels in hilarious confrontational situations, finely drawn supporting characters (including gorgeous 17y.o. Catherine Spaak as Bruno's sensible daughter; and Luciana Angiolilo as Bruno's no- nonsense, mature ex-wife); endlessly quotable lines (including side-splitting remarks on Antonioni's "L'Eclisse" and the very spicy mating dance between Bruno and the Commendatore's wife); the underlying criticism of Italian society, which faced the last breath of the economic boom of the 1950s that ultimately deepened the gap between rich x poor, bourgeoisie x proletariat, North x South, leading to chaos in the 1970s; and, surely, the heart-stopping finale.
-- Gassman and Trintignant's performances are nothing short of magical: they know these are once-in-a-lifetime roles and they squeeze all the juice out of them. Gassman (who said Bruno was probably his favorite film performance) builds Bruno with tour-de-force physicality and boundless energy, from risky-driving, water-skiing and doing handstands to highly elaborate body work (his "choreography" as he gets out of the ladies' toilet is worth a 1,000 lines). When was a scoundrel so complex and irresistible? Contrastingly, Trintignant (at 32 but completely convincing as a young student) goes inwards, acting with practically his eyes and mouth only, and yet we can see the full blossoming of his fascination with Bruno (notice the worshiping glow in his eyes as he listens to Bruno at dusk). When was a shy man ever performed with such intelligence, sensitivity and charm? To top it all, their interplay is wondrous: when they laugh heartily at the riotous hick twist party you know these two men have really bonded!
-- Direction/cinematography: film encyclopedias affirm road movies existed long before "Il Sorpasso", but which, again? THIS is the first MODERN road movie: no back projections, no studio stuff, no dinosaur automobiles, no stunt doubles, but two stars really driving that triumph-of-design convertible Lancia Aurelia with its matchless horn sound on the real desert streets of Rome on a real Ferragosto holiday, and then on Italian roads doing real, risky "sorpassi". The film takes places in just over 24 hours and the lighting is always spot on.
-- the music: back in 1962, it was not that usual to use pop hits as a commentary for the action. But listen to the words of "Guarda Come Dondolo" (Look How I Swing) and how it perfectly matches Bruno's swinging behavior. Vianello, di Capri, Modugno...who can resist those Italian pop songs of the 60s?
In the Brazilian DVD extras, Risi recalls the idea for "Sorpasso" came when he went on a road trip with a trouble-making, hyperactive producer, who would drive to Switzerland just to buy a pack of cigarettes. The film's finale was disputed during shooting: the producer wanted a happy ending to save expenses with the last scene (you'll know why). "Il Sorpasso" finally opened to unenthusiastic critical reception and mild box-office but immediately became a word-of-mouth fever and a smash hit in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., having influenced generations of road movies world- wide, most notoriously Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" (from the title to the finale) and Wim Wenders' masterpiece "Im Lauf der Zeit" (whose protagonists were named Bruno and Robert).
Since this is a film to watch over and over again, purchase your own copy and notice the innuendos concerning Bruno and Roberto's sexual profiles. You may laugh at how sex-deprived they are: Bruno brags a lot but he doesn't score once, not even with the waitress -- he's so sex starved he attacks the Commendatore's wife, his own ex-wife and even his own daughter in a black wig; Roberto is obviously a virgin. Or, if you're in such a mood, count the numerous gay undertones: Bruno, the narcissistic 40ish mamma's boy, using the ladies' toilet without a blink; Bruno teaching aunt Lidia how to apply cat-eye make-up; Bruno and Roberto's body contact especially after the night-club fight; Bruno giving up potentially easy conquests, such as the German girls and the waitress; Bruno instantly recognizing Occhio Fino is gay; Bruno jokingly to Roberto: "Well, you know, I don't fancy men but if even if I did you're not my type"; or "When we get back to Rome I'll introduce yo to mamma and we can see each other every day" etc). It's just one more way to enjoy the richness of this brilliant comedy.
DO NOT MISS this insightful, hilarious, influential, fascinating, ageless film. "Il Sorpasso" is one of the finest character studies of all time, a legitimate masterpiece from an era when Italian cinema was the best around.