18 February 2000 | Varlaam
The loves of an Italian nebbish
Dustin Hoffman plays that nebbiscio italiano. He's the sort of person who spends his evenings at home with his father watching slideshows. Of his best friend having a good time.
Dustin tends to mug a bit, but he's fine in general. You tend to forget that you're not hearing him speak Italian. That trick is pulled off easily enough; most of the "dialogue" is done in voice-over by Dustin's character. He doesn't actually have to say much more than the occasional "Pronto!" on the telephone.
Director Pietro Germi has an uncanny ability to populate his films with beautiful young women. The lovely Cosetta Greco comes to mind. Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale are just average by Germi standards -- nothing special. Here Dustin's co-star is Stefania Sandrelli, the stunning Stefania Sandrelli. Stunning by Germi standards. She's more ravishing here than she is in his earlier "Seduced and Abandoned", another farce from 1964. She makes me think a little of a Catholic Elsa Zylberstein with a cleft chin. "Stefania! Stefania!" the film could have been called.
Writer/director Germi then plays matchmaker, putting the stammering junior bank employee, Dustin, together with Stefania, the kohl-eyed Venus of hot-blooded pharmacists, creating a classic Italian sex farce.
This film does not have a good reputation, but it produced plenty of big laughs this evening at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Admittedly, it was a Pietro Germi Festival audience, many of them Italian speakers. Hardly a tough crowd. And it was the full-length original cut. The humour is very broad and could easily fail miserably on television.
The film shifts gears midway through, grinds gears really. Stefania, the angel-madonna-whore, turns out to be a "strega" as they like to say in Italian, and the film turns into a semi-serious pro-divorce romance cum drama cum political manifesto on the necessity for Italian legislative reform. And all a little unexpectedly. Do we detect some directorial autobiography intruding into the story at this point?
Tonight I was expecting something extremely bad, something along the lines of Dustin's other adventure in Italian filmmaking, "Madigan's Million" (1968), but I got something considerably better than that. The treasure hunt sequence is rather cute.
But let the viewer beware.