Oggi, Oggi, Oggi

By Rosy Rockets

yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-vittorio-de-sica-3.jpgYesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1963 

In the early sixties, sex as a marketing device in film publicity provoked increasing censorship, but Vittoria de Sica’s Ieri, Oggi, Domaini reached us bold and unbowdlerised. At that time, the film industry relied on explicit sexual imagery to reap at the box office, and the popularity of European imports in the UK and US after WWII grew largely from their candid depiction of sexuality. But the appeal of Ieri, Oggi, Domaini is fifty percent what it’s got and fifty percent what people think it’s got. In 1963, following his worthier, more unpolished Neo-Realistic works, De Sica presented us with three juicy orange segments for our half-time refreshment. A showcase for the rib-tickling superstars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, each piece resembles a schoolyard charade – a series of costumes, roles and bright imagined settings. A mother tucks her babies into beds with all the brisk, over-simplified efficiency of a little child playing with dolls. A bored trophy wife flirts and daydreams. A sanitised siren teases and shouts at the moon.

Loren bears Mastroianni through the three courses with her rich, simple sauce, allowing him to carry the more meaty and complex portrayal of conflicted Italian masculinity - the Latin Lover. This stereotypical Italian couple represented the international commodification of Italy as much as Renée and Renato and Vesta ersatz risotto would do twenty years later. The contradiction of Mastroianni is that he has always been sold as an Italian hunk, whilst portraying the cuckold, the Mister Muscle, the inetto. La Dolce Vita arrived in England at the same time as the Cornetto, and both fed the Western greed for Italian fashion and sensuality. Mastroianni’s characters in Ieri, Oggi, Domaini illustrate perfectly the dichotomy of what women want – a man who can maintain an air of inscrutable romance and sullen sexuality whilst staying indoors with his slippers on, awaiting orders from his female captor. In contemporary Western society, the popular media portrayal of male as schlemiel is a violent and hypocritical reaction to misogyny.

yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-vittorio-de-sica-4.jpgYesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1963 

Mastroianni’s Carmine, Renzo and Augusto may be patsies but they are equal counterparts to Loren’s unruly women. The consistent impression is one of balance – here, man and woman not only rely upon but dote upon one another in their sunny utopia.

The colour and vivacity of Ieri are the perfect antidotes to the current cold climate. The exposition of this first story is conveyed through the lively banter of the chirpy Forcella villagers. It was raining in the real Forcella earlier this week, but if you watch the film you would never believe it. You don’t have to have visited Italy to become drunk with nostalgia for Vittorio De Sica’s Italy in this first section of the film. Its potent charm begets false memories, not just impressions of smell and colour. In De Sica’s Forcella, you can usher your tottering kiddies out onto the street for a lolly without worrying about stranger danger. People sing from their window seats. The police shoot winks, not bullets. Fancy pancia Adelina and her lover Carmine are dodgy cigarette hawkers who seek to avoid incarceration through a clause in Italian law which excuses pregnant women from jail. Adelina is nine months gone and yet skips down the street without breaking a sweat. It’s her partner, Carmine, who is swooning and groaning to the strains of Core Ngrato - “Ungrateful heart, you have taken my life”. He can’t keep Adelina up the stick forever, and in due course she is faced with four whole months in a colourful Bakelite jail whose cells resemble the dorm rooms from Grease. Adelina is greeted there by rosy, ballsy women named Earthquake, Fragulella and Big Tits, who look more likely to instigate a pillow fight than a riot. It’s not long before the story ends with Adelina’s Capra-esque release, facilitated by generous bail donations from the villagers, whores and even policemen of Forcella. There is a pardon from the President and a heroine’s welcome. It’s a bold poke at the Catholic Church's birth control policies and a sunny-delightful depiction of the resulting high birth rates and poverty of Naples.

yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-vittorio-de-sica.jpgYesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1963 

The hyper-real sentimentality of Ieri then gives way to the drifting, whimsical immediacy of Oggi. This is a fleeting day-trip for a philandering trophy wife who is accustomed to measuring her life with social engagements. Where Adelina was financially deprived, Anna is socially undernourished. Her self-interest shows most in her bemoaning of her self-interest. The schmuck of the piece is Renzo, hemmed in by middle class and yet kindred to his predecessor Carmine in that he is at once yearning for Anna and yet self sufficient and able to laugh at his own folly. As Anna daydreams and speaks of exotic escapes, their car momentarily keeps pace with a dowdy old woman strapped into the back of a truck Granny Clampett style, who regards them dispassionately as they zoom on their way. Is this the mother-in-law from Ieri, or just a counterpoint to Anna’s giddy youth? Renzo prangs his car during a reverie and Anna flags down a chap in a sports car who compares Renzo’s inept handling of the vehicle to “the divine comedy in illiterate hands”. The vapid jazz score underpins this idle, flighty midsection and Anna’s self confessed “big emptiness” perfectly.

yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-vittorio-de-sica-2.jpgYesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1963 

Domani brings Mastroianni’s evolution from surly, wry cuckold to an Italian Dick Van Dyke, full of all the pep, vim and spunk his previous incarnations lacked. “Use and discard them,” he remarks to his best callgirl Mara, waving a paper hanky into centre stage as a handy-andy metaphor for misandry, “they’re very practical”. Mara lives in a terrace apartment which overlooks the Piazza Navona in Rome. This Piazza is built on the grounds of an ancient Roman circus, “Circus Agonalis”, and then named for the agones (games) that took place there. In Mara’s diminutive terrace she plays her own kittenish games with Augusto and also Umberto, the simple twink priest next door. The innocent relationship between Mara and Umberto is not so straightforward as a young man’s crush on an older woman. It is a plain, unassuming man-child’s infatuation with an avatar of glamour and abandon. Umberto’s guileless, sexless advances draw Mara like a fading star to a gay young fan. Faced with her admirer’s aggressively disapproving grandmother, Mara clutches and shakes her hapless pussy, appearing not to register its panicked thrashing and biting as the catalytic showdown brings her back to reality. Mara’s story ties up the triptych with a peacekeeping parting, offering redemption in the eyes of the Catholic censors to both viewer and heroine. The lyrics of Core Ngrato, which were introduced in the first segment, become all the more apt here – the suffering lover goes to his priest to confess his love stricken agonies, and the priest urges him to quit the object of his affliction.

The lovers of Ieri, Oggi, Domaini show us how to find joy in being full bellied, empty-headed and forgiving. The film offers tasty escape to those seeking relief from chill poverty of all kinds – its picturebook will suit even those who can’t be bothered to read subtitles. Even your sister could follow the stories, and if you don’t have a sister, she’s lucky.

Rosy Rockets is a freelance journalist based in Cambridge.