Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review - Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

November 8, 2012

Review – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow – Italy, 1963

Vittorio De Sica’s 1963 film Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is a film about priorities, and through its three stories, it presents viewers with a glimpse of the changing priorities of three women from three generations. It will not say that these women are representative of their generation, but I will say that through these women, we see the possible effects of desperation, economic prosperity, and sexual liberation. The film is told in three acts, each one given the name of its female protagonist. That each lead female character is played by Sophia Loren is virtual guarantee of a great performance, and having Marcello Mastroianni in the role of the leading men is an added bonus. However, I must confess that something about the film is off.

“Adelina,” the film’s opening number (I call it that because I honestly expected them to break out into song), is a somewhat humorous bit about a woman trying to avoid a short prison term by continually getting pregnant. The segment’s dramatic moment comes when her husband, for the first time in seven years, can’t produce a child and she is forced to consider whether to have a one-night stand. The second segment, “Anna,” is a surprisingly short piece about a woman who married rich and is tempted to run off with a man who has shown her everything that is lacking in her life. The only downside is that she’d have to live a much more desolate life if she chose him, and like most people in her situation, she’s gotten use to a particular lifestyle. The film’s final story, entitled “Mara,” involves a high-class prostitute who just happens to come to the attention of a young man about to begin his training to be a priest. That was the plan at least, for one look at Loren is all it takes to change his mind. It is therefore up to Mara to set him back on the right path.

In each of these stories, Mastroianni plays the man in Loren’s life, first her husband, then the man who tempts her, and finally, one of her customers. What is amazing about Mastroianni’s performance is that each character has its own distinct personality and is quite memorable. Of these three characters, the somewhat suffering Carmelo, the kind writer Renzo, and the over-the-top, head-over-heels-in-love Giorgio, I enjoyed his portrayal of Renzo the most, for he seemed the most real to me. Here is a decent man who allows himself to believe, just for a moment, that a woman of means just might choose him over a life of luxury. The moment he realizes the truth is, in my opinion, the best one in the film, and I found myself wishing this segment had been longer.

The same cannot be said for the first segment, which drags on and on with the same gag repeated again and again – the police van pulls up to arrest Adelina, who then brandishes a note from the doctor explaining that she’s pregnant yet again. I didn’t find the gag funny the first time I saw it, and I certainly didn’t laugh the fifth or sixth time it was used. And when it was finally revealed just what Adelina is having children to avoid, it hardly seemed worth seven childbirths and a life of worry and poverty.

The film is perhaps best known for Loren’s striptease in the film’s final moments. The scene apparently made such an impression on Robert Altman that he chose to re-enact it in his 1994 film Ready to Wear. The problem is that the scene is slightly emblematic of the film as a whole, for I cannot help but feel that the film itself is a bit of a tease. It seems more like a long series of silly charades, false starts, and letdowns that ultimately have nowhere to go. In addition, its humor is absurdist rather than realistic, and any collective moral that exists is drowned out by the manic nature of its first and third stories. When it was over, I felt more relieved than amazed.

The film reminded me of Fernando Trueba’s likeable but ultimately forgettable Oscar-winner Belle Epoque. That film has many of the same quirks that Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow has, from its brief musical interlude, to its zany characters, and rather silly, uplifting finale. The film presented Spain as this glorious countryside ripe with beautiful women and wise older men. In short, it was exactly the kind of film that an Oscar voter would enjoy whiling away an afternoon watching, and this appears to be what happened.  The same year De Sica’s film picked up the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, it was in competition with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes, an excellent film that I can’t see too many Oscar voters getting excited about the prospect of sitting through.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is well-acted, and as an acting showcase for Loren and Mastroianni, it succeeds quite well. However, it is hardly a memorable film. Well, maybe it is memorable, but for the wrong reasons. I imagine it was risqué for its time, but as time has passed, it seems to have lost whatever power it had to amuse and amaze. In the end, it’s a noble effort, but a tease nonetheless, a series of gags and insinuations with nothing much behind them. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

2 and a half stars

*Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is in Italian with English subtitles.  

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