We are now in the 80′s and the pop duo Wham! synthesize the cultural depth of the times with the lyrics of their songs: “Yeah yeah yeah, ala la la la, yeah, yeah, yeah yeayeaaah” (The Edge of Heaven, 1986, Epic Records). A Polish pope blesses the perfect union of the typical middle class conservative household: Maggie and Ronnie, few ideas, but clear, carved into the rock. We are long past the years of power to the imagination, but at that moment this duo represents what it takes to straighten the capitalist economy polluted by communist ideology. Just to warm up her hands, Maggie trims a couple of slaps to the unwary, high booted gauchos; then she aims the Trade Unions, that are annihilated, destroyed. At that point they both turn to east and decide that the time for the reds has come. Unbelievable but true, under their blows the walls come stumbling down with unexpected ease. Supreme twist of fate, the contribution of the Polish Trade Unions as well as the aid of Mr. Gorby are fundamental. The latter, as children do, throws a ball against the glass to see what happens and assists instead, aghast, to the collapse of the whole building. In those years, Madonna is no longer The Madonna, the status symbols are no longer just for the happy few: “Swatch, the others just watch”, the Yuppies take the place of Che Guevara in the imagination of teen-agers and westerners discover an insane passion for fictions with serial killers as protagonists. But a far more dangerous serial killer than Annibal Lechter appears, and this puts forever an end to the sexual freedom discovered in the 70s.
The unexpected victory at the 1982 Football World Cup in Spain by the Italian national team, with many players previously involved in a match-fixing scandal and lacking international experience, marks the comeback of Italy. The national anthem gives the charge and, on the wave of enthusiasm, Italy experiences a decade of powerful economic growth, perhaps comparable to the 60s. Terrorism gives the last stroke of tail, but the communist ideology is no longer the poison that had done so much damage in the ’70s. Now it’s time for the affirmation of the great Italian stylists in the world: Armani “dresses” Richard Gere in American Gigolo and thus began his inexorable rise, Moschino, Valentino, Versace and many others are following in the wake; the lasts to assert themselves in the world are Dolce & Gabbana, with the complicity of Madonna.
With its wealth rising again and the tragedies of the ’70s left behind, the Italian bourgeoisie is again caught focusing on herself and navel gazing. So Alberto Sordi is the protagonist, along with exceptional Monica Vitti, of the movie “I so che tu sai che io so” (“I know that you know that I know, 1982), a typical comedy of errors where the protagonist, a Roman middle-class family man, gets his hands, almost by accident, on a video where his wife has been filmed for 24 hours a day for over a month. To shoot this movie is a private detective, following a mistaken identity. Realizing the error, the detective tracks down the husband of the woman – Alberto Sordi, in fact – and proposes him the sale of the movie for a reasonable sum. At first the protagonist does not intend to accept because he thinks his wife has nothing to hide, but then, intrigued by the hints of the private detective, he buys it and takes it to his country house, where he began to watch it during the weekends and evenings, in installments, as if it was a television series. Unfortunately, he discovers a different reality than he imagined: his wife has been unfaithful, but only after she discovered that he had a mistress. So this is a kind of “betrayal of vengeance” and, in fact, immediately after the betrayal, directly in front of the camera that has been hidden in the alcove, she repents as she has realized that she loves her husband. The protagonist also discovers that his wife met with his lover –yes, he had a lover- but she has never told him anything. Then, as he continues to watch the footage, he discovers even tougher facts: his daughter is a drug addict, and he has a cancer. This discovery is a tremendous shock, and so the protagonist, convinced that he only has little time to live, reviews all his life and, under such dramatic circumstances, he admits his mistakes, especially the “lack of affection” for his daughter and his wife, which has caused the problems he is now facing. But then he discovers that the medical record is not his but that of another: his health, in fact, is excellent and his daughter, with the support of her parents, manages to come out of her drugs’ addiction. But life is an eternal return: when the emergency is over everything again is as before: the last scene shows the protagonist who is more interested in a football match on TV than to his wife that wants to make love with him.
The character of a father “lacking affection” is even more pronounced in the movie “In viaggio con papà” (A Journey with dad, 1982), a movie that represents the ideal passing of the baton between Alberto Sordi and Charles Verdon (Carlo Verdone in Italian), his heir-apparent in the role of the Roman King of Comedy. The two characters in the film, father and son, are the extremes: so distant, insensitive and breezy the former, so sensitive, clumsy and awkward the latter. This journey along the road of holidays, unwanted by the father, becomes, after quarrels and misunderstandings, a way to reconcile the father to his son, but without a real change to the father’s selfish and hedonistic nature .
“Il Marchese del Grillo” (The Marquis del Grillo, 1981) represents the culmination of the art of Alberto Sordi, as well as the essence of the Roman character and, perhaps, of the Italian character. The movie is a period drama set in papal Rome of ‘ 800. The actor plays two characters: the cynical Marchese del Grillo, rich and powerful noble guard of Pope Pius VII and the coal man Gasperino, his double: simple minded, poor, drunkard. As if to say, the opposite souls of the Roman people. The Marquis, in line with the “pasquinate” (lampoons) of the Roman tradition, spends his time making bad and insolent jokes, sparing none, not even the pope. He decides to replace himself on several social and family occasions with the simple and vulgar Gasperino, and his double, with his behavior and his vulgar language, will seriously embarrass the Marquis’ family and friends, that are unaware of the swap. His relatives and friends will be so embarrassed and surprised to see the Marquis (but in fact it’s his double), usually impeccable, burping and farting in family and social meetings. So they decide to take him (his double) to exorcise, thinking he is possessed. But the jokes of the Marquis, at times, also have a lofty target. In an episode of the movie the Marquis denies the payment to a Jew carpenter. “Why?” asks Aaron Piperno, the carpenter. “You’re not satisfied with my work?“. “No,” replies the Marquis, ” The work is excellent.” “So why don’t you want to pay me?” insists the cabinetmaker. “It’s just that I don’t want to, that’s it. Do you wanna know the procedure?” asks the Marquis, “Yes” replies the carpenter. “Here’s how: I do not flow out the money and so you don’t catch it. Got it? Now go away” (click here to view the complete scene). Then follows the process, and although he was dead wrong, Marchese del Grillo wins the case by bribing judges. At that point he confesses everything to the Pope, who decides to arrest him, but the protagonist makes a list of all the persons who have been corrupted by him to win the trial against the carpenter and, basically, it’s all the main personalities of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. “So,” says the Marquis to the Pope, “you can arrest me, that would be the right thing to do, but I should be arrested along with all the others who were bribed to let me win the trial.” Facing the choice to jail an endless list of top notables of his court or not arrest anyone, the Pope is given little choice other than to “forgive” the Marquis. After demonstrating in this way the injustice of the papal court, the Marquis will compensate the craftsman. In short, little or nothing has changed in Italy since then.
We close this survey of 40 years of Italian history through the movies of Alberto Sordi citing a movie which, perhaps more than any other, summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of the Italians. The title is “La Grande Guerra” by Mario Monicelli, 1959. The two actors, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi, are two stragglers, soldiers “by chance” in the war of 14-18, and, after having tried in any possible way to avoid the military service, they find themselves at the front. They are certainly not two brave soldiers and they are completely lacking any sense of duty. They are thinking of every possible trick and excuse to avoid dangerous situations. At the end of the film they are caught by the Austrian troops in the countryside, in an attempt to escape from the battle, on the eve of the attack of the Italian army across the river Piave, which will lead to the Italian victory in the war against the Austro-Hungarians. They know how the Italian troops will move, but their intent is not to join the battle. Instead, they are captured by the Austrians who think that the two are Italian spies. At this point, the Austrian officer who captured them tells them that they won’t be shot dead if they tell him everything they know about the movements of the Italian troops. The two, just to save their lives, are willing to accept the offer at first. But then, the Austrian officer begins to treat them with contempt, because, he says, they lack courage as every Italian. But… we should bring all the dialogue of this memorable scene (click here to view the scene of the movie):
Austrian officer: “If you do not tell us where the bridge of boats is you’ll be immediately shot dead. If you give me this information, instead, you’ll be released. Show me on the map where the bridge is.“
Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman think about it and then they say: “Ok, we decided that we’re going to tell you.”
The Austrian officer takes the map in his hands, then he says to his subordinate: “I was wrong, I believed they would have been more brave (in Italian he says “avere fegato”, “To have liver” literally, which in Italian is an idiomatic expression that means “To be brave”) especially the tall one … but I see they only know the Venetian liver with onion … “.
Vittorio Gassman, the tall one, is shaken and so he asks to the Austrian “Why do you talk like that? …. as you’re saying so I’m not going to tell you anything … Do you understand? Shithead!”
The Austrian officer orders his soldiers to shoot him immediately. Alberto Sordi sees from the window the Austrian soldiers shooting his friend.
Then the hero, turning to the officer: “You mad? So you kill people? ”
The officer “And so?”
Alberto Sordi, “What? I know nothing ”
The officer yelled, “So?”
Alberto Sordi: “So what? Why do you think I know? I do not know anything … I do not know anything. Mr. Captain, I do not know anything … we soldiers dunno anything. ”
The Austrian soldiers take him away to be shot, while he keeps repeating “I dunno nothing, I dunno nothing.” But actually he knows the information that the enemy wants to know.
A moment before being killed, in front of the firing squad, he still cries: “I do not know anything, if I knew I would tell you, I’m a coward.” Bang! Bang!
This is what we are, in a way: exceptional under exceptional circumstances, too often below average in the day to day life. But in fact we also “market ourselves”, the Italians, not as well as other people do. The end.
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