Review: Joy and misery flavor the hilarious and bittersweet ‘Una Vita Difficile’

So many great films came out of Italy in the two decades following World War II that just a handful of surnames – De Sica, Rossellini, Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni – instantly evoke the power of the era, from masterpieces of heart-wrenching humanism (“Bicycle Thieves”, “La Strada”) to stunning style epics (“8 ½”, “L’Avventura”).

But right next to them in the ’50s and ’60s and a direct result of neorealism were those Commedia all’italiana Hits – satires and sex comedies that cast a cracked mirror on Italy’s mores as they collided with a newly vibrant capitalism and major political changes. Mixing the theatrics of comedy of the kind with contemporary situations that made for a punchy cocktail of laughter and heartbreak, and one of his maestri was Dino Risi (“Il Sorpasso,” “I Mostri”), perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated “Profumo di Donna” (remake as “Scent of a Woman”). But his 1961 film Una Vita Difficile – one of his more Billy Wilder-esque films – was never released in the US. That has now been replaced by a 4K Fixed restoration by classics specialists Rialto Pictures.

No year is too late to enjoy this vinegary love story between a selfish resistance veteran, played by Alberto Sordi, and Lea Massari’s wife, who was in love during the war. the former has gone from fighting fascists to protecting its ideals from corruption, the latter is trying to breathe easier in Italy’s economic boom.

It’s a battle of wills and compromises spanning 17 years of Italian history, played out in the sharply timed arguments, the Rodolfo Sonegos narrative, the matter-of-fact vitality of Risi’s stage work, and the punchy, tough performances of Sordi (known as “mafiosi”) anchor a Commedia all’italiana Mainstay) and Massari (fresh from “L’Avventura”).

Your love is not forged In iron, but from an iron used by Elena (Massari), a hotel worker on Lake Como, to kill a German soldier who is about to shoot Silvio (Sordi), a Roman journalist and partisan fighter. After three months as lovers in their grandparents’ old mill, Silvio fled to his comrades, but a year later – now that the war is over – he finds himself back in the region on behalf of his small, underfunded leftist Lombardy again newspaper. Putting her pain aside, Elena agrees to move to Rome with her passionate radical, even though his meager income hardly matches the rosy picture of city life he painted.

Lea Massari and Alberto Sordi in the 1961 film Una Vita Difficile.

(Rialto Pictures / Studio Channel)

What transpires is a series of joys and tragedies, sabotage and sacrifices that makes the rooting of this marriage (which produces a son) a sort of wild ride and a cunning parallel for a country balancing its needs and desires . There is enough post-war history referenced that this restored version begins with a list of events and dates mentioned. But even without this timeline information, the societal tensions that underscore everything in “Una Vita Difficile” are perfectly understandable, as in a hilarious scene where cash-poor, starving Silvio and Elena are unexpectedly invited to join nervous, oddball aristocrats in the night of Italy’s national referendum on whether to abandon the monarchy and become a republic. It’s a restless banquet worthy of a classic silent comedy.

Sordi, of course, had a boyish mug built to amuse, and it goes well with Massari’s tortuous portrait of uxorial frustration. In the final scene, utterly silly and serious as the conclusion to Silvio’s absurd attempt to humiliate himself for the sake of his family, it’s her face that you focus on as the film’s title reasserts itself. But it’s Silvio’s hapless, cause-driven arrogance that makes this Sordi’s masterpiece, maximizing Risi’s sly faith that a fixed camera will bring forth plenty of funny, poignant and dark life in gifted actors.

Cinema doesn’t suffer from calls to the great Italian stylists of the grotesque and/or sombre, but we could also use more offspring of Risi’s strong belief in the alchemy of well-timed long takes, mid-shots and close-ups in real life. world settings to reveal simple, enduring, bittersweet truths about people.

“Una Vita Difficult”

In Italian with English subtitles

Not rated

Duration: 2 hours

Play: Begins March 17, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Lämmle town center, Encino

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