‘Una Vita Difficile’ evaluate: This marriage is one wild experience

So many nice films got here out of Italy within the twenty years after World War II that only a handful of final names — De Sica, Rossellini, Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni — immediately conjure the period’s may, from masterworks of heart-clutching humanism (“Bicycle Thieves,” “La Strada”) to dazzling type epics (“8 ½,” “L’Avventura”).

But proper alongside them within the ‘50s and ‘60s, and a direct outgrowth of neorealism, were the commedia all’italiana hits — satires and intercourse comedies pointing a cracked mirror at Italy’s mores as they clashed with a newly vibrant capitalism and vital political change. Mixing the theatricality of commedia dell’arte with up to date conditions made for a punchy cocktail of snickers and heartbreak, and one in all its maestri was Dino Risi (“Il Sorpasso,” “I Mostri”), maybe greatest identified for his Oscar-nominated “Profumo di Donna” (remade as “Scent of a Woman”). But his 1961 movie “Una Vita Difficile” (“A Difficult Life”) — one in all his extra Billy Wilder-esque movies — by no means received a U.S. launch. That’s now been rectified with a 4K restoration by classics specialists Rialto Pictures.

No yr is simply too late to get pleasure from this vinegary love story — suppose Albert Brooks’ “Modern Romance” shot by with politics — between a self-absorbed Resistance veteran performed by Alberto Sordi and Lea Massari’s wartime amore turned spouse; the previous having moved from combating fascists to guarding his beliefs from corruption, the latter seeking to breathe extra simply in Italy’s financial miracle.

It’s a battle of wills and compromises throughout 17 years of Italian historical past, performed out within the sharply timed exchanges anchoring Rodolfo Sonego’s narrative, the no-nonsense vitality of Risi’s scenework and the expressive, robust performances of Sordi (of “Mafiosi” fame, and a commedia all’italiana mainstay) and Massari (recent from “L’Avventura”).

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Theirs is a love cast not in iron, however by an iron, which is what Lake Como lodge employee Elena (Massari) makes use of to kill a German soldier about to shoot Silvio (Sordi), a Roman journalist and partisan fighter. After three months sheltering as lovers in her grandparents’ previous mill, Silvio unceremoniously bolts to rejoin his comrades, however a yr later — with the warfare now over — he finds himself again within the Lombardy area on project for his small, underfunded left-wing newspaper. Setting apart her harm, Elena agrees to maneuver to Rome along with her passionate radical, though his meager revenue hardly squares with the rosy image of metropolis life he’d painted.

Lea Massari and Alberto Sordi within the 1961 film “Una Vita Difficile.”

(Rialto Pictures / Studiocanal)

What transpires is a sequence of joys and misfortunes, sabotages and sacrifices, that makes rooting for this marriage (which produces a son) one thing of a wild experience, and a sly parallel for a rustic reconciling its wants and wishes. There’s sufficient referenced postwar historical past that this restored model begins with an inventory of talked about occasions and dates. But even with out that timeline data, the societal tensions underscoring every thing in “Una Vita Difficile” are completely graspable, as in a hilarious scene during which cash-poor, ravenous Silvio and Elena get unexpectedly invited to dine with nervous, oddball aristocrats on the night time of Italy’s nationwide referendum on whether or not to ditch the monarchy and develop into a republic. It’s an uneasy banquet worthy of traditional silent comedy.

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Sordi, in fact, had a boyish mug constructed to amuse, and it’s paired effectively with Massari’s coiled portrait of uxorial frustration. In the final scene, completely foolish and severe as a conclusion to Silvio’s farcical try and degrade himself for his household’s sake, it’s her face you zero in on because the film’s title reasserts itself. But it’s Silvio’s hapless, cause-driven conceitedness that cinches this as Sordi’s tour de drive, maximizing Risi’s canny belief {that a} fastened digicam on gifted actors will yield loads of humorous, poignant, gritty life.

Cinema doesn’t endure for shoutouts to the nice Italian stylists of the grotesque and/or bleak, however we may additionally use extra descendants of Risi’s sturdy religion within the alchemy of well-timed lengthy pictures, center pictures and close-ups in real-world settings to disclose easy, lasting, bittersweet truths about folks.

‘Una Vita Difficile’

In Italian with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours

Playing: Starts March 17, Laemmle Royal, West los Angeles; Laemmle Town Center, Encino