The 1964 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, is a fetching triptych from Italian director Vittorio De Sica. Though essentially a collection of short stories, it works as a unified whole, creating a light-hearted romantic comedy that is both sweet and poignant, moving up and down the social ladder for added commentary on love and class.
All three stories star Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni as the central couple. The first tale, "Adelina," is the "yesterday," a funny slice-of-life set in 1953. Loren plays Adelina, a mother of one, soon to be two, soon to be seven! Adelina is married to Carmine (Mastroianni), a veteran who hasn't worked since he got out of the service. To make ends meet, she sells illegally obtained cigarettes down at the market. Adelina has already been ticketed once, and their failure to pay the fine means jailtime for her--except the Italian police won't arrest a pregnant woman and even after the baby is born, they will give her six months to nurse before carting her off to the pokey. So, the couple must engage in a little hokey pokey of their own: Adelina is determined to stay pregnant forever, having more and more kids to keep ahead of the cops. This takes a tremendous toll on Carmine, and the script by Eduardo De Filippo and Isabella Quarantotti humorously challenges ideas of love and devotion while also celebrating the sense of community amongst the poor.
No such community exists in the more contemporary segment--the "today," as indicated by Sophia Loren driving the latest model Rolls Royce. De Sica's regular collaborator, Cesare Zavattini, works here with two other writers to create a story of a brief affair that crosses economic lines. The night before, Anna (Loren) met Renzo (Mastroianni). She is a wife of a wealthy real estate developer and he is a poor, struggling writer. Hubby is out of town, leaving the door open for infidelity. The segment begins after this indiscretion, when the pair meet again in the morning and go for a ride in Anna's fancy car. The heat begins to dim on this torrid romance the further from town the pair travel. Anna talks of giving up the posh life for her new lover, but Renzo keeps turning the conversation back to money--her overbundance, and his corresponding lack of it. At first, this seems like his hang-up, but as events unfold, his fears are proven to have real foundation.
The "Anna" section is the only portion of the film not intended as pure comedy, bridging the gap between the near-slapstick early portion and the more even-handed, sexed-up third story. The final piece, written entirely by Zavattini, casts Sophia Loren as Mara, a high-class call girl living in the heart of Rome. Mastroianni plays Augusto Rusconi, the son of a financier and politician, who comes to the city to act as dad's lobbyist, stopping in on Mara for a little playtime on his regular visits. Augusto is a horndog with childish fetishes, making him the total opposite of the intense young man that Mara meets on the morning of Augusto's latest arrival. Umberto (Gianni Ridolfi) is a seventeen-year-old visiting his grandmother on a break from seminary. His plans to be a priest are derailed the moment he catches sight of Sophia Loren in a towel. His sudden crisis of faith makes fast allies between prior enemies, and the surprisingly pious Mara and the boy's grandmother (Tina Pica) team up to steer Umberto back to God while a sexually frustrated Augusto loses his mind over the persistent cock-blocking.
The "Mara" story is famous for Sophia Loren's climactic striptease. She doe a sexy dance for Augusto, shedding her way down to her underwear, and it's not difficult to see why it remains a much-talked about scene despite how tame it might seem by today's standards. The voluptuous Loren was gorgeous, and her appeal as one of cinema's great timeless beauties is obvious. She was also an incredible actress, and for as sensual as the dance may be, she sticks the landing with perfect comic timing. This portion of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow also goes much deeper than her cleavage--De Sica and Zavattini are crafting a vision of a near-future where young and old, sacred and profane, can find common ground, and when we can recognize that women steer families and society. (Adelina was very much in charge in the first story, as well.) Class distinctions dissipate: the prostitute makes her own money, and more than anyone can imagine, while the son of a rich man has never really grown up or carved his own path. (Indeed, there is a kind of impotence, both literal and metaphorical, evident in all of Mastroianni's characters.) For as comical as the whole thing is, "Mara" deftly sews up all the themes of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with some very clever stitching.
Sophia Loren's part in all this is not to be underestimated, either. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is really a showcase for her many talents, and though there are connective traits between all three of her characters, they each require different dramatic touches. The script calls for her to move from mother to whore in a very literal sense, though it is sympathetic and celebratory of both. The middle ground is the cold woman who can't decide to be either, who isn't driven by any real passion at all. For whatever faults Adelina and Mara may have, they at least choose human connection over material gain.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is a colorful motion picture. De Sica fully embraces the comedy, merging his theatrical background with his trademark Neorealist cinema for something sparkling and fresh. Shooting on location in real Italian homes and on real Italian streets, even gathering locals to fill out as extras rather than using professional actors, he creates an authentic backdrop to play out his more contrived scenarios. The balance works, lending credibility to the outrageous aspects of the stories while also lending truth and humor to the everyday.
The second DVD carries even more treasure, however; it has the full-length 2009 documentary Vittorio D. This program offers a fairly comprehensive and compelling portrait of the actor/director, chronicling his early career, his joint endeavors as a filmmaker in front of and behind the camera, and also his personal life. His children are interviewed, as are many of his contemporaries and admiring filmmakers like Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, John Landis, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, and many more. Best of all, though, is the archival footage of De Sica himself, singing songs and talking about his movies on Italian television. Additionally, we get some exceptional personal photographs and behind-the-scenes material showing the maestro at work. This could have easily been its own release, but it makes for a great bonus feature for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, particularly as there is an excellent segment about the director's relationship with the film's two stars.