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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Special Day: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
A Special Day: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection // Unrated // October 13, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Some people have to travel abroad by themselves to feel completely alone, but lovely Antoinetta (Sophia Loren) doesn't even need to leave her apartment. At first glance, she seems lucky with six children and a husband. Yet she's at the end of her rope mentally and spiritually: husband Emanuele (John Vernon) is bossy, disrespectful, and cold, while her children are, for the most part, rude and unappreciative of her work around the house. But today's a special day: Emanuele has taken the children to a parade celebrating Hitler's visit with Mussolini in Rome, and they're mostly in good spirits. She remains at home in their small but efficient apartment, surrounded by almost no one except handsome neighbor Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) and a distant radio that broadcasts the parade.

A lesser film than Ettore Scola's A Special Day (1977) would have the sad housewife cozy up to the rugged bachelor, and maybe even consider having them run away together. But A Special Day never leaves the intimidating apartment complex, introduces only a handful of supporting characters, and takes an unpredictable path long after we've come to know the true desires of our two attractive leads. Sure, Antoinetta is attracted to Gabriele, secretly hoping to win the affection she doesn't receive from her husband...and why not? His playful nature and good humor are a breath of fresh air for the claustrophobic woman. But he can't return the attraction, and it's obvious that his time in her company is limited: Gabriele recently lost his job as a radio announcer and is doomed to be deported because of his homosexuality and anti-Fascist beliefs. But despite their obvious differences, there's a mutual respect between the two, and this brief encounter will likely change their lives more than any one-night stand.

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni appeared in roughly a dozen movies together---many were directed by Vittorio De Sica, including Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and Marriage Italian Style---and it's obvious by now that their formidable on-screen chemistry would translate to a pair of confident, engaging performances. There's an obvious comfort when Antoinetta and Gabriele open up to one another...but long before playful exchanges turn serious, the film's political backdrop keeps everything in check: it's 1938, the country is chaning, and men could be erased for not being sexually attracted to women. The fact that A Special Day was made almost 40 years in hindsight makes it all the more affecting: Scola grew up in similar conditions, so it's perfectly logical why he would bathe this personal film in a bleached, sepia tone that's trapped between hazy nostalgia and cold, hard reality.

Believe it or not, Criterion's new Blu-ray edition of A Special Day marks the film's official domestic home video debut, and it's a doozy. A recent 4K restoration forms the foundation of their sterling 1080p transfer (supervised by director Ettore Scola himself), and the inclusion of a few well-placed bonus features offers of good amount of support for the main feature. It's a handsome package that this forgotten gem deserves...and whether or not this is your first viewing, A Special Day is the kind of simple film that makes a big impression and sticks around for a while.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Sourced from a recent 4K restoration that pays special attention to the film's unique color scheme, Criterion's 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer of A Special Day is a unique and effective presentation that die-hard fans will appreciate. The film's unmistakable palette, which primarily leans toward bronze and sepia during most scenes, also contains sporadic hints of muted reds and greens that remind you that you're watching a film originally shot in full color. This is an extremely clean and detailed image with strong detail, excellent textures, and consistent black levels that emphasize depth in wide shots. No glaring digital imperfections were spotted along the way, easily earning Criterion's Blu-ray perfect marks. Don't get me wrong: A Special Day's story and lead performances are its greatest asset, but the film's visual presentation is a close second and this disc squeezes every last drop out of the excellent source material.

DISCLAIMER: This images featured in this review are promotional in nature and do not represent the Blu-ray's 1080p source image.

Not surprisingly, the uncrompressed PCM Italian mono audio doesn't aim high but still gets the job done. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced from start to finish, while the occasional music touches by Armando Trovajoli blend in seamlessly. There's even a solid amount of depth at times, at least in regards to the background broadcast that reminds exactly when and why this once-in-a-lifetime meeting is taking place. According to the packaging, the optional English subtitles represent an exclusive new translation of the film, but I can't speak to any major changes or inaccuracies (aside from the title, which literally reads "A Peculiar Day" and is called by this name during the film itself).

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As usual, Criterion's interface is smooth and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is locked for Region A players only; it's packaged in Criterion's standard "stocky" keepcase and includes simple and appropriate double-sided artwork. The fold-out Insert includes technical details and a reprinted essay by film critic Deborah Young.

Bonus Features

The film-related extras lead off with two new Video Interviews featuring director Ettore Scola (21m) and star Sophia Loren (15m), produced earlier in the year for Criterion and presented in Italian English with optional subtitles for translation. The expected topics are covered---general production, working together, the location and themes, etc.---as well as other comments about their respective careers and Loren's observations about her character.

Also here are two early episodes of The Dick Cavett Show (28m each) originally broadcast on PBS back in 1977; both Loren and Marcello Mastroianni are featured guests, and discuss the film and their working relationship in detail.

Last but not least is The Human Voice (25m, 2014) Loren's one-woman short film based on Jean Cocteau's popular and enduring play of the same name. Adapted and directed by Loren's son, filmmaker Edoardo Ponti, it's a fitting supplement that pays tribute to the leading lady's considerable presence (even at age 80!) and a wonderful way to cap off the extras. The addition of a commentary or restoration featurette would have been welcome, though.

Final Thoughts

Don't write off A Special Day for its limited location, simple premise, or the lack of a larger cast; that's exactly why it's so engaging and memorable, whether you catch all the subtext or simply view it as two considerable actors owning their respective roles. It's a thoroughly human drama with a lot of first-time appeal and even a solid amount of replay value, mainly due to the film's unique visual atmosphere and period-specific details. Criterion's Blu-ray hits almost every note perfectly, from a stunning director-supervised 1080p transfer (sourced from a recent 4K restoration) to a thoughtful and well-rounded collection of supplements. Without question, it's a true "sleeper" release that will hopefully draw in a new generation of fans and make a few "Top 10" lists at the year's end. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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