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Il Sorpasso is regarded as one of the finest of all Italian comedies. Released in 1962, the film was first put into theaters with little fanfare and box-office expectations. The film quickly became an incredible success based on audiences reactions and word of mouth that the film was something special. It ended up becoming the highest grossing film in Italy of the year and it was thrown an incredible amount of accolades at the same time. Today, Il Sorpasso is still regarded as a classic, and its influence has been seen on numerous films, including both Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider and Alexander Payne's Sideways. Director Dino Risi found great success in making what was never intended as a inspirational masterpiece of cinema, but that is exactly what the film has become. Without a doubt, Il Sorpasso is a genuine classic of Italian cinema which should be considered as essential viewing.
The story begins simply in many respects. The film opens with the jubilant and easygoing Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman) driving around Italy. Bruno is planning a road trip through Rome and surrounding areas. He doesn't want to go alone and brings with the law student Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who initially doesn't want to go on the road trip with Bruno. The abundantly spirited charisma of Bruno keeps Roberto along for the ride. The journey is an interesting one full of surprises.
The journey begins as a trip for a bit of lunch and soon becomes an overarching road trip of far greater proportions. Roberto helps pay for the entire trip with a sentiment from Bruno that he'll pay him back. They stop off a dance club, at a garden site in which they noticed some beautiful women they wanted to ask out (but then did not even have enough courage to ask to lunch with them), and to a restaurant, a night-club, and to the seaside beach where Bruno goes to see his ex-wife (Luciana Angiolillo), and his teenage daughter who he hasn't tried to see in so many years. This reunion with his family, whom he has not seen in a long time, is one which leads the film directly into its more dramatic core as a character study and towards what is ultimately a tragic conclusion.
The film both explores the entertaining free-spirited adventure of these character's travels across country to such extent that the English title for the film was once called 'The Easy Life'. Yet the core of the story is actually one which paints these characters with a more inquisitive look into their story. Bruno is seemingly always happy and easygoing but is actually someone who has failed to take care of either himself, his wife, or his daughter. (At one point, he is referred to without hesitation as a child). He seems much more complex and perhaps much deeper as a character for the film to explore as one considers the story as it unfolds: at least considering the layers of the character not seen at the start.
Roberto is someone who has far less of an outgoing spirit. He mostly seems to keep to himself. For starters, he is incredibly shy... so much so that he eventually discusses his affections for a neighbor girl who he would like to marry after graduating from school, yet Roberto has only talked to her one time. Roberto is far from a individual with good social skills. Bruno mainly studies and tries to focus first on a possible career in a field he isn't sure of for himself. This polarity to Roberto is one of the ways the storytelling fascinates.
The performances are uniformly excellent in Il Sorpasso; most especially from the brilliant and energetic Vittorio Gassman. Gassman gives a first-rate performance in the film that ultimately helped to make it the classic it's heralded as. He worked for years as a theatrical actor and did many Shakespearean plays prior to making a number of dramatic films which did poorly (one after another) within the Italian box-office. Il Sorpasso was a change of pace for him in that it generally wasn't the case that he did comedies. Yet this film was a blend of comedy and drama which fit his acting style perfectly. Bruno was an amazing role for Gassman to be able to play, and he made it one of the best and most well received moments in his acting career. Even with moments that at first glance seem merely comedic, there are some fascinating emotions that are coming from Gassman's eyes which gives pause and wonder to the character that is not even in the script.
The script is uniformly excellent, though. The story might seem basic and not too complex at the beginning but the film feels like a metaphor of sorts for what can happen when living life on the fast lane as Roberto does. This all builds to the grand finale that no doubt left a large impression upon moviegoers of '62.
The direction of the film is impeccable. Dino Risi has done an incredible job with the way this film flows and the energy the film presents. It is fast paced and energetic in parts of the film in ways that films are almost always incapable of presenting in modern movies. The opening just jumps into things with such ferocity that one is fascinated by the zippiness of the car and how Risi presents the footage of Roberto driving around Rome. This is some of the finest footage ever filmed for a road trip movie. One almost can't even fathom that it was filmed in the 60's. The camera-shots are also so impeccable chosen and framed. The way that this was handled seems so ahead of everything else of the time. Most Hollywood movies used standard prop backgrounds and nothing else for car footage but in Il Sorpasso the energy is dramatically heightened by the ambitious filmmaking.
Risi is also intelligent at slowing down the film for quiet moments between the characters. Through these moments some of the most unexpected and most impressive shots exist; so unbelievably artistic in style that it feels almost as if Italian cinema is having a New Wave cinematically its own. Italian cinema (especially of the 60's and 70's) is some of the finest. Somehow this film manages to also add a unique spot in the history of the country and it's fascinating output through the medium.
The cinematography by Alfio Contini is impressive as well. The black and white photography seems to present the locations toured through the film with great realization that only a truly phenomenal photographer can provide. The lighting is so effectively realized too. Add in a incredible score provided by composer Riz Ortolani, and the results are stunning together.
Il Sorpasso is a surprising film on many different levels. The story begins almost as if it's existence came immediately and out of nowhere, and the flow of the film leads to many a comedic moment and a more dramatic second half which ultimately is more complex and fascinating. The filmmakers and actors involved made a classic: a masterpiece that is one outstanding road-trip movie which will continue to influence and surprise filmmakers for decades to come.
Il Sorpasso arrives on Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded High Definition presentation. The film looks stunning for the most part with excellent black levels, depth, and detail. The film was restored from 35mm source prints and at 2K resolution. The film is quite close to being a completely magnificent presentation, with a respectable 26.29 mbps encode that works well with the black and white photography. The film has had a lot of improvements in the area of print damage with a lot of manual adjustments made to restore it. Occasional minor print damage is still seen and one or two moments seem to even suggest a minor tear on the print used. Mostly, however, this is a terrific presentation of Il Sorpasso that will surely leave serious fans of the film satisfied.
The audio is presented in lossless mono Italian with 24 bit depth encoding. It's a stunning audio presentation for a mono audio track and it leaves the dialogue sounding entirely clear and quite easy to understand. The music score also sounds terrific with this amazing high quality lossless presentation. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Supplements on this release are bountiful and are quite impressive. All of the on disc extras are encoded in High Definition (even though a few were from SD source material). Criterion has included a booklet which features essays about the film from select film critics and some of director Dino Risi's writings.
On disc extras included:
Trailer (3 min.)
Introduction by Alexander Payne (6 min.) provides a brief overview and tribute from the great filmmaker of Sideways, Nebraska, and The Descendants.
Dino Risi (20 min) showcases an archival interview with the filmmaker of Il Sorpasso.
Jean-Louis Trintignant (9 min.) was an interview done with the actor from Il Sorpasso before a television airing occurred in the 80's.
Ettore Scola (15 min.) is an interview with the director who helped write Il Sorpasso when he was just a screenwriter and not directing.
Remi Fournier Lanzoni (16 min.) is an interview held with a film scholar who helps to break down their themes and ideas.
Back to Castiglioncello (11 min. excerpt) with footage from documentary filmed at same locations where the movie was filmed and this features interviews with cast/crew.
A Beautiful Vacation (56 min.) is a documentary on the life and career of director Dino Risi.
Speaking with Gassman (31 min.) is a documentary made by Dino Risi's son about their working relationship as an actor and director.
Il Sorpasso is a magnificent piece of filmmaking with excellent direction, cinematography, and music. This is an quality release of a classic of Italian cinema and it should belong within the collections of any fan of Italian cinema and great road-trip movies.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.