1997 Movie Review: THE FIFTH ELEMENT, 1997

Movie Reviews

Directed by Luc Besson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry
Review by Emma Hutchings


A former government agent grudgingly sets out on a quest to save the world from an ancient evil after the only hope of thwarting destruction falls into the back seat of his cab.

OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing


The Fifth Element is Luc Besson’s big budget futuristic blockbuster, which, at the time, was the most expensive film ever produced outside of Hollywood. Besson again called on the might of Gary Oldman to play the bad guy, following his fantastic performance in Léon (1994). Besson helped out as producer on Nil by Mouth (Oldman’s hard-hitting directorial debut), which was also released in 1997 and also starred Charlie Creed-Miles (Cornelius’ protégé David in The Fifth Element and Billy in Nil by Mouth).

This film is a visual extravaganza. The rich and vibrant colours ensure that the future is a bright and appealing one, not bleak and dystopian, as in so many futuristic films. Besson said that he wanted to show a vision of the future that wasn’t dark and dangerous. Mark Stetson, the Special Visual Effects Supervisor on the film, who had previously worked on Blade Runner, said “One of the most gratifying aspects of working with Luc on this picture is the fact that it’s not another Blade Runner. The look of this film is very different and fresh.” What comes across most about the visual effects is the amazing attention to detail. The shots of 23rd century New York are some of the highlights. Leeloo’s POV shot when she sees the skyline for the first time is remarkable. The skyscrapers, packed closely together, ascend high into the clouds, with subways zooming up and down their sides and the areas in between packed with flying cars. The quirky, original costumes were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, who even checked over the extras individually before scenes to make sure they were looking their best. Two famous French comic book artists, Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières developed the production design. They were responsible for much of the iconography of the film; the vehicles, spacecrafts, buildings, human characters and aliens.

There are references to other films in The Fifth Element. Although described as the Anti-Blade Runner, the cityscape with enormous advertising screens and the flying cars are definite similarities. Brion James (who plays General Munro, Korben’s former commanding officer) played the character of Leon in Blade Runner. The machine that regenerates Leeloo is very similar to the one used to create the robot in Metropolis (1927). The thermal bandages that are strapped to her are reminiscent of the metal bands covering Maria when the Man-Machine is converted into her.

The story boils down to a straightforward good vs. evil narrative. A huge, dark sphere of absolute evil attempts to destroy Earth every 5,000 years and five elements are used together to stop this happening. Earth, wind, fire and water, along with the Supreme Being; an ultimate warrior created to protect life. A simple but effective technique used a number of times throughout the film is cross-cutting. Used to switch between action taking place in different locations at the same time, it is cleverly used here because characters often finish each other’s sentences. For example, when Zorg meets with Aknot (leader of the Mangalores) to exchange crates of weapons for the case of stones, he shuts the lid and then states “This case…is empty.” The scene then cuts to Leeloo laughing and Cornelius asks “What do you mean, empty?” Cut back to Zorg, who tells his lackey “Empty. The opposite of full. This case is supposed to be full! Anyone care to explain?” Cut back to Leeloo, explaining in the divine language that they gave the stones to someone they could trust. Cornelius says “We’re saved” and then a final cut back to Zorg, who says “I’m screwed.” This is an intelligent use of dialogue and editing that is both interesting and efficient.

Korben Dallas is rather a reluctant hero. He was living a lonely, uneventful life before Leeloo crashed through the roof of his cab. At the beginning of the film he says he wants to meet the perfect woman. He hasn’t had very good experiences with women; his wife left him for his lawyer and his mother continuously calls him just to moan at him. He is laconic and very humourous at times. When sent in to negotiate with the Mangalores, he casually strolls in and shoots their leader in the head asking, “Anyone else wanna negotiate?” It is interesting that our hero Korben and the villain of the film, Zorg, never meet or communicate with each other. Usually there would be an epic battle at the end where they would fight until the villain was killed. However, they narrowly miss bumping into each other as Korben gets into an elevator and Zorg leaves the one next to it, ultimately getting himself blown up by the Mangalore’s bomb. There is a connection between hero and villain though; Zorg gets rid of 1 million people from one of his smaller companies, a cab company, and in a later scene Korben gets a message telling him he’s fired. The name ‘Zorg’ is clearly visible at the bottom of the message.

Leeloo is the heroine of the film. Beautiful and very strong, she is often referred to as ‘perfect’. She is a fast learner, able to absorb large quantities of information; she learns 5,000 years worth of Earth’s history from a computer in a very short amount of time. She is kooky and has lots of funny moments in the film, usually when she is trying to understand certain words in the English language (“Big ba-dah boom”, “Auto-wash”, “Mul-ti-pass”). The ‘divine language’ spoken by Leeloo has 400 words and was invented by the director and Milla Jovovich. Jovovich stated that she and Besson wrote letters to each other in the language as practice and by the end of filming they were able to have full conversations.

The number 5 is a recurring motif in this film. Apart from the obvious 5 elements there are also lots of other notable occurrences. Evil returns every 5,000 years, Korben has 5 points left on his licence, the Council asks Zorg to fire 500,000 people, and Korben says to General Munro “Nice to see you in the 5,000 block”. The bomb in Fhloston Paradise has around 5 minutes left when Ruby notices it, Zorg stops it with 5 seconds remaining and the Mangalore’s bomb counts down from 5 seconds. Ruby’s radio show starts at 5, Korben says “If we don’t get these stones open in 5 minutes, we’re all dead.” Ruby says “”Every 5 minutes there’s something, a bomb or something!” and right at the end the scientist says “They’re not ready. They need 5 more minutes.”

Any observant viewers (actually that should be listeners) may notice two occurrences of the infamous ‘Wilhelm Scream’, a distinctive sound effect that has found a following with many sound editors and movie fans. First used in Distant Drums, a 1951 film starring Gary Cooper, it was later adopted by sound designer Ben Burtt who named it after the character of Pvt. Wilhelm in The Charge at Feather River (1953) who screams when he is shot in the leg by an arrow. Burtt included it in many of the films he has worked on including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. It grew in familiarity and continues to be heard in new productions released every year. In The Fifth Element it can be heard when Zorg blows up Right Arm at the airport and during Leeloo’s fight with the Mangalores, as two are sent flying out of the Diva’s suite (turn the volume up for this one).

The film ends after the world is saved by the power of love. Leeloo finishes learning all about Earth on the computer and becomes particularly disturbed by W for War. She watches all of the images flash by of chaos and destruction and she despairs at how people could do such things to each other. She tells Korben, “Everything you create, you use to destroy” and he replies “Yeah, we call it human nature.” Her faith in humanity needs to be restored in order for her to save them, Korben must show her the world has some good and there are beautiful things worth saving, like love. She doesn’t know love, she says “I was built to protect, not to love”. She needs him to tell her that he loves her, this empowers her and she draws on the other four elements and destroys the ancient evil. Earth is rescued from annihilation and the two of them can live happily together (he’ll need to get another job though). I highly recommend this film. It has a great cast of actors all having a good time, the visuals are fantastic and it’s very enjoyable as long as you don’t take it too seriously.


1977 Movie Review: EXORCIST II THE HERETIC, 1977

Movie Reviews

Director: John Boorman

Stars: Richard Burton, Linda Blair, Louise Fletcher

Review by Mark Engberg


A girl once possessed by a demon finds that it still lurks within her. Meanwhile, a priest investigates the death of the girl’s exorcist.


During our podcast discussion regarding the best horror films of all time, WILDsound founder Matthew Toffolo asked me a brilliant question: what defines a horror movie?

Cheating an answer out of Wikipedia, I said that a horror movie tries to evoke a negative reaction from the audience by playing on their primal fears and anxieties. So, here is a follow-up question: what makes a bad horror movie?

Is it bad acting? Like any other genre, bad acting in a horror feature can certainly damage its integrity. But it seems unfair to blame a movie’s appeal based solely on the acting abilities, or lack thereof, of its principle stars. Besides, if you were going to condemn a horror movie for its unbelievable acting, the list of bad ones would be endless.

Is it bad because of its unbelievability? That hardly seems the case. A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play are among some of the most beloved and successful horror films released in the past twenty-five years. And you would be hard pressed to explain that the premise for either franchise is in any way plausible.

Or does it only appear bad based on its low budget? I can’t go with that one either. Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Blair Witch Project are two of my favorite horror films of all time. The production team behind Henry spent about $110 grand on its budget, while The Blair Witch spent about half of that amount.

It can be inferred that a bad horror film fails to elicit a reaction from the audience by playing on their own emotions. In other words, it is boring.

And if Exorcist II: The Heretic were merely a boring picture, I could still look past its narrative shortcomings and acknowledge that sequels rarely live up to their predecessors. But Boorman’s take on the story is an incomprehensible mish-mash of locust swarms and doppelgangers. The story loses so much focus in its final act, I thought I was possessed by a demon spirit myself because all I wanted to do was vomit green bile all over the place.

Richard Burton and Linda Blair seem to be playing a game as to who can do the worst acting throughout the picture. Burton constantly undercuts his Father Lamont with sad, motionless expressions that convey nothing. Blair might as well be doing a spot for an Informercial reenactment.

She herself blames the flawed story structure on the fact that it went through too many rewrites due to creative differences between Boorman and screenwriter William Goodhart. Eventually, Goodhart was replaced by Rospo Pallenberg, who rewrote the script with Boorman. Even though I never read Goodhart’s original script, I feel bad for the playwright, who must have endured a lifetime of harsh criticism for something he did not write.

The production crew had its own set of problems. Burton, allegedly, started drinking again. Boorman contracted a respiratory fungal infection, which offset production for a costly month. Blair refused to wear the demon make-up this time, which meant that her demon scenes had to be performed by a double. The animal wranglers had trouble with the grasshoppers they needed for the ridiculous locust scenes. The City of Washington DC denied the crew permission to film at the famous staircase in Georgetown.

The entire filmed seemed doomed from its inception. Even one of the producers, Richard Lederer, admits in Bob McCabe’s book The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows that the sequel was conceived as a low-budget rehash of the original, using deleted scenes from the original to give audiences something new.

When the film opened, it was laughed off the screen by crowds who were probably initially intimidated when the lights first dimmed. In fact, Boorman yanked the film out of theaters and attempted numerous re-cuts and alternate endings to no avail. When there is so much wrong with your picture, there is only so much you can do.

The plot is a dull concept regarding Burton’s Father Lamont and his assignment to investigate the death of Father Merrin (once again played by the great Max von Sydow). When Lamont visits the tormented yet oblivious Regan MacNeil at a NYC psychiatric institute, the plot quickly sinks into absurdity. They experience synchronized hypnosis together using a pair of wires and headbands when Lamont discovers an unquiet spirit still residing within Regan.

The rest of the movie mostly consists of terrible looking sets of African tribes that were filmed at the Warner Bros’ backlot. Lamont has delusions and unintentionally hilarious visions of James Earl Jones in a locust costume. But the most troubling aspect comes at the end, when Father Lamont confronts the evil Pazuzu spirit dwelling within Regan’s body . . . even though she is standing behind him. I don’t understand why there were two Regans in the final act. More importantly, I didn’t care. I just wanted it to end.

For those looking for some of the old metaphysical and supernatural nerve of the original, be advised to skip this entry and check out The Exorcist III: Legion instead. That movie was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original novel. It goes without saying that he is thankful for having nothing to do with this absurd chapter. Wisely, he chose to ignore its subject matter in his own feature.

ACTORJohn Boorman
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORLinda Blair
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORRichard Burton
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORLouise Fletcher
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORMax von Sydow
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORKitty Winn
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORPaul Henreid
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORJames Earl Jones
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORNed Beatty
Best of the ARTIST

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1977 Movie Review: TENTACLES, 1977

Movie Reviews

Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

Stars: John Huston, Shelley Winters and Bo Hopkins 


Several people disappear from and at the sea. Their bodies are found gnawed to the skeleton, even the marrow is missing…


It’s pretty rancid, although it’s the perfect party picture to screen in the background as your guests get suitably soused.

June 16, 2015 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…

A Jaw’s rip-off.

May 8, 2010 | Rating: C | Full Review…


December 18, 2007 | Rating: 1/5

John Huston and Shelley Winters in a clunky monster movie? Even the Octopus is up in arms.

August 1, 2005 | Rating: 0/5


1977 Movie Review: STROSZEK, 1977


Movie Reviews

Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring: Bruno S., Eva Mattes, Clemens Scheitz, Wilhelm von Homburg, Burkhard Driest, Clayton Szalpinski
Review by Jordan Young


In Berlin, an alcoholic man, recently released from prison, joins his elderly friend and a prostitute in a determined dream to leave Germany and seek a better life in Wisconsin.


Herzog continues to blow minds of the viewer’s of 1977’s Stroszek. This film depicts three pariah’s in their native Berlin, and their overseas quest to find happiness in Plainfield, Wisconsin. The pariah’s include a prostitute (Eva), a ex-con alcoholic (the titular character Bruno Stroszek) and an old, reclusive, brittle Scheitz.

Roger Ebert wrote that this film is “one of the oddest films evermade.” This is because of it’s seemingly non sequitur segments,jarring examples of music, and it’s drastic setting changes. Not to mention that this is almost cinema en plein air, meaning this entire film is comprised of found people and places that add dramatically to the overall feel of the movie.

Bruno himself was a street musician, found by Herzog, Bruno was also a diagnosed schizophrenic… which apparently added to his troubled character due to his magnificent performance. I found myself however, sympathizing with the character of Eva much more in the beginning. She goes through some pretty miserable times, but then seems to adjust rather well to American life.

Bruno and his pack of friends quickly realize that the American dream, is just that… a dream. This reality arrives to them at the exact same time that the banker starts pestering them about their mortgage payments. This banker again was found by Herzog, but his character is just miserly enough, to make any viewer want to punch him in the face.

As Scott McCloud theorizes in Understanding Comics, no non sequitur is actually in fact a non sequitur. The fun part is about these scenes in Stroszek is, any meaning that you can create from these scenes, is the correct answer… it’s what you take from it. Therein lies, the genius of Herzog, the readers (or viewers) create their meaning. DON’T BELIEVE ANY CRITIC ABOUT THE CHICKEN SCENE! Let the chicken mean what you want it to mean. (You will know what I’m talking about.)

See this movie for Bruno’s magnificent performance, as he takes you off the beaten path of the typical character you have to love, and sets you up for his endearing depiction of a man trying to earnestly find happiness.

Very touching view of the struggles that we all go through. My belief is that Herzog tried to depict how utterly confounding life can be at any given point and time. Except where a mainstream director shows a tough life through a montage and a stereotypical song, Herzog shows a side of America we wish we could distance ourselves from. Keep in mind viewer, this is German Art House film. It will be a challenging, but extremely rewarding experience.


1977 Movie Review: STAR WARS, 1977

Movie Review
Directed by George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford
Review by Andrew Kosarko


As the adventure begins, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), an impulsive but goodhearted young man who lives on the dusty planet of Tatooine with his aunt and uncle, longs for the exciting life of a Rebel soldier. The Rebels, led by the headstrong Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), are fighting against the evil Empire, which has set about destroying planets inhabited by innocent citizens with the Death Star, a fearsome planetlike craft commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) and the eternally frightful Darth Vader (David Prowse, with the voice of James Earl Jones). When Luke’s aunt and uncle are murdered by the Empire’s imperial stormtroopers and he mysteriously finds a distress message from Princess Leia in one of his androids, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), he must set out to find Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), a mysterious old hermit with incredible powers. On his journey, Luke is aided by the roguish, sarcastic mercenary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his towering furry sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as they run into a host of perilous situations while trying to rescue the princess–and the entire galaxy.


A long time ago, in a Hollywood far, far away…..George Lucas was an innovative film maker. Well, I’m a little shocked. I can’t believe this film series has been reviewed yet. So I’m doing it before anyone else beats me to the punch. I also think it’s kind of interesting seeing as I’m one of the few people to “review the first Star Wars Film” after the prequels have come out. So lets get into it, shall we?

The Story: The perfect depiction of “the heroes’ journey.” Anyone who has an interest in storytelling should study this film along with the ideals of the Heroes’ Journey. The structure is perfect. There’s never a boring moment, the story is always pushing forward and revealing more and more about our characters. Those characters are also, near perfect with defining attributes that you would never question their purpose of involvement. Luke Skywalker is at the start of his journey under the guidance of Obi-wan Kenobi. Accompanied by our outside eyes and ears, the druids of C3PO and R2D2, they join forced with the rugged pirate Han Solo and his furry side kick, Chewbacca. Not only does Lucas have excellent stories to tell, but he tells it in a masterful of ways. Chewbacca never speaks a word of English, nor has subtitles and yet we understand everything he’s saying by others’ retorts. Same with R2D2. Obi-wan is wise and mysterious, teaching without teaching. Han Solo, well, one of my favorite words in my reviews is “badass.” And there is no other word that can describe him. And last but not least, we have our strong heroin who is just as tough, if not stronger, than her farm boy brother. The real strength in this film is the story. Luke progresses from farm boy, to new adventurer to growing hero, to a savior of the rebellion. And of course, no one can forget the greatest villain of all time, Darth Vader. It just doesn’t get more evil and sinister than him.

Acting: In the documentary, “Empire of Dreams” which I would suggest to anyone after they’ve seen the Original Trilogy, Carrie Fisher speaks of George Lucas’ dialogue; “You can write this stuff but you can’t speak it.” Which is why the acting is so extraordinary in this film. It’s the same dialogue in the new prequels, but notice how it’s not hard to listen to when Luke or Leia speak it, opposed to Hayden Christianson.

Mark Hamill / Luke Skywalker – Now, Star Wars, in a sense, is “before my time.” I know absolutely nothing of Mark Hamill’s early work. All I know is he did a Christmas episode with the muppets and later went on to portray the voice of the Joker on Batman the animated series. Nevertheless, Hamill is the perfect casting for the young farm boy with a heart of gold and the naïve courage to march into a detention center.

Carrie Fisher / Princess Leia Organa – Now I wasn’t around during the feminist era, but I’m sure this was a product or lightning rod of it. Fisher plays the role strong and intelligent. She’s a damsel in distress, but she fights back instead of waiting for the hero to come save her. She is the personification of the Rebellion.

Harrison Ford / Han Solo – I know this role has lead to so many other things for Ford, but I don’t think he’s had a better role. Blade Runner comes close, but still. Han Solo is his defining role. He’s smart, charming, clever, bold, head strong and selfish. I can’t think of a more enjoyable role to play without being a bad guy.

Alec Guinness / Obi Wan Kenobi – The man delivers every line like it’s Shakespeare, and it was just what was needed seeing as these films are the closest we’ve gotten since Billy-Bob Shakespeare put his pen down. Guinness is strikes us as honorable, wise and trustworthy from the second he shows up. Although, to this day I still wonder how he made that weird ass whistling noise to scare off the sand people.

Directing: “Faster and more intense” was Lucas’ main direction to his cast. Which I wish he could have resurrected that phrase when directing the slow prequels. He’s at his best here with the limitations that he had to deal with. This was hard, dirty, gritty rough hands work. Which is one of the strengths of the film. It’s realism in it’s production design and even in the visual and special effects. Lucas did the best he could with what he had.

Cinematography: Old school 70’s cinematography. While there isn’t any really ground breaking shots or techniques in the realistic shots, it’s still well covered.

Production Design: Very strong. It’s futuristic, er, well, in this case, historic. Well, it’s far more advanced than what we ever, at the time of it’s release, thought possible. Or even dreamed. Yet it has a slightly gritty look to it. Not a Bladerunner look per say, but still, not sterile either. It really helps establish the world(s) that we’re playing in as believable.

Editing: For the most part it’s sufficient for what it does. I still don’t know how the shot of the storm trooper bumping his head on the door when they bust in and find C3PO and R2D2 was left in, but ok, whatever. Where I do have to give it some credit is covering the lightsaber duel between Vader and Kenobi. Guinness being his age and only instructed in proper swordsman ship was limited in what he could do (Check out some of the special features and the footage from it all). The edit makes it look like he still has some fight in him.

STAR WARS IMAGESScore: One of the truly remarkable aspects of the entire film. It lifts the material from the scale of amazing to epic. John Williams hit two big scores (no pun intended) in this era with both Star Wars and Jaws. He establishes himself as one who doesn’t resort to gimmicks and remains with the classical approach to music writing, while keeping in tune with the emotional context of the story.

Special Effects: Now this is what’s groundbreaking. There’s a great collaboration between the production team and the visual effects team. The ships combined with the green screens and compilations of layers create some of the most realistic and invigorating elements in the film. The shots and editing can’t really be complimented, seeing as most of them are ripped off from old stock footage of dog fights.

In closing: The beginning of great film making starts here, and ends in the same place. George Lucas both created the most amazing aspects of the film world and then bastardized them by abusing them too much. Letting them spew out into other films and basically demolishing the “aww factor” in movies. The work done in this film was earned and hard done. Lately the cinema business has become lazy and cheaper with the same mind set. Sadly, it takes all the fun out of the movies. Regardless of it’s lasting effects in movies, this film still stands the test of time. It’s engaging, entertaining, interesting and fun. And it’s got a little bit, ok, a LOT of moral lesson whipped into it. But it’s neither preachy nor too subtle. Star Wars is the movie of our century. It still effects film making today, and will remain to for many years to come.

star wars

1977 Movie Review: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, 1977

James Bond Movie Review

Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel and Bernard Lee
Review by Jesse Ryder Hughes


Seven foot tall, steel toothed nemesis Jaws chases Bond around while Bond and Russian Agent triple X try to stop megalomaniac Stromberg, who is obsessed with life at sea, from starting a global war. All the while Triple X is bent on revenge of the murder of her lover who Bond had killed on a previous mission.


The reason I think The Spy Who Loved Me was so successful was that they found a balance with Bond that they were aiming to get back since Goldfinger. Stromberg is a classic Bond megalomaniac and Jaws a menacing unstoppable nemesis to Bond. Moore feels more balanced even with playing Bond with a great sense of humor and seriousness.

Although it is over the top the film lends itself well to the world where Bond lives. Another great Bond car appears, the Lotus Esprit, that one ups the Aston Martin by turning into a submarine.

The relationship Bond has with his leading lady, Russian agent Triple X Anya Amasova, played by Barbara Bach is an interesting change. She is a rival to bond in all respects. License to kill, has her own gadgets and openly and willingly will betray bond to bring what information she needs to the KGB. It is the first time Bond is pitted with a female that is portrayed as an equal, or even better, to him. There are more to come, a new string of Bond girls where they are less objects to Bond which is a great thing and test to the times changing.

Part of the fun in this film is the on going battle between bond and Jaws, who becomes a classic Bond bad guy. How can Bond destroy an impossible enemy? He can’t in this film, so he battles Jaws out of his way constantly throughout the movie to get to his main objectives. When the audience sees Jaws there is a sense of dread for Bond every time, because we never know when he is coming next, but he is always in the back of our minds that he will be there soon to try and kill Bond.

The Spy Who Loved Me is considered by most the best Roger Moore film. It is grandiose, flashy and action packed. Carly Simon’s theme Nobody Does it Better is also a great song, but the questions about Bond using his license to kill without disregard to whom he is killing make the film deeper than some of the previous films. The fact that Bond takes away Amasova’s lover is very powerful and she is forced to forgive him, because of the nature of their work. The one flaw in this film is that she sleeps with Bond anyway, which doesn’t seem all that realistic, but Bond always gets the girl no matter what he has done.


1977 Movie Review: A SPECIAL DAY, 1977

Movie Reviews

Directed by: Ettore Scola

Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastrioanni, John Vernon,


It’s a very special day in 1939—the day Hitler first visits Mussolini in Rome. The event has been marked by a massive Fascist party rally and parade, drawing everyone in the city. An entire tenement block leaves for the parade, except housewife Antonietta and unemployed radio announcer Gabriele. A chance meeting causes the pair to return to each other’s company over and over during the day and in the space of a few short hours, they have formed a very close and ultimately redemptive bond. REVIEW:

Archival footage shows the arrival of Hitler and his highest-ranking Nazi cohorts by train and Mussolini’s Fascist army meeting and greeting them in Rome. A radio announcer gives full details of the historic event while giant swastikas float in the breeze, the streets choked with spectators. The announcer says that the Fascist forces are there in preparation for the next day, when an even bigger event will take place.

Daylight dawns over a tenement block in central Rome. The date is May 8, 1939—the day after the one the archival footage presented and the day of a huge Fascist party rally and parade. Pauletta (Françoise Berd), the caretaker of the block of flats, unveils a huge Nazi flag next to the Italian flag. In one of the flats, long-suffering mother and housewife Antonietta (Sophia Loren) goes from room to room, waking up all six of her children as well as her husband, Emanuele (John Vernon). It is nearly six, and if any of them are late for the rally, she doesn’t want them to complain to her. A flurry of activity results as the children, from little boy Vittorio to Antonietta’s surly and spoiled daughters Maria Luisa (Alessandra Mussolini) and Romana (Patricia Bazzo). Antonietta angrily discovers dirty pictures in the bed of Fabio (Maurizio Del Paoloantonio), but when she scolds him, he says that his father gave them to him.

Emanuele is a fervent Party member and exhorts his children to their patriotic duty as they have breakfast. Emanuele clearly has no respect for Antonietta, calling her lazy even though she has clearly gotten up hours before dawn to prepare the rest of the family. As the family make a mass exodus, in patriotic costume and their best clothes, streaming out into the courtyard with all the other families, Emanuele wonders that Antonietta doesn’t go to the rally. She says she has too much work to do. At last, the entire tenement empties, and only Antonietta and the caretaker are left in the silent building.

Or so she thinks. Going about her chores as if in a dream, Antonietta is flung into action when the family mynah bird flies out the window and across the courtyard to the flat opposite. Antonietta tries to signal to the man in the flat (Marcello Mastroianni), but he isn’t paying attention. Inside the flat, we see he has stacks of papers surrounding him as well as a gun. The impression is made that he is about to shoot himself. Antonietta arrives and asks for his help to rescue the bird. He helps her to rescue the bird and is relieved at the interruption. The loudspeaker radio announcer detailing every detail of the rally can be heard through every moment of the next few hours. Antonietta wants to make a quick getaway back to the safety of her flat, but the man introduces himself as Gabriele. Antonietta notices his copy of The Three Musketeers, which she accidentally confuses with The Four Musketeers, an extremely popular Italian radio serial of the time. Gabriele asks her to take the book with her, but she declines and leaves.

Gabriele receives a phone call from “Marco,” who it soon becomes clear is his absent lover. They argue and hint at a future that looks very bleak. Gabriele goes soon after to Antonietta’s flat and gives her the book anyway. He asks her for a cup of coffee, and she begins the long laborious process of hand grinding he beans. She takes the opportunity to try to tidy up and at the same time improve her appearance (she is dressed in an old housedress and dressing gown). They are interrupted by the arrival of Pauletta, who mean-spiritedly warns Antonietta against Gabriele. Gabriele decides he should probably leave, but Antonietta convinces him to stay for his coffee. She finds out that he is a radio announcer who was recently fired. He looks at the albums dedicated to Mussolini that she has put together, and he is both impressed and saddened by her devotion to “Il Duce.” She notes that she has six children and if she has a seventh the family will be eligible for the Large Family subsidy; as a bachelor, Gabriele has to pay a Celibacy Tax.

Pauletta interferes once again, intimating that Gabriele is not to be trusted because he is an antifascist. She also says Antonietta’s washing on the roof is dry. Antonietta says that he is in the flat fixing a light. Gabriele fixes the light but is rebuffed by Antonietta. She goes up to the roof to get her washing, while Gabriele follows her, ostensibly to avoid meeting Pauletta on his way back to his flat. Up on the roof, Gabriele surprises Antonietta by wrapping her up in a sheet, allowing her to laugh for the first time all day. Then she grows angry, saying that “all you men are the same,” and implies that Gabriele has only been after her to have a casual affair. Gabriele admits to her that the reason he was fired from the radio station was because of “degenerate behavior.” Antonietta gradually realizes that he means he has been ostracized for being gay—or “queer,” as he calls it. Gabriele is hurt by Antonietta’s attitude since has just bared his soul to her, and grows angry, attacking her and pretending to assault her. He chases her down the stairs and shouts for the entire complex to hear. Will the two remain friends on this special day? Or will scandal and unhappiness result when Emanuele and the children return?

A Special Day (Una giornata particolare in Italian) was nominated for two Oscars and two Palme D’Ors. It was a joint production with Canadian production company Canafox, and several of the actors, including the superb John Vernon, were Canadian. Set in one location and following the Aristotelian conceits of drama, it takes place in 24 hours. Its backdrop story is a dramatic and ominous one—Mussolini and Hitler and the takeover of Fascism—but its main story is a quiet and relatively uneventful one. Still, it is a powerful drama beautifully filmed by Scola and acted by the two leads.

Sophia Loren seems to have gone to extraordinary lengths to dull down her incredible good looks to exude Antonietta’s unhappiness. Trapped in a marriage to a cheating husband she doesn’t respect, her days filled endlessly with dreary chores, self-admittedly a woman of little education, she seems to go about in a perpetual cloud of exhaustion and tedium. We get this information, and the sense that her devotion to the Party and to radio are there because she has nothing else, mostly from the way Loren performs rather than the script. Mastroianni also beautifully underplays the erudition, the repression, and the extreme kindness at the heart of Gabriele’s character. For once in her life, Antonietta has found a man who doesn’t act like a man—that is, he cleans up after himself, he cooks, and he treats her as a human being rather than a housewife-robot. The two are trapped in different ways, and for that reason they create a unique bond that is touching to watch develop.

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Dem-3 Photo. Helene Jeanbrau © 1996 cine-tamaris.tif