Boccaccio ’70: Showcasing the Renaissance in Italian Film

Very few films are able to effortlessly combine the temperaments and egos of major directors. 1962’s Boccaccio ’70 manages to bring together the singular minds of Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Coming in at over three hours, the film feels far shorter because of how engaging it is. Each story stands alone in its own right, but when shown back to back, reveals the incredible talent in Italian cinema during this time period.

Promotional poster for Boccaccio '70
Promotional poster for Boccaccio ’70
The first story, directed by Monicelli (also known for Big Deal on Madonna Street and Casanova 70), follows the challenges of Renzo (Germano Gilioli) and Luciana (Marisa Solinas) as they attempt to conceal their relationship from their boss at work. The two decide to marry in secret and end up living with Luciana’s parents. To make matters more tense, Luciana fears she may be pregnant. This causes a stress on their rapport, compounded by Luciana’s lecherous boss trying to spend time with her outside of work. Ultimately, Luciana finds out she isn’t with child and takes a stand against her boss when he catches her being affectionate toward Renzo in the factory. The story details the ability love has to transcend even the bleakest of circumstances. Fittingly, Boccaccio ’70 begins with this vignette in order to digress into other stories with a slightly less positive attitude toward humanity.
Sophia Loren as Zoe in Boccaccio '70
Sophia Loren as Zoe in Boccaccio ’70
The second story, directed by Fellini, reveals a comical look at easily outraged Italian moralists. Entitled “Le Tentazioni del Dottor Antonio (The Temptations of Doctor Antonio),” Fellini’s tale unfolds with the overly uptight Dr. Antonio (Peppino De Filippo), a man who prides himself on keeping Rome as chaste and virtuous as possible. To Dr. Antonio’s dismay, he is affronted by the presence of a salacious billboard featuring Anita Ekberg holding a glass of milk. The billboard is accompanied by a speaker that repeats the same jingle reciting “bevete piu latte (drink more milk)” over and over again. Tormented by the sight and sound of the billboard, Dr. Antonio is driven to throw black ink at it, causing it to be covered.
Appalled by Ekberg.
Appalled by Ekberg.
Thinking he has made a great achievement, Dr. Antonio is dismayed to find himself being haunted by Ekberg as she comes to life in giant form off the billboard. Taunting and laughing at him, Ekberg threatens to undress publicly. Very much a statement on those who pose as “virtuous” being so because they themselves are incapable of resisting temptation, Fellini holds a scathing mirror up to the moral majority.
Romy Schneider as Pupe in VIsconti's segment, "Il Lavoro"
Romy Schneider as Pupe in Visconti’s segment, “Il Lavoro”
The grim tone of Boccaccio ’70 reaches a crescendo in what is perhaps the most affecting segment, “Il Lavoro (The Job),” directed by Luchino Visconti. Ottavio (Tomas Milian), a prominent Italian man, causes a scandal throughout the nation by being caught for paying thousands of lire on call girls. His wife, Pupe (Romy Schneider), is decidedly stoic over the matter. When Ottavio enters her bedroom to ask forgiveness, she acts as though nothing has really happened and tells him that their marriage has always been one of convenience. Her wealthy German father insists that they get a divorce and Pupe informs both of them that she plans to get a job. In the end, Visconti employs severe irony in concluding the vignette with Pupe forcing Ottavio to pay her for sex. This, in effect, is her new “job.”
Sophia Loren continues the running motif of prostitution in Vittorio De Sica's segment, "La Riffa"
Sophia Loren continues the running motif of prostitution in Vittorio De Sica’s segment, “La Riffa”
The final segment, “La Riffa (The Raffle),” continues the motif of women being treated as whores. Sophia Loren collaborates yet again with Vittorio De Sica to bring a complex character named Zoe to the screen. Her imprisonment to the debts she owes finds her involved with a man running a raffle offering up her sex as a prize. However, in the interim of the raffle ticket winner being announced, she meets a handsome man who also works at the fair. His earnestness warms her heart, but is trumped when he makes her feel judged for having to sleep with the raffle winner. She stands up for herself vehemently, which only serves to make his fondness for her grow.
Alternate promo for Boccaccio '70
Alternate promo for Boccaccio ’70
The effect Boccaccio ’70 leaves on its viewers is astounding, not only for the powerful messages conveyed by each story, but also because it’s incredible to note how much directorial talent existed in Italy during this era.