The early ’60s saw a brief boom in European anthology films that assembled short features from notable directors into a sample platter for curious audiences. Trouble is, audiences didn’t always get the directors’ most carefully prepared offerings, or had to sit through tedious efforts to get to the good stuff. (Who today thinks of Ugo Grigoretti, the “G” in RoGoPaG, alongside his omnibus companions Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, and Pier Paolo Pasolini?) Released in 1962, Boccaccio ’70 gave the omnibus film a cross-section of great Italian directors, not all of them working at the top of their game. Produced by Carlo Ponti, the film is organized around the loose concept of, as the English trailer put it, tales that “Boccaccio might have included in his Decameron for 1970.” (Yet all four of Boccaccio ’70’s entries remain rooted in the Italy of 1962, which suggests the title might have been chosen for how it looks on posters above any other consideration.)
Broadly interpreted, that means tales of lust, love, and hypocrisy. Big Deal On Madonna Street director Mario Monicelli kicks things off with “Renzo E Luciana,” the story of two young lovers who get married, but have to hide their love so the bride can keep her job. A wistful sigh of a movie—it was cut from the release in every market except for Italy—it feels minor but poignant, capturing the indignity of love without money in post-war Italy and life on the tower-block-strewn ridges of Rome, the parts of the city movie cameras rarely travel. Federico Fellini livens things up with “Le Tentazioni Del Dottor Antonio,” which finds a prudish man (Peppino De Filippo) tormented by a suggestive billboard of Anita Ekberg—who not long before, had famously bathed in Trevi Fountain in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita—advertising milk. It’s simultaneously hilarious and tedious, blowing Ekberg up to Godzilla size to terrorize poor De Filippo, but never finding a second joke beyond contrasting its protagonist’s repression with the lusty life around him. (Good luck shaking off the jingle Nino Rota composes for milk, however.)
Vittorio De Sica finishes off the film with a broad, diverting comedy called “La Riffa,” in which Sophia Loren (Ponti’s wife) plays a carnival worker who lets her pleasures be sold off via lottery, then develops second thoughts.
But the collection’s highlight is another tale of love, money, and the points where they intersect. Directed by Luchino Visconti, “Il Lavoro” casts Tomas Milian as a young Italian nobleman whose fondness for prostitutes attracts the attention of the tabloids and embarrasses his German wife (Romy Schneider). As they talk about the scandal, and negotiate what should happen next, she proves to be anything but prepared to fade into the role of a longsuffering wife—at least until a devastating final shot that shows how deep she’s suffering, and how long that hurt will last. It’s the one entry in Boccaccio ’70 that overachieves, a half-feature that feels like a full movie, and enough to make the work of the major directors around it feel minor by comparison.
Key features: Just some posters, stills, and a trailer.