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A Special Day – The Criterion Collection #778 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 1, 2015 by  



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Ettore Scola’s “A Special Day” was a wonderful reunion of Italy’s top talents: Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.  Two talents that are known for their magnificent performances onscreen and when they are together, the two are able to create magic.  “A Special Day” may not be Scola’s best film but it is no doubt a special, captivating and honest film that I highly recommend.

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: A Special Day – The Criterion Collection #778

YEAR OF FILM: 1977

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Color, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, Italian Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: October 13, 2015


Directed by Ettore Scola

Screenplay by Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola

Produced by Carlos Ponti

Music by Armando Trovajoli

Cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis

Edited by Raimondo Crociani

Production Design by Luciano Ricceri

Set Decoration by Luciano Ricceri

Costume Design by Enrico Sabbatini


Starring:

Sophia Loren as Antoinietta

Marcello Mastroianni as Gabriele

John Vernon as Emanuele, huband of Antoinietta

Francoise Berd as the Caretaker

Patrizia Basso as Romana

Tiziano De Persio as Arnaldo

Maurizio Di Paolantonio as Fabio

Antonio Garibaldi as Littorio

Vittorio Guerrieri as Umberto

Alessandra Mussolini as Maria Luisa


Italian cinema dream team Sophia Loren (Marriage Italian Style) and Marcello Mastroianni (La dolce vita) are cast against glamorous type and deliver two of the finest performances of their careers in this moving, quietly subversive drama from Ettore Scola (The Family). Though it’s set in Rome on the historic day in 1938 when Benito Mussolini and the city first rolled out the red carpet for Adolf Hitler, the film takes place entirely in a working-class apartment building, where an unexpected friendship blossoms between a pair of people who haven’t joined the festivities: a conservative housewife and mother tending to her domestic duties and a liberal radio broadcaster awaiting deportation. Scola paints an exquisite portrait in sepia tones, a story of two individuals helpless in the face of fascism’s rise.


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Filmmaker Ettore Scola will be remembered for his films such as “Il Sorpasso”, “La Famiglia and “The Dinner”, but he will also be remembered for “Una giornata particolare” (A Special Day).

The film stars Sophia Loren (“Matrimonio all’italiana”, “La ciociara”, Pret-a-Porter”), Marcello Mastroianni (“La Dolce Vita”, “8 1/2”, “La Notte”, “Divorce Italian Style”) and John Vernon (“Dirty Harry”, “Topaz”, “Animal House”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”).

“A Special Day” won multi-awards.  The film would win a Cesar Award for “Best Foreign Film”, would win three Nastro d’Argento awards in Italy for “Best Actress”, “Best Music”, “Best Script”, two David di Donatello awards for “Best Actress” and “Best Director” and would win a “Golden Globe Award” for Best Foreign Language Film.  The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Actor” and “Best Foreign Language Film” and also nominated for a Golden Palm at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.

And now “A Special Day” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

The film is set on May 8, 1938.  Adolf Hitler is visiting Mussolini in Rome and for homemaker Antonietta (portrayed by Sophia Loren), she is busy taking care of the family which includes her fascist husband Emanuele (portrayed by John Vernon) and her six spoiled children.

As her husband and children go to the parade to see Hitler and Mussolini, the apartment building is empty except for a neighbor across from her complex where Gabriele (portrayed by Marcello Mastroianni) lives.

Gabriele is a gay radio broadcaster and was fired from his job for being anti-fascist and a homosexual and is to be deported to Sardinia.

But when the family’s mynah bird escapes, Antonietta sees it across from her building, near Gabriele’s window.

When she goes to recover the bird, the two meet.  Then they have coffee and throughout the day, become closer and closer.

Antonietta is shocked because unlike her fascist husband, Gabriele is the opposite.  He is intelligent, sensitive to her feelings and unaware that he is gay, she finds herself drawn to him.

But as the two become close with one another, what will these two learn about each other and themselves?


VIDEO:

“A Special Day – The Criterion Collection #778” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). The film is presented in color but leaning more towards a sepia tone with wonderful blacks and details. The HD release of the film features much better sharpness and clarity.  I didn’t notice any major aging or any dirt or debris while watching the film.

The cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis (“Romeo and Juliet, “Death in Venice”, “The Damned”) is beautiful and manages to capture the emotions from the wonderful performances of Loren and Mastorianni.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The restoration was undertaken by the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia–Cineteca Nazionale in Rome in 2014. This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35mm original negative at L’immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, where, under the supervision of director Ettore Scola, the film was also restored.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “A Special Day – The Criterion Collection #778”. The film is presented in Italian LPCM 1.0. Dialogue and music are crystal clear.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm sound negative.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation and iZotope RX 4”

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“A Special Day – The Criterion Collection #778” comes with the following special features:

  • Ettore Scola – (21:06) A 2015 interview with director Ettore Scola.
  • Sophia Loren – (14:34) A 2015 interview with Sophia Loren.
  • The Dick Cavett Show – (28 minutes per episode) Featuring two Dick Cavett episodes featuring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni on October 10, 1977 and November 4, 1977.
  • Human Voice – (25:28) A short film from 2014 starring Sophia Loren inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play “La voix humane”.
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “A Special Day”.

EXTRAS:

“A Special Day – The Criterion Collection #778” comes with a six-page foldout featuring the essay “Small Victories” by Deborah Young.


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When it comes to onscreen couples, the working relationship between Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni is well-known to Italian cineaste.

One of my favorite films featuring the two are “Ieri, oggi, domani” (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) and the film no doubt shows how these two talents have wonderful chemistry with one another.

And over a decade later, the two reunited for “Ieri, oggi, domani”.  For most cineaste that love Italian films, the attraction of the film is to watch another Ettore Scola film but also to watch these two talents together.  While others, probably were shocked to watch “The Dick Cavett Show” and heard rumors that Marcello Mastroianni said the F-word on television.

But its interesting to watch these two “lost” characters discover something important while together.

While for the modern viewer, the film probably has much different meaning today than it was back in 1977.

In many ways, this was a bold film that was ahead of its time as it dealt with a woman who’s job was only to work and clean and give birth to children and the character of Antoinetta feeling dissatisfied with her place at home. During the making of this film, it was two years after the courts abolished the legal dominance of the husband in Italy in 1975.

But even today, women are still expected to stay at home and take care of the children and the country still has the lowest employment for women compared to other countries in Europe.

While Gabriele is an intelligent and reserved man, but also a man who stuck to his beliefs, he is also a homosexual man that is outed during the time of Hitler/Mussolini.

Gabriele’s homosexuality and his anti-facism stance during the regime of Benito Mussolini would mean persecution, public admonition or confinement.

So, the film touches upon inequality which was bold for its time and what better to pull something off by than having two of Italy’s well-known talents together and the film literally rides on their shoulders to deliver.  And both give commanding performances onscreen.

But the film is far from perfect.  We see Antoinetta’s life play on screen for the first 15 minutes or so and understand why she seems so tired.  Meanwhile, Gabriele’s life, we don’t know if he’s just a reserved individual or he is actually depressed of what would become of his life after the day is over?  And would the scene between the two towards the end actually happen?

Still, it’s fascinating to see these two individuals reveal themselves to each other and the viewer to learn about them with each revelation shared, we know deep in our hearts and the life they live during that era, is most unfortunate for both individuals because there is no escape, there is no acceptance and there is no equality.  And for those of us who have watched enough Italian neorealist films know that Italy was in terrible financial shape after World War II and families had not much to live on.  The film is able to capture the mutual oppression of its characters with efficacy.

As for the Blu-ray release, “A Special Day” looks much better than it ever has.  Featuring a restoration that brings out the clarity of the film and shows no sign of aging, the film looks impressive in HD.  The lossless soundtrack is clean and is devoid of any hissing or crackle.  And you also get 2015 interviews plus the two 1977 Dick Cavett episodes as well.

Overall, Ettore Scola’s “A Special Day” was a wonderful reunion of Italy’s top talents: Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.  Two talents that are known for their magnificent performances onscreen and when they are together, the two are able to create magic.  “A Special Day” may not be Scola’s best film but it is no doubt a special, captivating and honest film that I highly recommend.

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