For a short time, Dino Risi’s cinema recorded, with blissful candor, the transformations of Italian society at the end of the 1950s. It was comedy. Poor but beautiful (1957) and its two suites, Beautiful but poor (1957) and Poor millionaires (1959). But very quickly, as the country rushed violently and blindly into a prosperous and consumerist modernity, the author of Monsters (1963), expressed in his cinema a whole heartbreaking and sarcastic perplexity, a vision of a lucid ferocity.
The “Italian-style” comedy, of which A difficult life, in 1961, and The Fanfaron, the following year, could constitute the founding titles, will be a cruel way for the scenario writer to observe his contemporaries and to turn over the euphoric prevailing illusions of the time. It is a genre that questions the very notion of “comedy”, so much laughter is regularly strangled by the emergence of a reality which is, in the end, anything but funny.
Alberto Sordi plays Silvio Magnozzi, a journalist, a former anti-fascist partisan during the war, who tries to maintain moral integrity and fidelity to his youthful convictions, an attitude made derisory by the permanent evolution of a world without faith, law or memory. Spread over fifteen years, the story ofA difficult life embraces a whole period of Italy seen through the singular itinerary of its main protagonist, a period which runs from the immediate post-war period to the beginning of the 1960s, from scarcity to the fruits of an economic miracle.
Married to a young woman met during the war, Magnozzi will gradually oppose her, who hopes for a petty-bourgeois life promising her comfort and consumer goods. This future seems close at hand as long as her husband deigns to abandon an intransigence which will cost him more and more dearly (up to a few years in prison).
Corruption of minds
In Dino Risi’s films, laughter is often dialectical, based on the opposition of opposites that do not cancel each other out but are confusedly opposed, or even feed off each other. Thus Magnozzi’s integrity is tempered by a social awkwardness allowing Alberto Sordi’s genius to unfold, his wife’s (Lea Massari) devoid of moral ambition explained by a legitimate desire to go beyond his condition.
The film shows that the price to pay for the economic and social modernization of Italy is astronomical
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