Il Sorpaso

This classic Italian road movie, made in 1962, has recently been released on Netflix DVD.

Bruno, a guy with a fancy sports car, finds himself in Rome on Ferragosto (a national holiday) needing to make a phone call, but everything is closed.  Seeing a guy at his apartment window, he asks if he can come upstairs to make his call.  Next thing you know — road trip.

The two men couldn’t be more different.  Bruno is what the Italians would call a “vitellone” (literally, old calf) — pushing 40, without ever having figured out what to do with his life.  The younger man, Roberto, is a law student, so serious that he won’t even think about talking to the young woman next door until he’s finished school and gotten a job. Improbably, the two men hit it off.  And neither will ever be the same.

Although the road movie formula has been repeated many times in the last 50 years, it’s rarely been done better.  Seemingly every stereotype about Italian drivers makes an appearance.  Sometimes it offers a surprisingly frank look at human relationships and human s*xuality.  The camerawork is surprisingly good — some of the scenes are clearly shot from a moving car actually on the road, several years before this technique became commonplace in US movies.  And while it’s often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s not, in the last analysis, a comedy.

Bruno is played by the great Vittorio Gassman, a well-known Italian actor who never made much of a splash in the US.  Jean-Louis Tritignant, the French actor who plays Roberto, is probably best known in the US for the iconic French film A Man and a Woman.  Tritignant is still alive, and still working — he was most recently seen in Michael Haneke’s Amour.

In addition to the bromance, which is timeless, the movie provides a wonderful time capsule of Italy at a particularly interesting point in its history — just emerging from post-war devastation, and on the cusp of becoming the modern first-world country it is today.  The old ways of life, though, were not completely gone.  It’s startling to see Tuscany as a depopulated rural backwater, with social attitudes little changed from the 19th C — not the upscale international vacation spot it is today.  And who can resist that delightful Italian pop music?

Parental advisory — although there’s nothing in this movie that a child can’t see (no nudity, no foul language, no violence), unless your child is philosophically minded, they’d likely be bored.

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