H Hour Curfew Time May 6, 1938, “Una giornata particolare”

The post-neorealist cinema of Ettore Scola.

It’s May 6, 1938. We’re in Rome on the silent roofs in via Regina Margherita. The rooftop of the Policlinico Odontoiatrico George Eastman is one of two locations where Ettore Scola sets his 1977 masterpiece “Una giornata particolare”. The other one is situated within a short distance, just a few kilometers south, in via XXI Aprile: the Palazzo Federici. This apartment complex, built in 1931 by Mario De Renzi, follows the rationalist architectural style, common in Rome during the interwar period. It consists of an array of 10 to 12 storey high entities around a central courtyard. From an aerial perspective the outline of this complex resembles a fortress, a citadel, embedded in the quartiere Nomentano. True to the classicist influences in rationalist architecture, the overall shape simulates the harmony of proportions as seen in nature, in this case the lineaments of a butterfly. Some of the inhabitants coined the surname “Fanisterio” for their home. The building became one of the biggest apartment buildings built by the regime for its new generation of Italy’s futuristic kin.

With an unusual long take in the opening sequence, one of the most elaborate in Italian cinema, Ettore Scola guides our view through some of the details of this building. We’re able to take a glimpse at the cortile with its empty bassin, while the camera crawls along the windowshield of the illuminated staircase up to an open window into a kitchen enterieur, where Sophia Loren pours the fresh brew from the moka.

In this particular sunny morning the German Scholar is set to arrive with his Brown Shirted entourage at the train station in Rome to pay his respect to his Black Shirted Master and his devotees. But this historical scene and the two miserable Supremacits are reduced to an omnipresent noise in the background. The inhabitants, the adults dressed mostly in the black fascist uniforms, the young in their Balilla outfit, leave swarm like their kitchen and their floors out through the gates onto Viale XXI Aprile to follow the parade. All the while only the caretaker of the building, a bachelor mother and her neighbor (neither soldier, nor husband, nor father) are left in the empty building. Through the public service speakers Antonietta (Sophia Loren) and Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) become immersed in the historical reality by the voices of the narrating live broadcaster. We witness an act of secret “inner resistance” from two very different individuals: Antonietta, the naïve Donna Madre, whose fate in fascist Italy was that of meeting her feminine responsibilities as mother and domestic caretaker, and Gabriele, a dismissed EIAR radio broadcaster awaiting to be deported and confined to Sardinia, guilty of an alleged anti-fascist stance because of his homosexuality.

By choosing Mastroianni and Loren Ettore Scola managed to redefine the traditional gender stereotypes in the Italian cinema. Both actors were known for their performances representing the male and female prototypes of the Italian couple. Sophia Loren had to disguise her exuberant femininity in a housewife’s robe for her role as Antonietta. On the other hand Mastroianni’s elusive traits of softness helped to accept a new interpretation of homosexuality, distancing his character from the historic association with the effeminate ironic role of previous movies. 

In Ettore Scola’s works the situation of minorities and outcasts form a recurring theme. Forced to hide on the edges of Italian society their destiny is often described in the realist literature of contemporary writers like Giovanni Verga. Although in the same lineage and devoted to the traditions of Vittorio DeSica, Ettore Scola’s use of muted sepia tones softens neorealist “crudeness” and at the same time he maintains intact the aesthetics of DeSica, Fellini and Monicelli. His cinema is definitely a revivalists view on the neorealist aesthetics heritage.

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