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from Filippo Mazzarella

Luigi Comencini’s film is a (tragi) bitter and bitter comedy, with an amazing cast

In 1972, the cinema of the masters and fathers of Italian comedy (after having suffered, ridden, criticized, abyssed and metabolized the Sixty-eight) looked to a country in increasingly critical conditions in which social tensions worsen, germs of terrorism took root (in March of that year the Red Brigades “signed” their first kidnapping, that of the engineer Idalgo Macchiarini), the political apparatuses falter and the most seasoned observers already smell the signs of the global oil crisis than in the early 1973 will lead to Austerity.

At the cinema, the season of triumph has just ended extended at the box office of “… and they continued to call him Trinit” with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer (fourteen million tickets, science fiction numbers compared to today), but also of “Il Decameron” by Pier Paolo Pasolini and “Mim metallurgico wounded in honor “by Lina Wertmller (respectively in first, third and fourth place in the 1971/72 boxoffice, in a ranking that sees sixteen Italian films in the first twenty and in the place of honor” 007 – A waterfall of diamonds “) . Things are changing. The works of the “masters” are “souring”, the bitter aftertaste already present in their films is about to definitely take over: the caustic Mario Monicelli comes from “La mortadella” (1971) and is preparing the vitriolic satire of “Vogliamo the colonels “(1973); Dino Risi has just signed a masterpiece of disillusionment like “In the name of the Italian people” (1971) and works on the forgotten “Hit and run” (1973); the militant Ettore Scola is finishing the acrid “The most beautiful evening of my life” (released in December) and even in the atmospheres of Federico Fellini’s “Rome” (released in March) there is a relatively different and more leaden air than to the previous films of the Rimini master.

In this context, Luigi Comencini’s “The scientific scopone” [presentato in anteprima mondiale il 24 settembre 1972 a Saint Vincent in occasione di un torneo della F.I.G.S – Federazione Italiana Gioco Scopone e poi uscito nelle sale italiane il 6 ottobre] is placed in the middle of the ford: its nature as a post-post-neo-realist comedy (the magnificent script signed only by Rodolfo Sonego, prince of our local screenwriters), structured like a black fairy tale, does not directly relate it to the “committed” wave and in the “political” plonge of his contemporaries; but its indisputable aspect of an apologue on the class struggle (or on the defeat of the proletariat deceived by intellectuals, as some “liberal” reviews of the time claimed?) nonetheless marks a significant break with respect to the previous phase of the director’s career (whose last three films were very different in tone and form “Italian Secret Service”, 1968, “Childhood, vocation and first experiences of Giacomo Casanova, Venetian” and “Without knowing anything about her”, both from 1969), transforming it in spite of himself into an important trait d’union with the times to come.

In “The scientific scopone”, an elderly billionaire Italian American with no name (Bette Davis) returns on vacation as usual, in the company of her driver and ex-lover George (Joseph Cotten), to her villa on the Roman hills at the foot of which, in a poor hamlet, they live with their five children the poor spouses Peppino (Alberto Sordi) and Antonia (Silvana Mangano). The two are regularly invited by the woman (who lends them the money to play and has George as a matchmate) to participate in long scientific scopone tournaments that always end with the defeat of the borgatari due to Peppino’s poor gaming intelligence. who continues to participate in it with the mirage of tapping the old woman with the necessary money to take over a junkyard business, move with her family to a decent home and free her prostitute sister from the clutches of her macr. During what the two hope to be a final rematch, an illness of the billionaire interrupts the game when the two are in the surplus of seven million lire. But after a while, furious, the old woman forces them to return to the table for a “monster” game with double bets.

Peppino and Antonia go into crisis: dar heed to the prudence recommended to them by a priest and to be satisfied or to the resoluteness of a communist professor (Mario Carotenuto) who would like them to take advantage of the poor health of the “witch” to reduce her to the pavement? Antonia decides to return to the villa and continue playing: but as usual the exhausting marathon ends with yet another mistake by Peppino, sending their dreams up in smoke. And when the woman tries again to face her rival with a different partner, Righetto (Domenico Modugno), a professional player (and cheater) who has always had a weakness for her, the situation does not change: the two will bring to the table a capital made up of savings of the entire township gathered by the professor to annihilate the “witch”, but after a triumphal escalation they will lose everything. Righetto will try to kill himself, while Peppino, despite his wife has even sold their shack to put together the lost budget, will make peace with Antonia, resigning himself to waiting for a new opportunity for redemption the following year. Cleopatra (Antonella Di Maggio), eldest daughter of the couple who witnessed the entire tragedy mute, donated a cake to the departing billionaire that she made stuffed with rat poison …

“The scientific scopone”, created by Comencini after the television experience “I Bambini e noi” (a six-hour documentary from 1970 which is also fundamental for part of the narrative economy of this film), as already mentioned, a bitter and bitter (tragi) comedy that first assumes the connotations of a apologue on the class struggle (with respect to which Comencini and Sonego do not seem to have great confidence: see the description, albeit affectionate, of the professor played by Carotenuto, whose vacuous slogans will contribute to the ruin of the two protagonists “, P. Mereghetti), where the power conferred by money will always end up with the prevarication of the unlimitedly rich over the eternally poor; and then those of a black fairy tale, with the “bad” initially represented as a generous charmer and then as that of a bizarre and cruel “queen” whose facade of equal cordiality fails once her overwhelming ego is put in crisis .

The fast pace and the amazing casting are the strengths of the film: if the former Hollywood stars in decline Bette Davis and Joseph Cotten (together again after Aldrich’s “Piano … piano, dolce Carlotta”, 1964) are also perfect as a metaphor for a cinema that is now “ancient ”And destined for oblivion, Alberto Sordi (David di Donatello as best actor) immolates himself in a role that is always on the borderline between conscious self-parody and the sublimation of his own mask into a symbol; while Silvana Mangano (also for her a David as best actress), extraordinary precisely because paradoxically unsuitable for her character, gives the borgatara Antonia a psychological “aristocratic” dignity even before physiognomy. Not least the cast of supporting actors, in which a Carotenuto stands out (Nastro d’Argento 1973 as supporting character) conscientiously improbable in his figure as a popular ideologue and above all Modugno, who shows off all his histrionic qualities in the most beautiful role ever offered him by a Italian cinema that has knowingly underused it.

It has always been said, critically, that in quasi-nihilism that permeates it “The scientific scopone” opens an unexpected optimistic glimmer with the representation of those children, often investigated by the director, whose final intervention seems to be cynically resolving here; and according to Comencini himself, the character of Cleopatra “the only one to possess the truth” in a world governed by the senselessness of the actions of adults. But fifty years later, the final question that the film poses mockingly remains the same: really a solution is its extreme gesture (determined both by the professor’s fomenting for the physical elimination of the “witch” and by the necessity that his family no longer expose themselves in the future to choices that further jeopardize their poor economic stability)? Or will it not be more likely that once the billionaire has pretended to accept it instead of tasting it, she destined it directly to the garbage, thus propitiating a probable new round the following year, condemning the protagonists to a perverse declination of the myth of the eternal return? There is no catharsis, revolutions are meant to be lost. Evil Capital. And immortal.

September 22, 2022 (change September 22, 2022 | 18:39)


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