Perhaps no two actors of the great Italian film heyday spanning Neorealism and beyond have such inimitable range, class and style as Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. Together they costarred in 12 films and worked with the masters and the grandaddies — Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Visconti, et al.
I recently viewed Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” spotlighted in my column last week, and in that film one of Mastroianni and Loren’s most exquisite pairings is briefly referenced for its thematic similarities to Polley’s documentary. From 1964, Vittorio De Sica’s “Marriage, Italian Style” — nominated for two Oscars — deals with domesticity, parenthood and (as in “Stories We Tell”) uncertain paternity, and whether pursuing the answer to that uncertainty will get you anywhere at all. This late effort from the “Bicycle Thieves” director is a visually impeccable comedy of manners and errors, and a swooning May-December romance between a philandering businessman and the cunning, yet clingy prostitute who tricks him into marriage. Beginning to end, this is pure pleasure, a far-cry from De Sica’s more bitter, early films but nonetheless quite magical on its own.
Mastroianni’s characters never could keep it in their pants, and his Domenico in “Marriage” is quintessential Marcello. He’s often credited for his iconic performances as the brooding, sensitive, intellectual dreamers of “8 1/2” and “La Dolce Vita” but he could also play a suave, sleazy, animalistic brute with irresistible finesse. The man had sex appeal. But he also had a darkness and a moral complexity burrowed in that cocky brow. (I couldn’t resist including the Trevi fountain scene from “La Dolce Vita” below, along with De Sica trailers.)
Sophia Loren, a real siren of the silver screen, may have been the literal poster girl of poster girls, but she was foremost a classy actress of innumerable gifts. In 1960, De Sica directed her all the way to a best actress Oscar as a mother on the run in “Two Women.” As Filumena opposite Mastroianni in “Marriage, Italian Style,” she was 30 years old during filming, but her character is believably 17 in the early parts of the movie. That is, until she transforms completely, playing Filumena as a complete nervous wreck, a victim of domestication gone horribly wrong who would probably get along with Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
To streamers’ delight, “Marriage, Italian Style” is available across many VOD platforms including Netflix, Fandor and MUBI, but also for free via SnagFilms and Hulu. You can also check out De Sica’s 1963 “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” on the same sites. In this triptych of love stories, Mastroianni and Loren play three different characters at various points in a relationship. Streaming on Hulu Plus via Criterion is Pietro Germi’s 1961 comedy with Hitchcockian elements, “Divorce, Italian Style,” starring Mastroianni.