Una Vita Difficile (1961)

January 5th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Dino Risi | Alberto Sordi, Lea Massari, Franco Fabrizi, Lina Volonghi | Italy, Drama 118′

Lake Como, Northern Italy, 1944. Partisan Sordi on the run from the Germans, is sheltered, nursed and romanced in an abandoned mill by local innkeeper’s daughter Massari, whisking her to Rome after the war to share his shabby flat.

The story of an on-again, off-again, then on-again relationship, told against 17 years of Italian history, from the last year of World War II to the economic boom of the early 1960s – the liberation of Rome, the country’s switch from monarchy to republic, the first post-Fascist general election, etc. – as Sordi’s commitment to the Cause gets in the way of his earning a decent living for Massari and their newborn son.

In Italy, Una Vita Difficile is cherished as one of the great works of commedia all’italiana – a Golden Age of cinema from the 50s and 60s that includes Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street, Germi’s Divorce Italian Style, Lattuada’s Mafioso, De Sica’s Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and Risi’s own Il Sorpasso. While these and others were major arthouse hits, Una Vita Difficile was never released in the US.

One of Italy’s most beloved stars, Alberto Sordi began his film career as the Italian dubbing voice of Hollywood actors, including Cary Grant, and became famous as the Italian voice of Oliver Hardy.  After appearing as the Valentinoesque title character of Federico Fellini’s The White Sheik, Sordi had his breakthrough role in Fellini’s I Vitelloni, as one of the aimless young men of the title

Though never an international star like contemporaries Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio Gassman, Sordi was one of Italy’s biggest box office attractions, starring in over 150 movies (19 directed by himself).  Along with Anna Magnani, Sordi was the quintessential Roman, affectionately known by his public as “Albertone.” At his funeral in 2013, an estimated crowd of close to a million gathered outside the church to pay their last respects.

Una Vita Difficile’s many comic highlights include a Banquet from Hell at the table of an ancient principessa and a riotous sequence at Cinecittà, with guest appearances by superstars Vittorio Gassman (who’d star in Risi’s Il Sorpasso a year later) and Silvana Mangano (best known as star of the neo-realist classic Bitter Rice and wife of producer Dino De Laurentiis), along with director Alessandro Blasetti, known as “the father of Italian cinema.”

Often called “Italy’s Billy Wilder,” Dino Risi’s film career began as an assistant to Mario Soldati and Alberto Lattuada. His films are populated by a rogue’s gallery of shamelessly lovable commedia all’Italiana types in the inimitable guises of some of the era’s greatest actors: Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi, and Sophia Loren.” Risi was awarded an Honorary Golden Lion at the 2002 Venice Film Festival for his life’s work.

Una Vita Difficile was scanned in 4K from the original negative by Istituto Luce, Rome.  The restoration was carried out at VDM by Studiocanal and headline.@Andrea Torres

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