It’s a sunny, lazy day in early-1960s Rome — the city is “like a graveyard,” with everyone away on holiday. Not Bruno (Vittorio Gassman), who drives through the quiet streets as if racing to the scene of an emergency; he’s a cheery man with a wickedly languorous smile and the attitude of one who has nowhere in particular to go, but who wants to get there as fast as possible. Into the free-form web of his day comes Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a younger man who’s busy studying, despite the sunshine. After impetuously inviting this stranger inside to use the phone, Roberto soon finds himself in the passenger seat, racing toward Tuscany and an experience he never imagined.
This is “Il Sorpasso,” the 1962 film from Italian director Dino Risi, now back in theaters in a new restoration of its elegant black-and-white cinematography. (Though not available in the U.S. for some time, it was a huge hit in Europe and influential as an early road movie.) It doesn’t look perfect — some scenes are still blurry, and the vocal track sometimes seems ever-so-slightly off — but it still gives a glorious taste of Italy on a summer day a half-century ago. “Quando, Quando, Quando” chases the jazz music of the soundtrack and the constant four-note honk of Bruno’s snappy roadster; young people dance the twist on the beach; and cars weave in and out of their lanes as if dangled by strings. The movie’s English title was “The Easy Life,” and Bruno seems the epitome of that; he’s a man who, at a restaurant, cheerfully wanders into the kitchen to sample the food, and who seems to have nothing on his mind but the next vague destination. (He almost seems to become the car, so relaxed is his driving.) The more reserved Roberto watches, fascinated; he’s tasting a new kind of life.
Along the way, we learn a little more about Bruno’s and Roberto’s family lives, have a number of roadside encounters (a group of priests with a flat tire; two beautiful tourists in a graveyard; a man sitting in the back of a van full of furniture, arranged like a mobile living room), and conclude on an unexpectedly poignant note. Even the most beautiful days, the kind where all that matters is the wind in your hair, have to come to an end.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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