Throughout the ’60s, for whatever reason the anthology film was a big thing, especially in Europe. All the great European directors of the time did shorts for these compilation films. Boccaccio ’70 is one that features segments directed by Italian maestros like Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and … Mario Monicelli. The first three all made some of the greatest films ever, but Monicelli is barely remembered, mostly for Big Deal on Madonna Street, which has be remade twice (with Welcome to Collinwood being the most recent.)
Boccaccio ’70 tries to loosely tie all the stories together under the guise of being in the spirit of Giovanni Boccaccio, so they all deal with love, relationships and morality in contemporary times. They don’t really tie together at all, but if you take them as separate short films they are hit and miss.
First up, and the best of the four, is of course the Fellini segment. It’s a pretty amusing tale of an elderly man who is outraged by the immorality that is on show in society and crusades against it. A billboard of Anita Ekberg is erected (pun intended) in view of his apartment, and soon Fellini’s imagination comes alive, as does the billboard, and torments the man. It’s a fun short film, which I’m sure Fellini loved making because it gave him a chance to poke fun at the people who were outraged by his previous film, La Dolce Vita.
The Visconti one is really disappointing, however. It’s a rather boring story of an aristocratic couple whose lives are turned upside down when the husband is seen visiting prostitutes. It’s the world Visconti knew well and loved to critique, but it really drags on and on, like most of the segments. It does feature Tomas Milian is rare non-cult film role, and he is perfectly decent in his part. It also marks Visconti’s first collaboration with Romy Schneider, who he would later direct in Ludwig.
Vittorio De Sica’s segment is more Felliniesque than De Sica’s own brand of neo-realism. It’s about a traveling circus, at which the winner of a balloon-shooting contest is guaranteed a night with fairground worker Sophia Loren. However, she has ulterior motives. Loren totally commands the screen and the other actors, and owns the short. It’s a breath of fresh air after the disappointing Visconti segment.
The final segment on the disc is directed by Monicelli, which in other versions has sometimes been cut completely from the film or moved to being first up in the segments. I have no idea why it’s on the end here, and after watching it, cutting it was probably the right idea. It does have Marisa Solinas, who is a cute Anna Karina lookalike as a wife who works in the same office as her husband. However, if their employers find out they are married, she will be fired, same goes if she gets pregnant. They really want to move out of Solinas’s parents house into their own, so they have to make it seem as if they aren’t married.
Overall, Boccaccio ’70 is a mixed bag, but anthology films are hard to get right, and they only really work if it’s a genre piece or by the same director. It’s worth seeing for the De Sica and Fellini parts, especially as Fellini’s contribution was his first foray into colour filmmaking. Luckily, it’s easy enough to skip segments if you feel like it. The disc includes a documentary on Sophia Loren, which is also on some other releases from Cult Films in which she features.