For his sophomore feature filmmaking effort, actor-screenwriter-director Carlo Verdone returned to the successful formula of his debut one year earlier in Un sacco bello/Fun Is Beautiful (1980). In that first film, which he also co-wrote, Verdone played multiple characters in an anthology comedy about average Italians dealing with modern life. For Bianco, rosso e Verdone, he once again wrote himself three very different roles in a triple-episode story.
The plot centers around election day in Italy, when voters must return to their hometowns to cast their ballots. Verdone plays an emigrant in Germany faced with the reality of an Italy that doesn’t match his happy memories, an obnoxious man whose wife wants to leave him and a not-very-smart young man enduring constant mocking by his diabetic grandmother as they travel from Verona to Rome.
Verdone signals his intention to take a humorous look at then-contemporary Italy right from the title, a play on the colors of the Italian flag (bianco/white, rosso/red, verde/green) with his own name substituting for the last. It may have been a bold move for a fledgling director, but Verdone was already well-known as a stand-up comic and quickly earned his film reputation as the natural heir to the comedy throne occupied for years by the much-loved and revered Alberto Sordi (1920-2003), veteran of several Fellini films and a director in his own right.
The film, like Verdone’s debut, was produced by Sergio Leone, director of the Clint Eastwood “spaghetti Western” trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), as well as the American crime epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Leone was a fan of Verdone’s stage work and became a mentor and early champion of his film career. He was initially against Verdone’s title because it sounded too much like an earlier film Bianco rosso e.../The Sin (1972). Leone was afraid audiences would confuse the new comedy with the Sophia Loren box office flop.
As it turned out, Bianco, Rosso e Verdone was an even bigger hit than Verdone’s first movie and established him as a star. It was nominated in four categories of the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the U.S. Academy Awards: Actor (Verdone), Actress (Elena Fabrizi as the grandmother), Music (by Ennio Morricone, composer of scores for Leone and many other international directors) and Editing. Fabrizi (1919-1993), whose career spanned from 1954 until shortly before her death, ironically won the Silver Ribbon Best New Actress Award from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists for her role in this picture.
The title wasn’t Leone’s only issue with the film. Verdone recalled in an interview that the producer hated the character of Furio (the obnoxious husband), thinking the audience would reject him as too overbearing and negative. Those scenes were ultimately saved by Sordi (who Verdone also counted as a mentor) and actress Monica Vitti after they saw an early private screening of the movie and found the character amusing.
Verdone forged working relationships with some of his cast members, among them Fabrizi, Angelo Infanti and Mario Brega (who also appeared in Un sacco bello), all of whom appeared in his future productions. Leone would also executive produce (without credit) Verdone’s later comedy Troppo forte (1986).
In his later career, Verdone has kept his comic edge while introducing more serious subjects and harsher critiques of modern society and everyday individuals’ struggles to cope with it. He is also known to contemporary audiences for his role as Romano, the hopelessly lovelorn playwright in Paolo Sorrentino’s Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty/La grande bellezza (2013).
Director: Carlo Verdone
Producer: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Carlo Verdone
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
Editing: Nino Baragli
Production Design: Carlo Simi
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Carlo Verdone (Pasquale/Furio/Mimmo), Irina Sanpiter (Magda), Elena Fabrizi (Nonna Teresa), Angelo Infanti (Raul), Milena Vukotic (Prostituta), Mario Brega ('Il Principe')
By Rob Nixon