Cast & Crew
Bruno, a middle-aged playboy vacationing in Rome, is looking for a telephone to arrange a date. Roberto, a serious young law student, sees him and allows him to use the telephone in his apartment. After the call, Bruno invites Roberto to have a drink with him and later for a long ride in his sports car. Although he is wary of the dissolute Bruno, Roberto is attracted by his charm and carefree existence. In the course of 2 days, Roberto is exposed to Bruno's exciting friends, his teenaged daughter, and a number of beautiful women. The days are spent on the Riviera dancing, sunbathing, and sailing. Bruno succeeds in destroying Roberto's illusions and purpose in life; and the once shy and retiring young man is completely drawn into Bruno's aimless mode of living. Roberto is killed, however, as Bruno's speeding car crashes. Viewing the wreckage, Bruno finally becomes aware of the emptiness of his existence.
Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life) -
In terms of pure story, Risi certainly created the mismatched-buddies road comedy footprint a thousand spoofs have stepped into since. A propos of nothing, on a Sunday morning in a seemingly abandoned Rome, hedonistic blowhard Vittorio Gassman, in his white Lancia Aurelia convertible, demands to use shy law student Jean-Louis Trintignant's phone, and then convinces him to hit the road on a lark. The opposite numbers take off on what turns into a flirty, trouble-making multi-day voyage up the Tyrrhenian coast, during which, paradigmatically, both men 's antithetical qualities rub off on each other, and they both face their "real life" situations, in the forms of family lives that weren't quite what each man had thought. These structural ideas weren't clichés in 1962, and anyway Risi was too much of a commediante to dawdle on emotional fallout, favoring instead Gassman's relentless bad-boy brattiness (exemplified by his dismissal of Antonioni as soporific, and his sportster's grating toot-toot horn, blasted at every opportunity) and Trintignant's much funnier straight-man reaction shots.
Under the skin, the film is carrying a barely sublimated ambivalence about its characters, and about the Italian male personality. The film pits Gassman's near-middle-aged hot dog against the younger and uber-responsible bookworm Trintignant, and the gentle personality combat between them articulates a tension in Italian macho culture, as it struggled with its traditional narcissism and misogyny in a new world of increasingly commercial demands. Italy had always been a slow-paced, agrarian, domestic society formed around centuries-old ideas of family, masculinity and Catholic rite, but in the '50s and '60s, after the postwar injection of the Marshall Plan and with the subsequent rise of industry, consumerism and American-individualist ethos, the human landscape was changing. In Risi's movie, it is clearly Gassman's overcompensating bullhorn of an older man who is lost in this new wilderness, while Trintignant's meek and more interiorized student is already acclimated to the future.
This breezy movie carries this context as lightly as a sun hat, and Italians in 1962 and since never needed to be reminded of the situation these characters live in. The specifics are resonant: the title translates to "the overtaking," referring to the dangerous Italian driving habit of "passing" another driver come hell or high water, to demonstrate one's superiority on the road and in life. In a hilarious article for Holiday magazine in 1970, essayist Jackson Burgess limns this frame of mind and its consequences beautifully: "Stopping at a stop sign is prima facie evidence that the driver, if male, is a cuckold," Burgess maintains. But, "the paramount feature of Italian highway driving is il sorpasso. The word sorpassare means both "to pass with an automobile" and "to surpass or excel." To sorpassare someone is to excel him socially, morally, sexually, and politically. By the same token, to be sorpassato is to lose status, dignity, and reputation. Thus, it is not where you arrive that counts but what (or whom) you pass on the way. The procedure is to floor your accelerator and leave it there until you come up on something you can pass. If il sorpasso is not immediately possible, settle in its wake at a distance of six or eight inches and blow your horn until such time as you can pass."
And such it is in Risi's film, and of course the maniacal and life-threatening driving behavior is a grounded metaphor for all Italian masculinity, facing a sense of social emasculation. Of course, the film ends tragically, in a post-James Dean manner made inevitable by il sorpasso, and which boldly suggests a Zeitgeist moment. This tonal volte-face was copied by many films thereafter, from Richard Sarafian's Vanishing Point (1971) to Fernando Di Leo's To Be Twenty (1978) to Thelma and Louise (1991) and beyond, but one cannot be blamed for wondering, with every toot-toot, whether Risi's goofy, seemingly unfocused spree effectively comments on its culture or is actually a semi-conscious reflection of it. As fringe benefits while you chew on that question, the scenery is lovely and the cast is vivid, from the leads (this is the second of 15 films Gassman and Risi made together, including the original Scent of a Woman, in 1974) to the mesmerizing Catherine Spaak as Gassman's disillusioned ex-wife. In the end, like all road movies, it's a trip to nowhere, which is surely the entire point.
By Michael Atkinson
Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life) -
Filmed in Rome and on the Italian Riviera. Opened in Rome in December 1962 as Il sorpasso.
Released in United States 1961
Released in United States August 14, 1990
Released in United States September 1994
Released in United States 1961
Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 2-5, 1994.
Silvana Mangano has a guest appearance in the film.
Released in United States September 1994 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 2-5, 1994.)
Shown at Lincoln Center, New York City in the series "A Roman Holiday" August 14, 1990.
Released in United States August 14, 1990 (Shown at Lincoln Center, New York City in the series "A Roman Holiday" August 14, 1990.)