Marriage Italian Style

Virtuoso director and actor Vittorio De Sica, who crafted such all-time Italian neorealist classics as Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952), using keenly observed melodramatic Italian behavior and characters, pulls us into a hilarious darkly comic story in 1960s Italy. 

When Filumena (Sophia Loren) collapses on the Neapolitan bakery floor where she works and is rushed off through the streets of Naples by a distraught close-knit community of supporters, they call for the shop owner who is also her lover, Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni). While seemingly on her death bed, she asks him to summon the priest. Worried that she may die, Domenico now reflects on their turbulent love affair. So begins Marriage Italian Style (1964), now in a gorgeous newly restored 4K print.

De Sica has subtly shaded this classic romantic comedy with a strong humanist message. Its potent and honest observations about how the wealthy, who feel superior and entitled, getting away with unethical behavior, ignoring society’s moral code and looking down on those less educated while treating them with disdain, is still relevant today.  

The story of a wealthy vain businessman, Domenico, and a beautiful illiterate country girl, Filumena, is pure operatic romance. When they first meet in a brothel during a W.W. II air raid in German occupied Italy, it’s a tender moment heightened by fear and danger that they will never forget. After the war they meet again and become occasional lovers while she continues to work as a prostitute. Eventually she convinces him to buy her an apartment so she can leave the sex trade and he puts her to work in his bakery as she becomes his mistress. 

When years later she catches on that the man she loves is about to marry someone else and is using her while continuing to have younger lovers, she, backed by supporters, schemes a revenge plot that will trick him into marrying her. But when the plot fails she reveals to him that she’s had three kids that he never knew about.

Fearing another trick, he refuses to believe her story and callously sends her away after annulling the marriage. But soon he becomes curious about her children and discovers that one of them is his son, but Filumena will not tell him which one for fear of alienating the other two children. She believes they must be treated equally and he must accept all or none if he wants to be with her.

Based on the 1946 play Filumena Marturano by celebrated Italian poet, author, playwright and actor Eduardo de Filippo, the message becomes clear; all children must be equally loved by their parents who often unfairly favor one with privileges not extended to the others. This dictum can also be applied to the treatment of people in general under the law, the state and by people like the conceited Domenico. 

Power and money corrupts absolutely. It’s an age-old problem that no one is immune to no matter how charming they may seem. But the power of the Italian matriarch to keep moral and family ties strong under the most difficult circumstance eventually triumphs over the selfish male ego. 

Marriage Italian Style masterfully blends plenty of playful humor between one of the greatest onscreen chemistries of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni with cutting political critique, achieving a stimulating memorable film experience. 

The final scenes are poetically depicted and precise. Finally taking responsibility, inspired by her strength and moral convictions, Domenico’s eyes and mind have opened and he agrees wholeheartedly to do the right thing.


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