(Italy 1964, 2017)
For some reason — I can’t find an answer — Il Boom was not released in the States until this year. Madonne! Better late than never, and I’m glad it made it because it reaffirms my love of midcentury Italian cinema.
Giovanni Alberti (Alberto Sordi) lives large. His fabulously modern apartment in Rome features a gorgeous patio for entertaining. He employs a housekeeper and sometimes a wait staff. His beautiful and frivolous wife, Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale), has expensive taste. Every night, they go out on the town for lavish dinners and fancy cocktails, dancing and partying in the most chic and trendy clubs.
A game of footsie under the table suggests that his bourgeois crowd is into some naughty stuff on the side, but Giovanni loves Sylvia way too much for that.
Life is grand, but that’s the problem: Giovanni lives above his means. Unbeknownst to Sylvia, who continues to spend gleefully, he’s over his head in debt and about to be publicly humiliated on “the registry.” He can’t get another loan because his credit is shot. Desperate, he suggests a simpler lifestyle, which Sylvia simply ignores. He can’t bring himself to tell her why.
Giovanni fails miserably to convince a number of friends and associates to invest in his land development plan, which may or may not be a scam. His last hope is one-eyed real estate mogul Mr. Bausetti (Ettore Geri), who like everyone else turns him down. Mrs. Bausetti (Elena Nicolai), however, makes a proposal behind her husband’s back: she offers to buy Giovanni’s left eye. He can name his price.
Il Boom is a lot of fun. The title refers to the postwar economic boom in Italy and elsewhere. Director Vittorio De Sica and writer Cesare Zavattini are critical of consumerism, and there’s definitely a moral. However, they avoid getting on a soapbox and simply make fun of it. The story moves along breezily, and quite a few scenes — the dinner party, the hospital — are memorably offbeat and funny. Sordi is perfect as the hapless Giovanni, displaying a mercurial energy and general uneasiness that keeps you watching. His reaction to Mrs. Bausetti’s offer is priceless. I left with a smile.
Armando Nannuzzi’s cinematography is beautiful in luminous black and white; I can’t imagine Il Boom in color. Billy Vaughn’s super cool “Wheels” plays throughout the film; man, does it stick in your head. I’m humming it now.
With Alceo Barnabei, Federico Giordano, Antonio Mambretti, Silvio Battistini, Sandro Merli, John Karlsen, Ugo Silvestri, Gloria Cervi, Gino Pasquarelli, Maria Grazia Buccella, Mariolina Bovo, Felicita Tranchina, Franco Abbiana, Rosetta Biondi
Production: Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distribution: Rialto Pictures, StudioCanal
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+