Una Giornata Particolare (A Special Day ) directed by Ettore Scola (1977).
This beautiful film is set in Rome on May 8, 1939, the day Mussolini first met Hitler.
It opens with extended documentary footage of this infamous occasion. The adoring crowds waving swastika flags is a sobering reminder of the mass support these despicable leaders commanded.
Sophia Loren plays Antonietta who is left alone in her tenement flat when her fascist husband and tribe of six children leave to attend the celebratory rally.
While cleaning, the family’s pet minor bird escapes through the window and lands on the stairwell near the window of the flat directly opposite. This is next to the home of Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni). In retrieving the bird the two strike up a friendship through a mutual attraction and recognition of their lonely lives.
The symbolism of the bird briefly escaping its cage soon becomes apparent.
These are two of Italy’s most glamorous actors but here they are cast completely against type. Loren is a drab, downtrodden housewife with no life of her own while Mastroianni, so often the elegant ladies man, here plays a frustrated homosexual. He is a radio broadcaster who has lost his job and is about to be deported to Sardinia because of his political attitudes and his sexual orientation.
Loren and Mastroianni are quite superb in these unlikely roles and their brief encounter is presented with great tenderness and admirable lack of sentiment.
At the end of the special day, you know that the two will never meet again.
All she has as a reminder is a battered paperback copy of The Three Musketeers which he insisted on lending her. She returns to her life of drudgery but, although no specific political message is given, you sense that her perspective on Fascism will never be the same .
The movie has a quiet, theatrical quality and the poignant story is presented with great sensitivity.
I was fortunate enough to be able to watch a lovingly restored Italian copy but, if the reviews on Amazon’s website are to be believed, the quality of the version with English subtitles is very poor.
Hopefully this will be remedied as it is a film that deserves to be widely seen and recognised as a classic.