UN SACCO BELLO directed by Carlo Verdone (Italy, 1980)

I recently bought a book by Roy Menarini entitled ‘Il Grande Cinema Italiano’ which lists, in chronological order, what the author considers to be the best Italian movies from 1900 to the present day. It lists 251 films in total and it made me realise how few of these I had seen or even heard of.

I’ve been living in Italy for over sixteen years now but can’t honestly say that I am culturally integrated. I rarely watch TV, don’t listen to much Italian music and, if I go to the cinema, it’s usually to see dubbed versions of American movies. Time to make a change though and take advantage of my local Cineteca where I can borrow DVDs for free.

This is the background to watching the first film Carlo Verdone made,and the first I’ve seen of the 25 or so he’s written, directed and starred in over the past 30 years. Verdone is now in his sixties but was just 30 when he made Un Sacco Bello, a title taken from a slang expression which has the awful title in English of Fun Is Beautiful. Talk about being lost in translation!

It has three separate stories are set in Rome on the same midsummer holiday, Ferragosto. Verdone plays the main character in each.

Carlo Verdone as himself.

The first, we see him as Enzo,an aspiring Latin lover who has planned a sex tour of Poland in a sports car with a reluctant and more timid male friend. Enzo stuffs a towel down his jeans to look well hung and, to adorn his hairy chest, chooses from a vast collection of gold medallions. In essence he’s an Italian equivalent of a Chav.

Leo, in contrast, is a gauche mother’s boy; although we don’t actually get to see the woman who rules his life (we just see him continually speaking to her on the phone). He meets a free spirited Spanish girl who’s looking for a place to stay. If Leo were Enzo he would pounce on this female at the first opportunity but for Leo this is destined to be an unconsumated relationship.

The third character is Ruggero, a hippie whose life is add odds with his conventional father.

Verdone also plays three other minor roles, including a priest, which is how the film got to be made in just five weeks on a shoestring budget. Prior to this big break, he had built his reputation on TV and in the theatre. The switch to movies was made with the help of a reccommendation by Sergio Leone, a connection that explains how Ennio Morricone got to write the soundtrack.

Verdone switches roles expertly for what is, essentially three sit-com scenarios tacked loosely together. They are all in Rome but they never meet. If there’s a connection, it is that all three are quite lonely and isolated. Enzo’s travel companion falls sick, Leo’s amorous opportunity is dashed when the Spanish girl’s boyfriend reappears and Ruggero is so omminously surrounded by authority figures that his dream of escaping to the ‘freedom’ of life in a commune looks doomed.

It looks quite dated now and, although it’s not laugh out loud funny, this is an intelligent comedy which proved hugely popular at the time and helped launch Verdone’s successful movie career. I’ve got plenty of catching up to do!

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