Most anthology films rarely rise above the level of curiosity, no matter the accomplished artists responsible for them. And that’s mostly true for Boccaccio ’70, which has major Italian star power on both sides of the camera, but will likely never be ranked among any of their best work. And yet, that sort of undersells the quality of Boccaccio ’70 and its possession of a rare anthology film attribute — a lineup without a discernible weak link. The films by masters Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Vittorio De Sica are each enjoyable in their own way.
Inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron, the four segments are stories about sex, each with pointed satire about its cultural baggage in Italy at the time. Monicelli directs “Renzo e Luciana,” which was cut from every release after the Italian premiere, including its bow at Cannes and in America. Axed presumably because it lacked a major star like the other three, “Renzo e Luciana” is nonetheless a low-key delight, with a measured pace and self-deprecating tone that reminds one of similar films from Woody Allen.
Marisa Solinas stars as Luciana and Germano Gilioli as Renzo, coworkers with a lecherous, rotund boss who forbids female employees from marrying. So, the two get married in secret and commence living together with her parents, which makes things difficult to say the least. While one wonders why the climactic events of the film don’t just happen sooner, the sweet, melancholy ending makes for quite a charming film.
Next up is the most boisterous of the four, Fellini’s “La tentazioni del dottor Antonio,” which features prudish, uptight city censor Antonio Mazzuola (Peppino de Filippo) first enraged, then haunted by the massive milk advertisement erected outside his apartment. Featuring the busty Anita Ekberg (here playing herself) in 100-foot tall form, the ad spurs Antonio on a moral crusade to have it torn down, or at least covered up.
There’s nothing subtle about Fellini’s satire here, but the segment is filled with freewheeling hilarity, especially when Ekberg turns from two-dimensional ad into three-dimensional sexpot (and still 100-feet tall).
Visconti comes next with “Il Lavoro,” featuring Romy Schneider as Pupe, trophy wife to a philandering count (Tomas Milian) whose fondness for high-class hookers is discovered by the press. She’s humiliated, but has the upper hand, as her family controls the vast majority of the marriage’s wealth, but the male-centric sexual standards of the time ensure the power hierarchy will shift.
Unlike the other segments, Visconti’s supposed comic exterior gives way to a heartbreaking and deeply tragic center — unsurprising as he’s the least comically oriented of the four filmmakers. But the gravity of “Il Lavoro” ensures it sticks with you deeper than the others, and it’s the strongest piece of the film.
Finishing up is Vittorio De Sica’s “La Riffa,” one of his many collaborations with the stunning Sophia Loren. Perhaps the outright funniest section of the film, “La Riffa” features Loren as Zoe, the booth manager at the firing range at a small-town fair. As a way to raise extra income for her and her makeshift carnival family, which includes a pregnant woman, Zoe agrees to be raffled off, with the winner receiving one night with her.
The raffle brings out the town’s scum in droves, with hordes of horny, slovenly men each hoping his ticket is the winner. Zoe grows disheartened by the whole affair, but finds a way to turn the tables around while finding a real love connection of her own. Loren’s strength of screen presence is essential to the film, which could collapse under the weight of its sleazy premise without a strong female lead.
Running close to three and a half hours together, the segments aren’t thematically cohesive enough to really sustain a single-sit viewing. But broken up, each section is more than enjoyable and a worthy stop between the masterpieces found elsewhere in each director’s oeuvre.
The Blu-ray Disc
Kino Lorber presents Boccaccio ’70 in 1080p high definition and an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I suspect the original aspect ratio of the film would’ve been something closer to 1.66:1, but whatever the case, it looks fine here. Chalk this transfer up as another winner from Kino, who has quietly become a top-tier distributor of art films and classics on Blu-ray. While the source material has some inherent softness to it, this is a remarkably sharp transfer, filled with rich, film-like fine detail and an excellent reproduction of the stock’s color palette. The image is extremely clean throughout, with only a few stray marks here and there, and is easily the best it’s ever looked on home video.
Audio is presented in a mono track that gets the job done, with clean and clear dialogue and no obvious distortion. As was the custom in Italian films of the era, all voices are dubbed in post, which creates an unavoidable hollow effect.
A gallery of stills and posters, along with the American theatrical trailer is all we get.
The Bottom Line
An anthology film that lives up to the talents of the filmmakers involved, Boccaccio ’70 is a sometimes charming, sometimes tragic collection of excellent short films.