Review: A Special Day
DVD: A Special Day (1977)
Set in Rome on the historic day in 1938 when Benito Mussolini and the city rolled out the red carpet for Adolf Hitler, A Special Day takes place entirely in a working class apartment building, where an unexpected friendship begins between Antoineietta and Gabriele. They are an unlikely pair of people who haven’t joined in with the festivities: a conservative housewife and mother, married to a Fascist, tending to her domestic duties and a liberal radio broadcaster awaiting deportation.
Though it was shot 30 years after the war, Scola’s muted coloured film remains one of the most interesting ever made about Italian Fascism, showing the period’s oppressive atmosphere and enforced flag-waving through the burgeoning relationship between a man and a woman. The action takes place on May 6, 1938, when Adolf Hitler and his chiefs of staff, including Joseph Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, came to Rome to pay a state visit to Benito Mussolini, it’s not quite a love story, and sets Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni normal ‘romantic hero’s’ personas upside down. Who could imagine the beautiful Loren playing a dowdy wife in an old robe and slippers, or Mastroianni, the prototype Latin lover, as a gay writer?
A Special Day looks back at a grim historical red-letter day is the backdrop to a brief encounter between two lonely people. One knows he is ‘different’ (though no one ever mentions the word ’gay’) while the other recognizes her ‘specialness’ only at the end of the film, when both reclaim their individuality with dignity by accepting the need for human warmth and affection as an antidote to a worrying and inhuman society (perhaps Donald Trump should watch this).
The film opens with six minutes of official newsreel footage and as it is as repulsive as it is fascinating watching Hitler and Il Duce preen for the camera.
In one of his most memorable performances Marcello Mastroianni hints at Gabriele’s homosexuality in a few telling gestures and gentle words. He confuses the straightforward and practical Antonietta. He’s a joker who grabs on to her for dear life. He makes fun of everything, but is also touching wrapping her in laundry on the terrace, all point to a man who, despite his dark side and his life of repression, delights in life’s simple pleasures. The complete opposite of the careworn wife and mother in front of him, somehow, they have recognized each other as kindred spirits, seeking compassion and acceptance for what they are.
A little seen film that’s an arthouse modern classic.
A Special Day will be available to buy from October 31st, 2016.