|Index||3 reviews in total|
This marvellous film is an authentic masterpiece, perhaps among the best products of the Italian cinema. The confrontation of two different human kinds, the enterprising editor Fausto Di Salvio (Alberto Sordi) and his shabby book-keeper Ubaldo Palmarini, interpreted by an extraordinary Bernard Blier, is the main source of an intelligent and never ending comicality. The two protagonists reach Africa in search for Mr. Di Salvio's brother-in-law, Oreste Sabatini (Nino Manfredi), who disappeared in the Black Continent without giving news of himself anymore. The trip, full of unbelievable adventures, becomes also for the watcher the occasion to taste the beauty of an uncorrupted nature and to distinguish the true values of life from the silly and stressing habits of modern society. An elegant soundtrack signed by Armando Trovajoli is the perfect musical comment for this movie, skilfully directed by Ettore Scola, which confirms again his limpid talent of master of the Italian comedy.
It must first be stated that if Ettore Scola were to remake this movie
today, it would probably be very different in one regard: it would be
careful to feature more fully developed African characters. As it is,
the film is only really interested in its (pre-dominantly male)
European characters, and can be accused of the same fault that Chinua
Achebe laid at the door of Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' (of which this
film is a kind of comic variation), that of using Africa as a mere
backdrop to an investigation of European problems. Nevertheless, though
the film is undeniably Eurocentric in its outlook, it neither demeans
nor patronises Africans; there are no bloodthirsty cannibals, noble
savages or grinning simpletons here. Alberto Sordi's protagonist has
his preconceptions about the continent undercut in several amusing
scenes, most neatly when he first arrives, and proceeds to film the
'exotic' locals, only to be disconcerted when he realises that he
himself is being filmed by an African armed with a bigger, more
expensive camera; Sordi's outlandish safari gear renders him as much of
an object of amazed curiosity to members of the indigenous population
as they are to him.
The action takes a while to get going, with some over-extended wildlife sequences taxing one's patience a little, but once things are truly underway, a gently humorous odyssey unfolds, with false starts, mishaps, and odd little diversions impeding our two heroes' search for the enigmatic Titino. The contrast in the acting styles of Sordi and Blier is highly effective: the former is appropriately blustery and pompous, teetering at times on the edge of self-parody, whilst Blier underplays for all he's worth, and all but steals the show. They make for a genuinely engaging duo, and Manuel Zarzo and Nino Manfredi are memorable in supporting roles. The excellence of the actors is matched by that of the script, which is admirably relaxed and expansive, never overdoing its comic set-pieces (a stand-out example is some very funny business involving a confusion over cigarettes and a tape-recorder).
The accusations of escapism that were levelled at the film when it first appeared (1968, after all) seem misplaced today: what Scola presents is not an indulgent, soft-headed retreat from the maladies of European capitalism, but a final image of uncertainty, circularity and psychological conflict. The film seems more relevant today than many of the more dated simplifications, pipe dreams and inanities that abounded in its year of release, and surely deserves a DVD run here in Britain. With its faults, thoroughly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This on-the-road comedy (whose ironically pompous title in English
translates to "Will our heroes manage to save their friend mysteriously
disappeared in Africa?") is the funny version of Joseph Conrad's
masterpiece, "Heart of Darkness"; here, two Europeans - pompous
businessman Di Salvio (Sordi) and his clumsy employé Palmarini (Bernard
Blier) - travel through Africa searching for Titino (Nino Manfredi), Di
Salvio's brother-in-law; during their journey, they meet a multitude of
borderline crazed individuals and live some ingloriously embarrassing
Sordi is fantastic in his trademark role: a mediocre, sardonic individual, a man who is not nearly as resourceful or smart as he believes, and yet not evil or unlikeable. His Di Salvio, bored to death by his wealthy, shallow life, sees the search for Titino as an opportunity for a memorable adventure. Blier is perfect as the middle-aged, bald, overweight, pragmatic Palmarini, the scarcely enthusiastic sidekick, and plays the straight man to Sordi's flamboyant Di Salvio. The great Nino Manfredi has a short but crucial role as the Kurtz-like, mysterious Titino.
An underrated, amusing comedy with some great scenes.
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