"Signore..." is certainly special: the directors and writers (a who's who of Italian comedy: maestri Scola, Magni, Monicelli, Comencini, Loy and writers Age, Scarpelli, Benvenuti, Maccari, De Bernardi, Pirro) made the film as a cooperative enterprise and the credits are unspecified (we don't know who directed or wrote which segment, and it's fun to keep guessing). Nonetheless, the film has a remarkable "unity", due to the fact that the filmmakers shared the same leftist political views and had repeatedly collaborated in many films throughout the years.
Marcello Mastroianni plays a TV news speaker who loosely links all the segments. The film begins "naively" with the usual "imbroglios" about Italian comedy's favorite subject: the self-mockery exercise -- Italians portraying Italians as disorganized, chaotic, incompetent, lazy, sex-driven, work-phobic etc. But it grows increasingly acid, bitter, violently critical to the point of discomfort, with staggering attacks on police and political corruption, the chaos in health and labor welfare, the ineffective and arguable policies on education and abortion, child labor and abuse, TV and the media, the Vatican, the army and the judicial system. It's machine-gun artillery here and no one is spared!!!
The first episodes - about an alarm-clock placed in a police department that is mistaken for a bomb, and a TV English lesson developing into a political murder by a CIA agent - are relatively "tame". Things get violently critical and corrosive in the heart-wrenching episode in Naples about the Cathlic Church's anti-abortion policy and its practical results - child crime, labor and abuse, and which ends tragically (and unexpectedly). It's a punch in your stomach, and may have you revise your thoughts on the issue (if you're anti-abortion).
This is followed by the episode with Paolo Villaggio as a German-born/U.S.-based sociology professor (complete with a delightful/scary American-Italo-German accent) who has the "perfect solution" for over-population and child abandonment in Naples -- that poor children should be bred as cattle to be eventually eaten, quoting the infamous sarcastic "solution" proposed by Jonathan Swift concerning Irish babies born into poverty.
Very impressive are the two Tognazzi episodes: in the first one, he portrays an army General who is -- well, how can I put it politely? -- in a W.C. defecating while his troops are parading outside. As he is called to present himself before the troops, one of his medals falls into the filthy toilet - and, in a physical comedy tour-de-force, he struggles to get back his medal, with nauseating (and metaphorical) results. In the second one, he is an impoverished, worn-out retired man living in rich Milan, trying to keep his dignity even when confronted by a TV reporter about his horrid condition. The episodes will make you cringe with discomfort, and marvel at this all-around-accomplished actor that was Ugo Tognazzi.
The Gassman episodes (my guess is they were directed by Dino Risi) aren't quite as poisonous or good - but what a pleasure to see Gassman do his stuff! Mastroianni's episode interviewing 4 Neapolitan politicians is a mix of Fellini (the incredible casting and overlapping dialog) and Buñuel (the surrealistic ending). Wonderfully gross!
Manfredi is a knock-out as an moribund, bed-ridden Catholic cardinal whose vote can decide the election for the new Pope, inspiring his peers to come up with Machiavellian plans to influence him -- by ANY means! The conspiracy plot was considered alarmingly prophetic (according to some conspiracy theories) of what happened 2 years later in the Vatican with Pope John Paul I's sudden death. Mind-boggling!!
The last episode - a gala ceremony at the Court of Justice - is a triumph of direction, costume design and casting. Without one single (intelligible) dialog and using only unknown (unprofessional?) actors, the film manages, in few minutes, to make one of the most daring and violent attacks on the Italian (or any) Judicial system ever put on the screen, denouncing its decadence, anachronism, corruption and viciousness. It's a mandatory sequence in any compilation of political cinema anywhere. Scary and terrific.
The film has highs and lows - but the highs are very impressive and the lows are never boring. Subtlety has no place here -- these were no times for sitting on the fence. It's not exactly a black comedy: it's a political manifesto using comedy form, with top-notch Italian stars (Manfredi, Mastroianni, Tognazzi, Gassman, Villaggio) who could perform in any key they chose to, written by champ Italian pros, and directed by masters of this specialized Italian cinematic genre -- the politically concerned critical comedy -- about the traumatic, radical days of Italian political life. Really worth looking for, though it may be difficult to find. If you're into political cinema, you won't be disappointed.