Actors: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni
Director: Ettore Scola
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Subtitled, Widescreen
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Criterion Collection
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Run Time: 107 minutes
The title of Ettore Scola’s film could be interpreted several ways, as the events of the narrative take place during an important day in Italian history but may have even more significance for the two leading characters for completely different reasons. A Special Day takes place during Adolf Hitler’s visit to
and Benito Mussolini in 1938, which remains at the center of the narrative
despite nearly the entire film taking place at a working-class apartment
building. After the film opens with 6-minutes of actual newsreel footage, we
remain distanced from these events, despite the constant radio broadcast as the
background soundtrack to the narrative. Italy
The festivities of Hitler’s visit is central to the film’s narrative, though it is even more telling that our two protagonists are among very few not in attendance. Antonietta (Sophia Loren) stays home to do housework, unappreciated by her family and treated as a servant by her unfaithful husband. Although she is absent from the event, it is not from a lack of faith in her country’s politics, which cannot also be said of her neighbor. Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) is a former journalist whose sexuality ruined his career and will shortly result in his deportation. He contemplates suicide alone in his apartment until Antonietta’s escaped bird finds its way into his apartment, giving him necessary distraction and companionship.
When these two accidentally cross paths in what might ordinarily be a fitting ‘meet cute’ for a typical Loren-Mastroianni production, Scola plays with audience expectations. We are accustomed to seeing this pair romantically linked, so the plutonic nature of their friendship is somewhat off-putting. Loren was made to look worn down, as a mother and housewife to a large Italian family would be, and Mastroianni sets aside his masculine persona to play a persecuted homosexual. Their chemistry together remains, though the dynamics of their relationship are different here than in any of their other collaborations together.
Throughout the course of this single day, these two lonely souls are able to connect with each other in unexpected ways, all the while the radio broadcast of Hitler’s visit is a reminder of the fascist society they live in. Neither have any power in their own homes (or home country), but they are able to rise above these limitations in the brief time they have together. Even as the world continues unchanged after this day, one can imagine that neither of these two will be the same person after its events. Like a photograph whose color has faded, the visual style of Scola’s film retains the feeling of a memory saved in a scrapbook.
The Blu-ray release includes a newly restored 4K digital transfer of the film, supervised by Scola and featuring an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The special features include the 2014 short film, Human Voice, also starring Sophia Loren, as well as new interviews with the actress and Scola. Also included in the extras is a two-part special from “The Dick Cavett Show” with Loren and Mastroianni as the guests. There is also the film’s theatrical trailer and a foldout insert with an essay by critic Deborah Young.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 8.5/10