Il Sorpasso Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Vittorio Gassman, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Spaak, Claudio Gora
  • Director: Dino Risi
  • Writers: Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari
  • Producer: Mario Cecchi Gori
  • Format: Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: April 29, 2014
  • Run Time: 105 minutes

  •         In terms of plot and characters, Il Sorpasso was among the first to establish the traditional road film narrative, blending comedy and tragedy in a brilliant social commentary by way of escapist entertainment. Many similar films have followed; utilizing the elements that Italian filmmaker Dino Risi first made work so brilliantly in 1962. You can see the odd couple character humor in recent road trip comedies such as Due Date or The Heat, and the tragic ending seemed to immediately have an impact on American cinema with Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), so why is it that Il Sorpasso is not more widely known and appreciated? Better late than never, Il Sorpasso has been added to the prestigious Criterion Collection with this dual format Blu-ray/DVD release, complete with new special features that include praise-filled introduction from filmmaker Alexander Payne, who followed in Risi’s tradition with last year’s Academy Award-nominated road comedy, Nebraska.  


            Il Sorpasso was not the first road film, from Italy or elsewhere. Eight years earlier Roberto Rossellini broke that barrier with Journey to Italy, though it was largely ignored by audiences despite critical praise. Risi’s added an element of excitement and humor which was missing from Rossellini’s film and audiences reacted favorably and strong word of mouth made this a success in the early 1960s. What is really remarkable is how engaging the narrative remains even today, after decades of imitations being made. 


            The film is limited on plot, as many road films tend to be, and it is the characters which make of break the narrative. Risi’s education in Psychiatry combined with the witty dialogue by writing team Ettore Scola and Ruggero Maccari helped to bring out career-making performances from leads Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant as an unlikely pair of traveling companions on a busy Italian holiday. Trintignant plays the protagonist whose thoughts we are occasionally privy to via voiceover, Roberto Mariani, straight-laced student intent to spend the holiday studying until he is interrupted by Bruno Cortona (Gassman).


    Bruno is a boorish opposite to Roberto’s respectful personality, living his life to the fullest with no regard for responsible or decent behavior. He flirts with every woman he encounters, drinks and smokes as regularly as he breathes and drives recklessly along the seaside roads. Despite his better judgment, Roberto is wooed over by the inexplicable charm of Bruno’s confident behavior, and a chance encounter turns into an unexpected friendship.


    Though there are many elements of Il Sorpasso which are distinctly Italian, including the title’s meaning to overpass someone in a car, it is the universal flaws in these two characters that make this a film that crosses national lines. They are two extremes, but neither is as simple as they seem, which is what makes the film so engaging. Although Bruno appears self-serving and narcissistic, he occasionally has an endearing quality that makes him more of an enigma than a caricature. Similarly, Roberto’s meek personality appears a flaw that the audience will enjoy seeing shirked at the encouragement of Bruno, but the shocking ending leaves more to be examined than one might expect from the lighthearted journey leading up to the finale.


    The 3-disc dual format release includes a Blu-ray and two DVDs, one with the film with the other containing a plethora of new features. The film itself is presented with a new 2K digital restoration and uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Along with the introduction by Payne, the special features include new interviews with screenwriter Scola and film scholar Rémi Fournier Lanzoni, as well as a 2004 interview with Risi conducted by critic Jean A. Gili and an introduction by Trintignant from a 1983 television broadcast of the film. Also included is the 2006 documentary on Risi, A Beautiful Vacation, along with excerpts from several other documentaries about casting and locations from the film. All content is available on both formats, and the package also comes with a booklet insert featuring essays by critics Phillip Lopate and Antonio Monda, as well as excerpts from Risi’s writing with introduction by film historian Valerio Caprara.    


    Entertainment Value: 8.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance:  8/10

    Special Features: 9.5/10



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