Marcello Mastroianni won his fourth David di Donatello Award as best actor—the Italian film industry’s prize—for his fine performance as Dr. Pereira, editor of the Saturday cultural page of Lisboa, an urban Portuguese “independent newspaper” that avoids political controversy and concerns, in Roberto Faenza’s Sostiene Pereira, from Antonio Tabucchi’s novel. It is 1938, and civil war is being waged in neighboring Spain, with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supporting Franco’s attempt to overthrow Spain’s democratically elected government.
Pereira hires a likeable boy, an Italian orphan, Francesco Monteiro Rossi, to write advance obituaries of European literary lights; but Monteiro’s obituaries are all politically slanted, praising writers of the Left and denouncing those of the Right. Monteiro is himself drawn into dangerous politics by his activist girlfriend, Marta, and Monteiro in turn draws in Pereira, who tells the photograph of his deceased wife, “He reminds me of me when I was young”—before, that is, Pereira decided to hide from the world by burying himself in books.
Others also invite Pereira into the contentious real world, including a woman he meets on a train (Marthe Keller, giving the best performance), his cardiologist and even his priest, Father Antonio, who is fed up with both Vatican support for Franco and Pereira’s obsessing about death. The political reawakening of Pereira interests him instead in life. When thugs identifying themselves as the “political police” force their way into his apartment without a warrant, beat him and do even worse, Pereira takes a risky public stand.
Faenza’s film is far from perfect; it is often too busy visually, and the voiceover narration—whose it is is identified only at the end—creates a distracting aural overload. But the theme is urgent, and the film delivers two heart-walloping late punches.
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