SUNFLOWER (Vittorio De Sica, 1970)

War, love and life are all a damn pain: this is the message of Vittorio De Sica’s I girasoli, an opulent and very dreary melodrama that misapplies sweeping camera gestures, and lush color, to what ought to have been an intimate story about ordinary people. From Italy, the U.S.S.R. and France, the film also seems interminable, although only 100 minutes long.
     Sophia Loren plays Giovanna, who during the Second World War marries Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni), an electrician, who despite attempting to act insane is shipped off to the Russian front. After the war, when he doesn’t return home, Giovanna, refusing to believe he is dead, goes to Russia armed with a photograph in hopes of finding someone who recognizes him and knows where to find him. Her success is dumbfounding. (Conclusion: Russia must be a much smaller place than we thought.) But Giovanna finds more than she bargained for: Antonio now has a Russian wife and a young daughter. Feeling betrayed, she rips up her photograph, returns home, couples with a nondescript factory worker and bears his son, whom she names Antonio. If instead she had named the kid Marcello, the film could be credited with a lone spark of postmodernist wit.
     Antonio, however, visits Giovanna in Milan, where a tortured though morally proper Giovanna sends him on his way—with such tears at the train station! Along the way, Antonio, following the script, forgets all about his elderly mother, whom he also abandoned when he shut the door on his Italian life and started anew in the U.S.S.R., the nation of new beginnings.
     Loren, despite being named best actress by the Italian film industry, is horrendous: manicured, posturing, flamboyantly emoting, distastefully bourgeois. Mastroianni at least bothers to act.
     Henry Mancini’s music is dispiriting, lugubrious.

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