Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ieri, Oggi, Domani (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) (1963)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Foreign Language Film - Italy

Had the producers of Ieri, Oggi, Domani - known in the English speaking world as Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow - released the film as three separate shorts instead of one compilation film, perhaps they could have earned three Oscar nominations in the Best Short Subject Live Action Subjects category, shutting out the competition and guaranteeing themselves an Academy Award.  But even by taking the more conventional route and earning a nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category in a particularly competitive year, Ieri, Oggi, Domani was able to beat out the beloved The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to earn Italy the Academy Award.

Ieri, Oggi, Domani, directed by the legendary Vittorio De Sica and co-starring the equally legendary Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, is a compilation of three short films loosely tied together by the theme of women (each portrayed by Loren) who survive using the tool of sexuality.  Di Sica made his wisest choice in deciding that if anyone could convincingly portray three different sides of a woman's sexuality, it was Loren, perhaps the sexiest actress in the history of film.  My exposure to Loren's work is embarrassingly low, and before this film was limited to Man of La Mancha, and, I hate to admit, Grumpier Old Men.  Though Loren's beauty was obvious, I never understood what the fuss was about, thinking of her as a mediocre actress who relied on her looks.  I now understand just how wrong I was.  Much like Penelope Cruz, Loren is just fine as an actress when working in English, but when working in her native language she is inspired.  Whether playing the "woman next door" Adelina of the first segment, the cold yet glamorous Anna of the second, or the overtly sexual Mara of the third, Loren masterfully and entirely convincingly fills each roll.

A film like Ieri, Oggi, in which the same actors must play different roles, is a particularly challenging effort.  Even many of the best actors are just minor variations of themselves in each of these films, but in the month between their releases we fail to recognize how similar the performances are.  But when two actors are forced to play three different roles with only short title sequences separating the efforts, the performers need to push themselves to make sure that the characters don't bleed together.  As great as Mastroianni is, he can't match Loren in the energy she brings to each of the three roles.  Despite the fact that each character is, in essence, just a different interpretation of the same model, Loren has created three wildly different characters.

The first and third segments of Ieri, Oggi, Domani are lighthearted comedies, amusing but with little real originality, and the second segment is a melodrama of simple beauty.  The film would be largely forgettable, but Loren's verve-filled performance steals the show and singlehandedly won Italy the Oscar.

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