Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Mood for Italy

I found myself alone.  A few weeks ago.  For a week.  So, in typical fashion I headed for the local video store to stock up.  I was in the mood for Italy, not a new phenomenon.  Two films came home with me, both of which I had seen before, one two or three times.  Both shot in Italy, forty years apart.  

The sax man squeezes out Arrivederci Roma, Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg are dancing slowly in the torchlit ambience of an ancient ruin turned restaurant and nightclub.  Mastroianni is stunned by Ekberg.  Something in him has been cracked open by her sensuality, innocence, and earthiness. “You’re everything, Sylvia,” he says, “You’re the first woman of creation.” She understands nothing of the Italian he speaks.  Her eyes close, her shoulders undulate, her neck arches back, so  taken is she by the the music.
Anita Ekberg dominates that scene where she dances in some ancient outdoor location that looks like the Baths of Caracalla turned into a restaurant and night club.  She kicks off her shoes and dances with such untamed abandon, but a graceful wildness that is highlighted to the max by that dress: the strapless black work of art with sheer veil-like petticoats underneath, designed with a kind of cape that flares from the waist-back and is slit up the front, in the middle, flashing her long white legs.  This could not have been more stunning in color; the black and whiteness of it are sheer beauty.  Strategic turns and twists and swoops and dips send the dress into eye-catching flare and glide and cascade.  Of course, there are her breasts abundant; how do they ever stay in the dress? 
There could not have been another choice to play the part of Sylvia.  Ekberg is abundant of form and spirit, a voluptuous and vibrant specimen of womanhood.  With her long blonde hair flying left and right, her shoulders rolling, her hands clapping in rhythm, her movements fluid, graceful, sensuous beyond measure, Anita Ekberg is perfection, and by the time she walks into The Trevi Fountain, we, along with Mastroianni, have surrendered utterly.

This is the movie I have seen three or four times now.  Diane Lane does what I think she does best in this film, embodying total vulnerability, fragility, self-deprecating humor, tenderness, and transformation.  The scenes of Tuscany and particularly The Amalfi Coast are enough to get me to watch it again and again.  And the food scenes!  That long table with platter after platter of beautiful and enticing Italian dishes: the pastas, the vegetables, the beans, the meats, the wine!  My god!  I have to cook something delicious after every viewing!
There is, however, a scene in this movie that I had forgotten.  A scene where Lindsay Duncan, one of my favorite British actresses, cast as the eccentric and somewhat bizarre English Lady of Cortona, one night gets drunk on a magnum of French champagne and wanders into the town’s fountain, black strapless dress and all.  She does her dancing, as it were, in the fountain and seems to delight in performing for the crowd that has gathered to watch her. 
In contrast to Anita Ekberg’s Sylvia, who was clearly moving and grooving spontaneously to please her innocent animal self.  Duncan's turn in Under the Tuscan Sun is a beautiful homage to Federico Fellini’s classic scene; to Ekberg, to her timeless and unforgettable performance.
Duncan’s character is elegant, a bit subdued, older than Ekberg’s character in La Dolce Vita, leaner in physique, yet sparkling and luminous, enjoyable, in part I am sure because it recalls the memory of La Dolce Vita, and Ekberg, and That Dress in vivid detail!

Buon Appetito!

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