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Kino / 118 Minutes / 1963 / Unrated / Street Date: May 17, 2011
Sophia Loren has given better performances and been a participant in more notable films, but in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, she not only confirms her sexy cinematic iconography, but drives poor Marcello Mastroianni to distraction in the process. This seminal moment - recreated decades later in Robert Altman's underrated Pret-a-Porter - is so alluring, so intoxicating that it is literally impossible to resist.
The other good news is that Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, while heavily buoyed by this sensual sequence, stands on its own as a complete film, as well. Winner of the 1964 Best Foreign Film Oscar, Vittorio de Sica's film is loopy, smart and casual, a movie that seems to meander but becomes starkly clear and crisp in its intent as it careens into its final minutes.
The movie is a triptych of sorts - we follow three story lines that take place in various Italian locales. One tendril follows the desperately noble exploits of a gang of Naples men focusing on making a profit off of black market cigarettes. Another centers on Loren's fixation on the finer things in life (she has to decide between her sweet, sweet car or her husband - and it's not an easy call for her to make!). And finally, in Rome, we find Mastroianni attempting to utilize the help of Loren's sexual wiles to help out a priest with wavering dedication to the church.
A moderate synopsis like this makes the movie sound vague and irreverent, but Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is nothing of the sort. de Sica as a filmmaker has always showcased a deft handling of subtlety in his work - what seems unfocused and unscripted ends up being powerfully acute and effective as a whole. And there's a playfulness in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow that de Sica didn't broadcast all that often. It's the work of a true auteur, to be sure, but it's arguably the director's lightest, sunniest achievement.
And it has a helluva striptease in it.