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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Especially on Sunday' a Satisfying Trio of Films

August 13, 1993|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Italians may not have invented the episode film--the multipart movie united by a single theme, writer or director--but, beginning in the 1950s, they certainly perfected it. That tradition is splendidly continued in "Especially on Sunday," (Laemmle's Sunset 5, Nu-Wilshire), a trio of short films pulsing with passion, wry detachment and a bit of despair. Their unifying factors are a brilliant screenwriter, Tonino Guerra, and his thrice-repeated subject of love, seen from peculiar slants.

These stories--models of compression, beautifully written--each contain a core of melancholy and irony. A dog worships a lonely shoemaker-barber who scorns him ("The Blue Dog"). Another man becomes catalyst for a sexless relationship between a troubled young couple ("Especially on Sunday"). An elderly woman finds her only solace by spying on the lovemaking of her newlywed son and daughter-in-law--who becomes her willing accomplice ("Snow on Fire").

Guerra, who wrote eight films apiece with Michelangelo Antonioni and Francesco Rosi and others with Fellini, De Sica, Bertolucci, Tarkovsky and Angelopolous, may be Italy's greatest living screenwriter; indeed, in that country's history, only Cesare Zavattini can be easily ranked with him. But Guerra has such a seemingly self-effacing style--he blends in so easily with the world view and emotional/psychological rhythms of his collaborators--that it may take a film like this, interpreted by three different directors, to show how consummate a craftsman he is.

Each director--"Cinema Paradiso's" Giuseppe Tornatore in the first tale, Marco Tullio Giordana in the third and Giuseppe Bertolucci (Bernardo's brother) in the second and also in the linking sections--has a recognizable style and attack. Tornatore lets the film breathe with warmth and sentiment, Bertolucci is more baroque, Giordana creates a mood of hushed anxiety.

Yet the voice and themes are Guerra's. Love--wounding, ecstatic or absurd--rises in unexpected places. Sorrow and disappointment may be inevitable; passion a brief match-flare illuminating darkness. He tells us this with breathtaking economy and clarity, writing for the screen as Chekhov's suicidal young playwright Konstantin wished to write in "The Sea Gull"--not self-consciously, preciously or bombastically, but simply, "so that the words flow freely from the heart."

The actors are excellent. Shaggy-bear Philippe Noiret in "Blue Dog," haunted Bruno Ganz and sumptuous Ornella Muti in the second, daughter-in-law Chiara Caselli and mama Maria Maddalena Fellini (Federico's sister) in the last, all have grand gestures, privileged moments. And in the best film of the trilogy, Tornatore's "Blue Dog," the memorable images are many: the scruffy little mutt, brow spotted with blue paint, howling at the "master" who rejects him. The cavernous streets through which dog pursues master, and master later tries to find his "pet." And the last, harrowingly ambivalent scene--which is either a crazily happy ending or a retreat into a madness that is life's shield against grief and guilt.

Watching "Especially on Sunday" reminds us of the major tradition of the Italian episode film--"Love in the City," "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," "Boccacio '70"--and also carries us back to earlier literary galleries, like Boccacio's "Decameron." Yet the mood here isn't ribald. These are films about love by an observer who has lost his illusions, but still clings to the memory of passion, finding solace in those bursts of empathy that, however improbably, break through walls of indifference or pain. The view may seem bleak, but the artistry of its telling warms the heart.

'Especially on Sunday'

Philippe Noiret: Amleto

Ornella Muti: Anna

Bruno Ganz: Vittorio

Maria Maddalena: Fellini Caterina

A Miramax Films presentation, in association with Giovanna Romagnoli, Amedeo Pagani and Rai Due, of a Basic Cinemagrafica/Titanus Distribuzione/Intermedia/Dusk/Eurimages co-production. Directors Giuseppe Tornatore, Giuseppe Bertolucci, Marco Tullio Giordana. Producers Pagani, Romagnoli, Orfini. Screenplay by Tonino Guerra. Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, Fabio Cianchetti, Franco Lecca. Music Ennio Morricone. Art directors Francesco Bronzi, Nello Giorgetti, Gianni Silvestri. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for nudity and sexual situations).

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