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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Friday, January 14, 2000
Il bell'Antonio
Mauro Bolognini Italy, 1962

A decade-long battle with the censors was involved in bringing this daring, beautifully realized film of Vitaliano Brancati's controversial novel to the screen. Mastroianni is "beautiful Antonio," a victim of Italian machismo who fulfills all too well the dual expectations of his native Sicily-pursuing his sexual prowess with women of the people and protecting the virginity of the high-born, which includes his own adored wife (Claudia Cardinale). In a town like Catania, everything is everyone's business, and family, sex, the Church, and Sicilian insider/outsider politics are as inextricably entwined as strands of spaghetti on a plate. So when the beautiful Antonio's domestic impotence becomes known, a family falls. For Mastroianni this is a signature role-impotence, whether sexual or spiritual, was the calling card of his complex characters, and never was this vulnerability more brutally and tenderly evoked. Pasolini cowrote the screenplay, and it's not hard to see a homosexual allegory in this portrait of a caged and questioning identity, reflexively shot in black and white, and standing among the best existential films of the sixties. (JB)

• Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gino Visentini, based on the novel by Vitaliano Brancati. Photographed by Armando Nannuzzi. With Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Pierre Brasseur, Rina Morelli. (101 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm)