One of the benefits of the many boutique home video labels is the introduction of cult films often unavailable or unknown to mainstream audiences, especially foreign markets like the UK. A great example of this is the latest from Radiance Films. First up is Commedia all’italiana, a celebration of the Italian era of comedies in the 1950s and ‘60s, specifically here directed by legendary Italian filmmaker Dino Risi. That’s followed by A Moment of Romance, a 1990 Hong Kong picture directed by the acclaimed Benny Chan and produced by the masterful filmmaker Johnnie To.
Commedia all’italiana features Il Vedevo (1959), Il Mattatore (1960), and Il Sorpasso (1962). Il Vedevo (The Widowmaker) follows Alberto Nardi (Alberto Sordi), a businessman in construction whose factory is constantly on its last legs, much to the chagrin of his shrewd and rich wife Elvira (Franca Valeri) who always props him up. While thinking up another plan to get rich to avoid bailiffs, he discovers that a train car carrying Elvira detached and crashed into a lake, which delights him as he is her sole heir. But with people like Alberto, things have a habit of coming back to haunt them, and as he puts on a lavish funeral with his mistress, Elvira shows up, leaving him to dream up one final devilish plan.
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Il Mattatore (The Showman) sees conman Gerardo (Vittorio Gassman) recanting his life to a stranger, including how he married his wife Annalisa (Anna Maria Ferrero). A former actor told his act is lousy, Gerardo uses his talent with different accents to enact all sorts of scams. He is eventually caught thanks to a double-cross by an associate, which leads him to not only go out to scam the scammer, but also pursue his former showgirl lover. But with her tired of his promises to marry her after a few more scores, she decides to con the conman into giving her what she wants.
Gassman returns in Il Sorpasso as Bruno, a party animal in his thirties with a fast convertible who intends on doing little else but having fun and paying for as little of it as possible. His brashness is amplified when he meets young student Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant), whose quiet life is the complete opposite of Bruno. The pair go on a series of adventures across central Italy, with Bruno both absolutely charming and an awful show-off and Roberto’s timid personality opening up. However, when they go back to Roberto’s childhood home and Bruno’s separated wife and teenage daughter, each sees their previous lives in markedly different lights.
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Each of the films has much to recommend, with the three of them exploring different styles and themes. Il Vedevo is a very broad comedy that feels something akin to an Ealing picture, while Il Mattatore is a fast-paced caper, and both of them are absolutely hilarious throughout. And then Il Sorpasso, which, as good as the previous films are, is a masterpiece and a fascinating twist on the coming-of-age story. Also running through the pictures are themes about male figures and the pursuit of material happiness, which afford them extra depth that helps them to hold up beyond their surface quality, which is certainly very high.
A Moment of Romance features a young Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) as Wah Dee, a member of a criminal gang in Hong Kong who takes girl JoJo (Jacklyn Wu) hostage to get away from the police. After he lets her go, she refuses to turn him in to the cops, and of course they begin to fall in love, which then comes with its own worries, particularly the rival gang members set on taking him down. What unfolds is a fabulous drama about loyalty and family that isn’t really violent enough to fit into the heroic bloodshed genre but has several hallmarks of that vein of melodramatic HK action cinema that exploded in the early 1990s.
Radiance has given their usual fantastic treatment to the films. With Commedia all’italiana, you have Il Sorpasso coming from a 4K scan. All three look and sound wonderful, especially Il Mattatore, which is black and white but has a very short epilogue in wonderful colour. Extra features are plentiful, with a number of new fascinating video essays and interviews about Risi’s work, the films, and the context of the commedia all’italiana, as well as a wealth of archival material. Accompanying the set is an 80-page book with new and reprinted writing on the film, although this was not made available for review.
The transfer for A Moment of Romance also comes from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, and it too looks and sounds fantastic. Bonus features include an audio interview with Chan from 2016, a visual essay on the film about where it fits in Hong Kong filmmaking of the time, and a fine audio commentary by Frank Djeng. The disc also includes a booklet with new writing on the film, which similarly was not supplied for review.
Another very high-quality set of discs from Radiance. All three films in Commedia all’italiana are fantastic, with an absolute masterpiece in Il Sorpasso, and A Moment of Romance is an excellent and underseen example of Hong Kong action cinema. therefore comes highly recommended.