One of the things I hoped would occur more often in my film series were guest lecturers and guest writers. It’s a bit of a shame that only once did it happen. Britt Eversole, a friend and lecturer at Yale, was teaching a course in pre-war Italian Modern architecture, selected this film to screen and wrote these film notes for Una Giornata Particolare.
Una Giornata Particolare
1977, 110 minutes
directed by Ettore Scola, starring Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni
After reading so many Yale Architecture Film Society movie synopses – usually equal parts stolen IMDB information, theory talk and cynical empiricism (think of the writing style of the love child of Jean Baudrilliard and Michael Sorkin, adopted and raised by William F Buckley and Maureen Dowd) – it was an honor to be invited to pen one. I can only hope to be half as erudite as Quang Truong, the Prince of Prolix, the Lord of Logorrhea, the Jester of Jargon, the Signore of Circumlocution, the Bishop of Babble, the Viscount of Verbosity, and the Executor of the Exchequer of Effusion.
Una Giornata Particolare is Ettore Scola’s masterpiece of minimalism and dualism, illustrating the penetration of Fascist ideology into the private lives of Italians. The film is shot in a Mario de Renzi designed 1930s apartment block; aside from giving a good impression of interwar urban residential space, it provides the setting for narrating totalitarianism’s domestic manifestations. Totalitarianism was a term that Mussolini defined as a guiding principle of his revolutionary movement. It meant that every action, public display, and artistic endeavor, as well as personal conduct, was to be dedicated to the glorification and advancement of the State. Control, legislation and surveillance were integral; but it was also driven by historical identity and by individual faith, hope, and honor. As historian Emilio Gentile notes, the socialization and sacralization of Fascist politics were grounded in the particulars of quotidian existence, cultural interaction and Italian identity.
Una Giornata Particolare is usually translated ‘A Special Day’: a double reference to the unique day shared by the movie’s protagonists and to the historical event around which it is structured – 6 May 1938, Hitler’s official visit to Rome. Throughout the film, a radio blares through the apartment windows, announcing the parade occurring in the Eternal City’s streets. But instead of inundating us with a visual and political spectacle, Scola takes a reductive approach: the entire film transpires in four interconnected ‘spaces’ and has only two characters. Sophia Loren is Antonietta, the good homemaker who cooks and cleans her cluttered apartment, spending her remaining time procreating for the Fascist future (note the names of her youngest boys, Benito and Adolfo) and working on a scrapbook dedicated to Mussolini (whom she met once in a quasi Mary Magdalene moment). Marcello Mastroianni plays Gabrielle, a literate and sophisticated radio personality who embraces contemporary culture while refusing to accede to the Party’s constant stream of behavioral edicts. Their diametrical lifestyles are embodied in their apartments – hers is an undisciplined jumble of furniture decorated with religious and political icons; his is a composed setting filled with books and modern art. As the film progresses, each character explores the other’s spatial, socio-political and gender identity. Their apartments are separated (and linked) by a courtyard representing Fascist public space: it is under constant surveillance and filled with the amplified voice of the State. The final space (which I’ll leave for you to discover) is a fleeting other space beyond the domestic environs that define/protect Gabrielle and Antonietta.
“Fascism is a glass house into which everyone should be able to look,” Mussolini once said. It was a metaphor for the crystalline hierarchy and mandated conduct of Fascist life: every person in his or her place, working toward the betterment of the State, with no corruption and no secrets. Always linked by the glazed courtyard, Scola’s two characters play out a fantastical narrative that ends ambiguously but realistically. What Scola’s film suggests is that the one thing insulated from Fascism was that aspect of identity that arises from deep within, characterized by secrets and emotions which are internalized until you find that one person with whom you can share them. The most implausible moment (made implausible because of Gabrielle’s identity) is the dénouement, an anticlimax that arrives after their secrets have been laid bare. But it is precisely in the impossibility of their relationship that they find – or make – space in which to construct a non-Fascist identity. For Scola, there was no physical space that was outside of Fascism – only a temporary, fictional space grounded in difference that allowed only for a moment an escape, but nothing more.
- britt eversole
originally written October 23, 2007