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Una Vita Difficile

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Film Forum / New York / Film & TV

Alberto Sordi, the king of commedia all’italiania, has become a superstar for both Film Forum—New York’s (and the country’s) premier revival house—and the top reissue distributor Rialto Pictures. Their recent choices tell you why. Sordi peerlessly portrayed Everymen hustling through Italy at midcentury. His oversize yet precise talent encompassed buffoonery, pathos, and all points in between. He epitomized exotic romantic poseurs as a photo-comics swashbuckler in Fellini’s The White Sheik (1952, a 2019 Rialto re-release), and he pioneered hyperbolic cringe comedy as a debt-ridden nouveau riche in Vittorio De Sica’s Il boom (1963, Rialto 2017). Now Rialto has picked up a Sordi classic never released in the U.S.: Dino Risi’s Una Vita Difficile (1961). Sordi’s pungent embodiment of a left-wing pamphleteer who can’t prosper in a capitalist republic propels Risi’s deft seriocomic panorama from Mussolini’s fall to the rise of the postwar Roman oligarchy. Sordi brings gusto and a satiric edge to the partisan firebrand who meets his wife (Lea Massari) when she kills his would-be Nazi executioner with an iron. Sordi triumphs at jet-black comedy when the antihero fails as an idealist, a husband, even as a sell-out. The closest America has come to Alberto Sordi is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in their prime, rolled into one. The movie plays at Film Forum (February 3-16) before opening at arthouses across the country. —Michael Sragow

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