Sophia Loren and
Marcello Mastroianni are one of the most
compelling screen duos of any country of all
time; they have appeared together in thirteen
films, some of the most notable being light
hearted ‘Marriage Italian Style’1964 and
‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ 1963, both
directed by De Sica, as well as the more serious
tragic-drama ,Sunflower, which was the
first Western film to be filmed in Russia.
Loren and Mastroianni play Giovanna and Antonio,
young lovers who decide to get married to afford
Antonio a twelve day leave from World War 2.
Unfortunately, contrary to Giovanna’s hopes, the
war does not end in those 12 days, and Antonio
goes off to fight in Russia.
At the end of the war, when Giovanna goes to the
station to see if Antonio has returned safely,
he is not there, but she meets a soldier who
left him in the snow in the cold Russian winter,
after Antonio became unable to walk. The last
time the soldier saw him, he was alive- barely.
For Giovanna, not having proof of his death is
enough incentive to head to Russia herself to
find him, and she’s in for a nasty surprise.
The two lead actors are extraordinary; the
amount of pain in their faces anytime they part
company is both heart-wrenching and
haunting. Their chemistry, the absolute
certainty in their minds and ours that they are
so right for each other, that is what fuels the
emotional trauma of the film. Everything is
against them, they know it and they battle, and
so when they do the right thing, it doesn’t feel
right at all.
Sophia Loren, in particular is astounding. As
she breaks down after hearing some horrible
news, it’s physically difficult to watch her
brave façade melt away as she weeps on a
train back to her normal life, next to a
confused but sympathetic Russian woman.
De Sica directs some beautiful set pieces, in
particular the scene at the train station where
all the wives and mothers are holding pictures
of their husbands and sons, desperately trying
to find out what happened to them, praying they
will be on the train; if that doesn’t affect
you, you have no heart.
The bravery of not going for the simple ending,
for doing the right thing, it paid off and De
Sica was rewarded with a lovely, profoundly
moving film about the losses that come with war.
It was the last of his collaborations with Loren
and Mastroianni, and unquestionably the best,
it’s a shame it’s not better known.