Mario Monicelli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mauro Bolognini, Steno, Pino Zac, Franco Rossi, 1968
Starring: Totò, Franco Franchi, Ugo D'Alessio, Regina Seiffert
After Ro.Go.Pa.G and The Witches, also produced by Dino de Laurentiis, this is the third anthology film Pasolini took part in. While he’s not typically remembered as a director of comedies, he made a fair few, most of them either anthology films and/or starring the great Italian comedian Totò. This includes “La ricotta” from Ro.Go.Pa.G, the feature-length Uccellacci e Uccellini with Totò, and “The Earth as Seen From the Moon” from The Witches, also with Totò. “Che cosa sono le nuvole?”, his segment in Capriccio all’italiana, is the last of these and the last film Totò appeared in; it was actually released after the actor’s death.
Crowded with segments despite its 95-minute running time, there are six segments divided between six directors. Mario Monicelli, director of Big Deal on Madonna Street, helmed “La Bambinaia” aka “The Nanny,” about a nanny who tells unsettling stories to the children she has been hired to mind. The second segment, “Il mostro della domenica” aka “The Monster of Sunday,” was directed by the prolific Steno (An American in Rome, Execution Squad). He frequently worked with Totò, who appears here as a grumpy old man stuck in his bourgeois ways, determined to get revenge against the young people he hates.
The third segment, “Perché?” aka “Why?”, was directed by Mauro Bolognini, who also directed an adaptation of one of Pasolini’s novels. In “Perché?”, frustration comes to a head as a couple is stuck in traffic in the middle of Rome and the wife encourages her husband to get them out of it by whatever means necessary. The fourth episode is Pasolini’s “Che cosa sono le nuvole?” aka “What are Clouds?”, which I’ll examine in depth shortly. The last two segments include Pino Zac and Franco Rossi’s (who also worked on The Witches but was uncredited here) “Viaggio di lavoro,” where the Queen of England’s trip to Africa goes horribly wrong, and Mauro Bolognini’s second entry, “La Gelosia” aka “Jealousy,” another story about a troubled husband and wife.
I’m not going to lie. At this point, I’m already pretty burned out by European anthology films, which is perhaps odd because I absolutely love British horror anthology efforts like Tales from the Crypt and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. For whatever reason, they were all the craze on the European art house scene in the ‘60s, including films like Love at Twenty (1961), The Seven Deadly Sins (1962), The Most Beautiful Swindlers (1963), Six in Paris (1964), The Oldest Profession (1964), and my favorite, Spirits of the Dead (1969), an Edgar Allen Poe themed anthology featuring works by Fellini, Louis Malle, and Roger Vadim.
Pasolini’s “What are Clouds?” is undisputedly the best film in Capriccio all’italiana. A group of puppets (actually real-life actors like Totò, Laura Betti, Ninetto Davoli, and Franco Franchi) are involved in an adaptation of Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy about a husband’s paranoia and violent jealousy taken to extremes. While waiting between acts, they discuss the events unfolding on stage. For example, though the puppet played by Ninetto Davoli (one of Pasolini’s regulars) has been cast as Othello, he recognizes him to be a flawed and negative character and he’s upset that he has to repeat this performance over and over.
The best moments of “What are Clouds?” are echoed in Pasolini’s other comedies: the presence of Totò (here playing puppet Iago with hilarious results), and a healthy blend of comedy and intellectual material. Criterion released Mamma Roma with Pasolini’s short “La ricotta” as a special feature and I would love to see Uccellacci e uccellini released on Blu-ray with the other comedies shorts accompanying. Though I loved the short, I can’t recommend Capriccio all’italiana. It frustrated that there is no unifying theme and British horror definitely spoiled me with their customary use of a framing device: a central story in which different characters tell their own stories, which make up the short films, and at the end, the characters are reunited and experience the conclusion together. I don’t believe this is available on DVD for English-speaking audiences and it’s also a job to track down online.