Il Sorpasso Criterion Collection Review: An Endearing, Incisive Road Movie

Risi's film is simultaneously breezily fun and slyly satiric, a film full of immediate pleasures and more thought-provoking asides.
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The comedy of Dino Risi’s road movie Il Sorpasso hums along beautifully, just like the gorgeous Lancia Aurelia convertible one of its main characters drives. A prime example of the Commedia all’italiana movement that evolved partly as a response to Neorealism, Risi’s film is simultaneously breezily fun and slyly satiric, a film full of immediate pleasures and more thought-provoking asides.

It also features two great performances from Vittoria Gassman as the uninhibited Bruno and Jean-Louis Trintignant as shy law student Roberto, who gets roped into a road trip crisscrossing Rome and its surrounding areas after Bruno comes into his apartment to use his phone.

As if it weren’t clear from Trintignant’s amusingly reticent turn, Roberto’s voiceover narration explicates his reluctance to join Bruno on what turns out to be an ever-expanding outing. Throughout the journey, Roberto attempts to construct reasons to get away, but his flimsy excuses can’t stand up to Bruno’s overwhelming magnetism. The effect is similar on the audience; despite Bruno’s caddish behavior, he’s never less than endearing, thanks to Gassman’s disarming wit and preternatural charm.

In the midst of a holiday that has left Rome mostly deserted, the pair try to find a place to eat, but are sidetracked by a variety of misadventures, from Roberto’s unlucky encounter with a bathroom-stall lock to Bruno’s constant flirtation with every attractive woman he sees to an impromptu visit to Roberto’s relatives.

Bruno isn’t just a fun-loving troublemaker; he possesses an emotional intelligence that begins to help Roberto see past his own inhibitions to the possibility of a more vibrant, fulfilling life. How beneficial this is to Roberto is debatable, particularly given the abrupt turn the film takes in its conclusion. But that’s one of the great things about Risi’s film — in the midst of humorous escapades and seemingly effortless physical comedy, he subtly interrogates the very nature of his film and his characters. We enjoy the comedy, even as these events might be responsible for characters’ destruction.

The Criterion Collection dual-format release presents the film in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 1080p high definition on the Blu-ray disc. The transfer is sourced from a new 2K digital restoration, and the results are outstanding, offering an image that is exceptionally clear and detailed, with impressive grayscale separation, clean whites and deep blacks. The transfer is very film-like, with a healthy but unobtrusive grain structure. Damage is essentially nonexistent. The only quibble one might have are the “burned-in” Italian subtitles in a brief section where two characters are speaking German, but it’s a small concession to make to get this excellent presentation.

Audio is presented in lossless mono, which is very clean and crisp, if a little lifeless sounding in dialogue sequences, thanks to Italian post-dubbing convention.

Extras included on both the Blu-ray and the two DVD discs include a new introduction by Alexander Payne and an archival one from Trintignant. Risi is featured in an interview from 2004, while new interviews feature screenwriter Ettore Scola and film scholar RĂ©mi Fournier Lanzoni. Two docs focus on Risi’s career and the working relationship between Risi and Gassman. Excerpts from a 2012 piece look at a return to Castiglioncello, the location for the film’s beach scenes. The film’s theatrical trailer rounds out the disc. Also included is a booklet with essays by critics Phillip Lopate, Calerio Caprara and Antonio Monda and excerpts from Risi’s writings.

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