While this Italian film was a critical success in its native land in 1986, winning seven of its national awards including Best Picture, its main point of interest now is its two top-billed stars, Catherine Deneuve and Liv Ullmann. How did the French icon Deneuve and Ingmar Bergman’s Norwegian muse Ullmann come to star in the same Italian language film? Sadly, this new Blu-ray offers no clues, providing no bonus features or commentary tracks. Although it’s not all that uncommon for European and Scandinavian actors to cross borders for productions, the breadth of their incursion here (including multiple other French actors and a Swede) is mystifying in a story that purports to be about an extended Italian family.
Director Mario Monicelli sets the story at a sprawling, rustic farm in Tuscany populated by multiple generations of a family with a principal unifying thread: the women are all highly capable and the men are not. Chief among the idiotic men is Leonardo, a seemingly put-together middle-aged man who is terrible with investments, moving from one money-losing business opportunity to the next whenever he can con family members out of more cash. Even after divorcing the family matriarch, Elena (Ullmann), he still keeps intruding at the farm with his latest get-rich-quick scheme, while also offering his unsolicited ideas about how to run the farm.
Meanwhile, Elena’s sister Claudia (Deneuve) is tiring of her big-city romance with a pretty boy, driving her to seek solace at the family farm. Elena’s teen daughter also has a worthless fling winding down, unfortunately leaving her pregnant and leading to the sentiment of the film’s title. Claudia’s adult daughter is similarly unlucky in love. The farm’s wise maid is always around to offer sage advice about men to the ladies of the farm, even though she’s clueless about what her own philandering husband has been up to during his multi-year work assignment in Australia.
And so it goes, with the ladies being disappointed by men at every turn until they reach a point where they’ve all ditched their men and decided they’re all the better for it. The only man remaining in their lives is Elena’s ex-husband’s uncle, a housebound and completely senile character who barely remembers who he is, let alone where he lives. It’s only in the denouement that the film’s theme finally becomes crystal clear: men are stupid and women don’t need them. Unfortunately, at a full two hours in length, Monicelli simply takes too long to get to this obvious revelation. That’s partly due to too many characters in the farmhouse, when half would have served the story just as well. However, as a groundbreaking Italian feminist film, it’s a bit easier to understand the attraction for Deneuve and Ullmann.
The Blu-ray image quality is mostly clean, however occasional fast character movement reveals a higher level of pixelization than one might expect, almost looking like a result of over-compression. The 2.0 mono soundtrack is crisp and clear, and the English subtitles are well done.
Although billed as a comedy drama, there aren’t many obvious laughs aside from the bizarre antics of the senile uncle. Consider it a lighthearted, if overlong, drama. The film is best for fans and completionists of Deneuve and Ullmann, as its paper-thin, meandering plot only serves as grist for its girl-power mill.
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