Mini-Review: Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso (1962) is a Perfect Snapshot of Italy in the Sixties

Il Sorpasso 1962
*Attenzione: Spoilers*

It’s Ferroagosto in Rome. Everyone’s on holiday, except for Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) a law student, already preparing for his exams in September. Hold on, I see a Lancia Aurelia. Yep, that’s Bruno (Vittorio Gassman). Who the hell is Bruno? I don’t know he’s a 40-ish man who wants to use Roberto’s phone. Roberto let’s him in. To thank him for the favor Bruno invites Roberto to breakfast. Driving like crazy across the Italian west coast the two become great friends, but then the film needed an ending. 

Il sorpasso  (literally: “The overtaking”), horribly translated The Easy Life (probably to cash in on La dolce vitaThe Sweet Life) is a comedy/drama written & directed by Dino Risi. The first part of Il sorpasso is very funny, but the second part gets a bit darker and more dramatic, by the end of the film it’s a tragedy. In a way the title tipped me off that a car accident might happen, and surely the way people drive in Italy I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents. Apparently it was already getting out of control in the 60s, when everyone suddenly was able to afford their own private ride.

The film is a character piece and is about these two characters who are diametral opposites. Roberto is shy and introverted, whereas Bruno is loud and super-social, everyone loves him. In the beginning you think this is a standard: Let’s get the nerd out of his shell, type of deal, but then the film shows that Bruno has problems as well. He is just as lonely and melancholy as Roberto. Both characters can’t be with the person they love, for different reasons, but the result is the same. The film comments on the feeling of alienation, even directly referencing Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse (1962).

Whereas Antonioni’s films almost feel surreal or fantastical in certain regards (especially in the second half of his career), Risi seems to be interested in painting a neorealist picture. The brands, the changing morals and family values, the economic boom, the fashion, the music: Everything seems to be indicating that Italy is changing. Is that something good? Bruno’s character embraces change. By the end of the film Roberto is starting to do so himself, but interestingly enough he’s the one who dies. Just as he started being less shy and making changes to ask out his crush, his skull gets crushed into the rocks.

Was it too fast? Was Bruno pushing him too hard? Is Italy’s sudden post-war renaissance happening too quickly? These seem to be the questions Risi is asking between the lines. The film looks beautiful and feels like summer. As someone who has a nostalgia for the 60s and just loves the Roman dialect this film was a lot of fun. The ending is a bit of a bummer. I would have preferred something happier or at the very least bittersweet. Still, it might make sense, if you consider what the director was trying to say. The film is part of the prestigious Criterion Collection and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Italian cinema.

7.5 out of 10

One comment

  1. nuwansenfilmsen

    Lovely review. Thanks for the ‘Spoiler Alert’, I still ended up reading it anyway, although I wish I had seen the movie first. Poor Roberto!!
    None the less I enjoyed the review. I love European films, especially Italian and French Films from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

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