Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon
Director: Ettore Scola
Running Time: 106 mins
A Special Day (Una giornata particolare) is an Italian film about a woman and a man who meet in an apartment block while the rest of the residents go to watch a parade attended by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
A wonderfully measured story about the seemingly ordinary lives of two people, A Special Day features some incredibly powerful drama and thought-provoking ideas on political oppression, traditional roles in society and, above all, the glorious quiet revolution.
Featuring Italian screen icons Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in one of their last pairings, the film takes two of cinema’s most charismatic personalities and strips them down to their barest bones, allowing them to give perhaps the rawest performances of their careers.
And that’s the essence of A Special Day. No frills, no melodrama. Just truth and genuine drama. That might sound tediously ordinary to you, but the execution here is spectacular, with both Loren and Mastroianni using all of their talents, and director Ettore Scola crafting a subtly powerful piece of cinema that hits home far harder than you’d ever expect at first.
Set very literally against the backdrop of Adolf Hitler’s 1938 to Rome and the growth of radical fascism in Italy, the movie contrasts the euphoric and triumphant cries of the thousands who turn out to see Hitler and Mussolini with the ordinary yet quietly defiant day of two people who stay at home.
I don’t wish to spoil anything for you, but Loren and Mastroianni’s decision to stay home isn’t some powerfully courageous stand against fascism, but rather a combination of circumstances that means they can’t go to the parade.
And it’s that very fact which makes their day almost entirely alone in an apartment block such a powerful symbol for the quiet revolution. While they see ups and downs over the conversations they have throughout the day, the fact of the matter is that they’re indifferent to what’s going on at the parade outside, as if the terrifying spread of an ever more radicalised fascist doctrine is little more than a fly buzzing in their ear.
Their conversations certainly relate deeply to the changing tide of ideology in Italy at the time, from the oppression of Mastroianni’s character to the increasing hardening of gender roles that mean Loren’s character finds herself doing nothing but tidying up a constantly messy house.
However, it’s when the pair begin to delve into each other’s personal lives, sharing new ideas and speaking new thoughts to each other, that the film really hits home. With the words of Hitler and Mussolini’s bombastic speeches in earshot, the fact that Loren and Mastroianni’s quiet, measured conversations about the most ordinary things win out is truly extraordinary.
Director Ettore Scola does a masterful job of creating that effect so vividly, utilising not only the physical space of the film’s set, but also sound effects and camerawork to perfectly capture how, in the end, a perfectly ordinary life will always win out over evil.
It’s a beautiful testament to the power of the quiet revolution, bringing the theme to life in such a way that the film, despite its slow and quiet nature, is mesmerising to watch at times, and is full of riveting and thought-provoking thematic depth. Plus, with two fantastic performances from Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, A Special Day really is a very special film, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.