This post has some SPOILERS.
Dino Risi’s 1962 road movie is a gem. The great Jean-Louis Trintignant plays Roberto, a shy law student who uncharacteristically goes on a sudden road trip with a random passer-by, Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman). The two are polar opposites, as Cortona is loud and boisterous. Their relationship turns out to be more complex than upon first glance, and the film is not only a fantastic look at 1960s Italy, but also funny and moving. With an ending the reminds of a Bertrand Blier film that I can’t think of, and also a bit of Dassin’s Phaedra, Il Sorpasso also stays with you.
A whole lot of Il Sorpasso takes place on the road as the two men drive at high speeds through the countryside and small towns. These are some of the best parts. The conversation is rapid-fire (mostly from Cortona) and about all things modern. Though where Roberto wants to talk nature and poetry, Cortona wants to talk cars, girls, and food:
There are a lot of comic opportunities, like this one where they drive behind a man eating a sandwich in his living room…which happens to be in the back of a truck:
Aside from the road, the foremost thing on the mind of both men (and likely, that of the director), is women. There’s something great about how Il Sorpasso introduces a whole lot of sexual possibilities, and non are consummated.
In fact, there seem to be at least three times when the plot seems certain to veer in another direction for Roberto. There’s the random woman he meets at the train station-
-Cartona’s daughter (that’s her in the foreground) who can’t stop looking at him-
-and this one, my favorite, the blond at a restaurant who stares at him like a man-eater:
This last one is also the best because of how long the silent exchange of looks goes on. The duration makes it funnier and you can really feel Roberto’s confusion and decision process. Also, it’s never clear whether the woman is with the man across from her or not.
Each time it feels almost obvious that Il Sorpasso will become less of a road movie and more of a relationship or liaison film, but that never happens. The friendship (if that’s what you ultimately call it) between Cartona and Roberto remains at the forefront throughout.
These women aren’t like Fellini’s women – temptresses, goddesses from the past, unattainable actresses. They’re also not like the innocents in an Olmi film. They’re realer than the former and more desirous than the latter, which makes sense. Il Sorpasso is neither fantastical and nostalgic, nor small-town and guiltless. It’s filled with a sense of desire that’s at times fun, and at times desperate.