An Italian Work Of Art: The Film, “Il Bell Antonio”

Adapted from a novel by Vitaliano Brancati which I did not much care for, the 1960 Italian film, Il Bell Antonio, is a work for which I care a lot.

It deals with an undeniably handsome man, Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni), reputed to be a stud but who is in reality, in the pre-Viagra days of the Sixties, impotent strictly with the women he loves.  The Woman he loves is virginal Barbara Puglisi (Claudia Cardinale), picked by his parents because they need money and the Puglisis are rich.  However, Barbara’s father needs an heir and Barbara, after she and Antonio marry, remains untouched.  This agonizes Antonio’s parents—while the Puglisis gradually see an avenue for getting even richer, and it excludes Antonio.

Here, to be impotent in sex is to be impotent in status.  The body cannot be too chaste or a family’s fortunes are affected.  In truth, they are not affected without certain moral outrages springing up.  The accusation made by a dying Puglisi elder against Antonio’s father, Don Alfio (Pierre Brasseur), is more serious and bothersome than Antonio’s impotence.  A lack of wealth is allied with a lack of integrity.  That Antonio profoundly loves Barbara matters not in the least. . .  This deeply sad film was intelligently directed by Mauro Bolognini.  Vernon Young correctly noted that his “shot selection is sensitive to mood,” and, indeed, the film is a jewel of such sensitivity.  It is, moreover, a fine contribution to the body of classic foreign pictures of the late Fifties-early Sixties.

(In Italian with English subtitles)

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