A Special Day is a 1977 Italian film starring giants of world cinema Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.
A small intimate affair, A Special Day takes place in 1938 when Adolf Hitler made a state visit Rome, set in a block of apartments in the city. While most residents go to the huge day-long parade laid on by Italy’s fascist leader Mussolini in honour of Hitler’s visit, housewife Antonietta (Loren) is left at home to do chores. She remains home reluctantly on this special day – she is an avowed fascist who has bought into the lies and propaganda to the extent she compiles a Mussolini scrapbook. She already has 6 children, all living in the tiny cramped apartment. Mussolini’s plans to increase the population – and her uncaring husband who barks commands at her and never speaks affectionately anymore – mean that she might be forced to have another child. If she does, her husband will become tax exempt.
She has no time to herself, and sets an alarm clock to countdown the day hour by hour – doing chores, cleaning the flat, cooking food, washing. It is a life of drudgery and emptiness. But when the family myna bird escapes from the window she discovers a gentleman in another apartment who also hasn’t gone to the parade. He helps her capture the family pet and they are finally introduced despite living in the same building for sometime. The parade continues an almost oppressive presence throughout, being relayed by radio and nearby noise. It’s a special day, meant to be celebrating the greatness of Italy. By the time the day is completed it will be special for a different reason – a quiet rebellion will have taken place. The meeting of Anonietta and Gabriele (Mastroianni) make both of them reassess their views on sexuality, politics and life.
Beyond the intimate character drama, not a great deal takes place in the film. It is centred around two masterful performances and has moments of quiet desperation and hope. The colour palette of the film, a sort of muted sepia wash over the colour which means only really dark reds and greens show through the almost monochromatic brown shade, has been restored to the director Ettore Scola’s specifications and giving cinematographer Pasqualino de Santis’s screen picture a very interesting look. The opening shot of the apartment block is a bravado piece of filming, with an incredible shot sweeping into Antonietta’s apartment from the exterior, through the window and then following her in a single shot as she moves around the rooms. For 1977 it would have been an amazingly complicated piece of filming for an effect that would now be done in CG.
The challenge of politics both sexual and national are at the forefront of the sparse story, leaving you to understand that this discrimination was governmentally mandated. The rowdy cheerfulness of those returning from the parade underlies how trapped they are.
It is a small and self contained film, but lingers after it has gone.
A Special Day is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now and includes a documentary on Ettore Scola as well as the documentary on Sophia Loren also included on the Two Women discs.