Il Vedovo (The Widower) (1959)
Directed by Dino Risi
Risi milked laughs from showing the extent to which men could behave like scum. The psychiatrist-turned-filmmaker directed documentaries before moving into the commedia all’italiana genre, through which he created portraits of loudmouthed chauvinists, hypocrites, and money-lusting Italian scoundrels played in termite-like fashion by charismatic stars such as Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi, and the indelibly sad-faced Alberto Sordi. Risi is well-regarded for his string of rich 1960s films such as Una vita difficile, Il sorpasso, and the omnibus I mostri, which set themselves in contemporary times or the recent past to show petty Fascist impulses carrying over from World War II into Italy’s subsequent period of economic prosperity known as “Il Boom.” Yet the auteur’s talents were already fully present in the astonishing The Widower, one of fourteen films in MoMA’s large Risi retrospective that will screen on a new 35mm print.
The film’s title character does not actually exist, but is rather an idealized self dreamed of by Alberto Sordi’s character, Alberto Nardi, a Roman factory owner (of lifts and elevators) whose faulty products are driving him and his employees broke. What keeps him in business is his wealthy Milanese wife, Elvira Almiraghi (Franca Valeri), who smilingly regards her philandering small-minded man with a contempt forged from years of witnessing his financial and romantic misadventures. Catastrophe strikes Alberto’s life in the form of a large business loan to repay, followed by a possible sublime reprieve with the news that his benefactress has been in a train accident. The setback of Elvira’s survival nonetheless inspires her heir to dream of new inventions. Dehumanizing profit motives of the postwar world are gleefully skewered as Alberto holds meetings with some of his factory’s employees to design—with elaborate, mechanical, militaristic precision—the best assassination. Aaron Cutler (December 22, 7pm; December 24, 4pm at MoMA’s Risi retrospective)