"Comedy, Monicelli Style"
The Pacific Film Archive this week commences a two-week series of films by Mario Monicelli, an Italian director who has specialized in deceptively light comedies since 1949 and who is still active today at the age of 80. His best-known work, Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), screening this Saturday, is a highly skilled mix of character comedy and witty sight gags in an amusing tale of a gang of misfit criminals, among them a bluff Vittorio Gassman, the amiable young Marcello Mastroianni, and a poignantly young Claudia Cardinale. Yet Monicelli came out of the neo-realist era and his films are suffused with grit: His antlike crooks scuttle through rubble and blocky new housing developments as they pass from one mangy scam to another.
Most of them are chronically hungry, a motif that's repeated in the serio-comic The Organizer (1963), which opens the series this Friday. Like Big Deal, a film shot in shades of gloomy gray, Monicelli cuts the innate somberness of his tale of a strike at an 1890s textile mill in Turin by jamming little bits of humor in its margins. Both capital and labor are equally incompetent, the workers heartbreakingly so. Mastroianni is quite droll as a ravenous idealist, the traveling organizer of the title, but the large cast of bewildered workers all acquit themselves superbly, their faces cast down in confusion as management plays Mr. Burns to their Homer Simpsons. No mean feat, creating a dozen or so well-rounded characters in a morality play whose issues are still with us. The Organizer should be seen by any naive idealist who thinks reunionizing America will be easy.
The Organizer screens Friday, March 14, at 7 and 9:25 p.m. Big Deal on Madonna Street screens Saturday, March 15, at 9:05 p.m. and again on Thursday, March 27, at 7 p.m. The Pacific Film Archive is at 2626 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Tickets are $5.50, $7 for two features; call (510) 642-1124. For a complete "Comedy, Monicelli Style" schedule see Reps Etc.