Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (1963) Directed by Vittorio De Sica

It can cause snickering. People start looking at you in a different light. Once, you could walk on air, then all of a sudden, everything you do is analyzed and evidence for the prosecution. A fall from greatness can be painful and irrefutable. Last night we watched the latest Woody Allen film, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. This along with Vicky Cristina Barcelona are two of the most vacuous films I've ever watched by anyone, let alone Allen. He seems to have forgotten what made him great. First clue: it starts with the script. In many respects, by the time De Sica got to Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (Italian title : Ieri, Oggi, Domani), the same fate had befallen him as Allen. De Sica, once such a shrewd narrator of the Italian working classes on screen, descended into caricature, cliché and, worst of all, sentimentality.

It is easy to think De Sica saw Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren and was starstruck. By now they were Italy's biggest screen exports, international superstars. With Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, De Sica casts the two as the principle actors in three different stories which cover the post-war Italian class system from top to bottom. You could look at this film as being about the three different women that Loren portrays and her relationship to men. A pre-1960's life in Naples selling cigarettes in the street and conceiving to keep the roof over your head and avoid prison, a millionaire woman driving around Milan picking up artisans to relieve her boredom, a flirtatious upper class hooker in Rome. Loren is very good in these roles, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow shows us something she rarely gave in English language films.

Mastroianni feels wasted in all of these stories, you miss his cool presence from his earlier Fellini movies. In short, all three stories are farces and here lies the problem. De Sica, still sees these gentle comic tales as a means to make comments on class distinctions, but the edge had gone from his commentary by this stage. Was he too comfortable? Probably. There's still a lot to admire in the look of the film, especially in De Sica's nod to the French New Wave of the Milanese set road story. Loren's strip in the third part is the highlight here, her sensual playfulness shows a daring missing in most of this three-hander.

Sophia Loren is a goddess. There is a sense of humor in her and it works wonders for perfection. It humanizes the inhuman beauty. I once had a neighbor who liked quilting and breeding. She was extremely beautiful so it was not difficult for her to arrange new pregnancies. It was her influence that I learned to read Vogue – I fell in love with the vacuousness of the presentation. It was also my first encounter with the privilege of having money. I was a child, impressible and eager to turn into a swan and let go of the awkward rubber duck inside me.

But what about the fact that this beautiful emancipated neighbor seemed to make mothering her main purpose in life? Should this be a question about sex or babies? In Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow Sophia Loren plays three different women: a mother, a whore and a crude lost rich woman. The Italian stereotype of women as either mothers or whores is alive and well in this piece of cinema from 1963.
I'm not sure if the film offered any special perspective into the stereotyping of women.
At the same time, I'm convinced that De Sica is splitting his work into three sections like this and keeping the same actors in tow, precisely because he wants to portray them as sides to one woman. So, the perspective must be somewhere. Perhaps it holds no power of subversion and thus evades me completely.

Feminine beauty in its 20th century splendor requires endless work and reconstruction. The resulting aesthetic has been passed on to me via literature as well as the above mentioned neighbor and cinema. The novel Wonderful Women By The Sea by Monica Fagerholm was another early influence on my personal feminine aesthetic (in good and bad, obsession and health). The novel by Fagerholm and Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow share a time context. They take place in the 1960s. That's important. It is around then that the yearning for a personal freedom becomes a requirement for beauty, it changes and complicates the purpose of beauty. It questions reproduction as the end result. It renders Marchello Mastroianni a helpless clown.


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