'Il Sorpasso' Embraces the Fast Life Italian Style

On Sunday, instead of going to bed as I should have, I ended up staying up late to watch TCM’s showing of Il Sorpasso.  I wish I could say that I regret being up until well past midnight, but then I’d be lying.  It was totally worth the sleep deprivation.

Il Sorpasso (known in English as The Easy Life), stars Vittorio Gassman as Bruno Cortona, the archetype of the Italian playboy and bon vivant; and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Roberto Mariani, the straight-laced law student whose stuck in his shell.  As you can imagine, they are polar opposites of each other in every way, and how they make each other’s acquaintance is quite accidental, yet something to behold.  Bruno is the type to draw any and everyone in to his sphere because of his sheer magnetism and charisma, while Roberto is easily passed over and passed by because he’s just like everybody else.  What starts out as Bruno needing to use a phone to call his friends who are going to the beach for the holiday, turns into one of the greatest road trip movies ever made, but with the added bonus of highlighting an Italy on the verge of a massive change in the Sixties.

Director Dino Risi didn’t just set out to make a film about two guys going on an epic impromptu adventure all over Italy.  That would’ve been a tragedy.  What he did with this quintessential Commedia all’italiana (comedy Italian style) film was highlight the duality at war within each of us by juxtaposing Bruno’s insouciance and irresponsible nature with Roberto’s responsible, loyal, and trusty nature.  Still, Risi went further by highlighting what happens when we leave our element in an attempt to be something we’re not, but something and someone we think we ought to be.

If you’re worried it will be heavy, fear not.  I would say over 90% of Il Sorpasso is lighthearted and exciting, especially when Bruno weaves in, out, and around traffic in his sleek and sporty Lancia Aurelia looking for the best food, the best girls, and the best of times.  The hilarity comes from Bruno’s clever one-liners and jokes, in addition to his massive ego.  He says what he wants, he’s got an answer for everything, and in his mind, all he does is win.   That is, until he comes face to face with his greatest responsibility.

It was almost as if I was taking a tour through Italy in each scene.  For some reason, I actually thought of Panama during Carnaval, so I didn’t feel entirely foreign to the film or the experiences depicted.  I wanted to, and almost could, taste the fish soups Bruno talked about, go to the beach and dance with the locals, or zoom past the slower traffic replete with families on their way to their holiday destinations.  Some of my favorite scenes involve Bruno and Roberto stopping somewhere like a rest stop to get a drink, and seeing everyday Italians chilling out, picking a song on the jukebox, or at the beach doing the twist.  On top of that, I had a smile on my face through most of the film because Bruno’s charisma transcended the screen.  As he gets Roberto to drop his defenses, and live a little, most viewers–if not all–will find their defenses being thrown to the wayside as well.  What happens, however, when Roberto fully embraces life in the fast lane, even as Bruno starts to think about the more important things in life?

The final scene in the film is probably the most revealing scene, and it will leave viewers wondering if it was all worth it.  What are you willing to sacrifice, and how far would you go to drop all your cares and live life in the fast lane for a weekend?