Loren and Mastroianni Times Three: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

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Between the 1950s and the 1990s, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni appeared in over a dozen films together. Three of these — Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian Style (1964) and Sunflower (1970) — were directed by Vittorio De Sica, also the director behind Two Women (1960), for which Loren won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won an Oscar of its own, this one for Best Foreign Language Film. Though decidedly less intense than Two Women, it gave both Loren and Mastroianni the chance to play a variety of roles over the course of its three separate stories, each one named after Loren’s character in that particular segment.

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Adelina

In the first part, Adelina, Loren and Mastroianni are Adelina and Carmine Sbaratti, a poor couple living in the Forcella section of Naples with their young son. Carmine has been out of work since finishing his military service, so Adelina is the family’s sole breadwinner, peddling foreign cigarettes on the street along with countless other women doing the same thing. Unfortunately, it’s not an entirely legitimate enterprise. Having been caught selling contraband goods, Adelina owes the government over fifty thousand lire, a sum that she and Carmine can’t possibly afford. Prison, it seems, is unavoidable — but then she discovers a loophole. Because she’s currently pregnant with the couple’s second child, she won’t be incarcerated until after she’s given birth and had an additional six months to nurse the baby. A simple solution presents itself: As long as she’s either pregnant or nursing at all times, she doesn’t have to go to jail or pay the fine. And so the children accumulate…

Adelina is often farcical, but it has serious undertones. In a sense, it’s not terribly far removed from De Sica’s earlier neorealist films such as Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952), in that the characters are trapped by poverty and other adverse circumstances. While it’s never entirely clear whether Carmine is unemployed due to a lack of opportunities or a lack of ambition, it is implied that he’s illiterate, which can’t help matters. Whatever the case, Adelina must make do as best she can, even if that means breaking the law or embracing a highly short-sighted scheme to keep herself out of prison. It’s a vicious cycle: The more children she has, the longer she can remain free, but each new baby puts a larger and larger strain on the family’s already tight finances, not to mention Carmine’s frazzled nerves and, above all, the couple’s marriage.

Still, despite these darker elements, this segment is largely comedic and, at times, even heartwarming. Adelina may compete with her fellow cigarette sellers for business, but on the whole, there’s a strong sense of camaraderie in the Sbarattis’ neighborhood. Though nobody is especially well-off, they’re more than willing to help one another in any way they can, whether that means hiding furniture so that it can’t be repossessed or doing the math to figure out when Adelina needs to conceive again. It’s also evident that the love that brought Adelina and Carmine together in the first place hasn’t died out, easy though it is to forget that in the midst of their increasingly chaotic lives.

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Anna

The second story, Anna, drops the actors into an entirely different milieu. This time, Loren plays Anna Molteni, the dissatisfied wife of a wealthy, extremely prominent Milanese businessman. Weary of her nonstop, high-profile lifestyle, she hopes to find salvation — or at least a change of pace — through Mastroianni’s character, a writer named Renzo whom she met the previous night. The two go for a drive in her Rolls-Royce, and the fundamental divide between them soon becomes abundantly clear.

Anna is, by far, the shortest of the film’s three segments and also the most subdued, though it’s not without its touches of humor. In a sharp change from her role in Adelina, Loren gets to play a glamorous, sophisticated woman, and one totally lacking in self-awareness. Much as she complains about the obligations that her affluence entails (a senator’s funeral, a committee meeting, an award ceremony for “wretched orphans”), much as she wants something different, she’s far more deeply entrenched in her world of money and privilege than she seems to realize. Her driving exemplifies this. Again and again, she nearly hits people or rear-ends the cars in front of her without appearing to notice, as if she owns the road and can do whatever she likes; everyone else is merely an inconvenience to her. “Why don’t they stay home in bed, these workers?” she wonders when she has to stop to let pedestrians cross in front of her.

Renzo, meanwhile, is a levelheaded, perceptive sort, a surrogate for the viewer. He’s attracted to Anna and curious about her lifestyle, but he’s also keenly aware that he’s out of his element. “I don’t know these cars. My limit is a Fiat 600,” he tells her. By the end of the story, brief as it is, he’s seen more than enough of Anna to grasp her true character; pity that she can’t do the same herself.

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Mara

In the last segment, Mara, Loren plays a prostitute in Rome, high-class enough to pick and choose her clients and to afford her own apartment. Mara’s neighbor Umberto (Gianni Ridolfi), a young seminary student, is infatuated with her. Even though she conducts business in her home, he’s oblivious to her true profession; his grandmother (Tina Pica) isn’t, however, and when she insults Mara in front of Umberto, he becomes deeply offended and decides that he no longer wants to attend seminary. After the devastated grandmother explains to Mara that the family’s hopes are all pinned on the boy’s becoming a priest, Mara takes it upon herself to change his mind — but her methods don’t sit well with Augusto Rusconi (Mastroianni, naturally), a visitor from Bologna who wants to spend his few days in Rome making use of her services.

Hot-tempered yet kindhearted and sensitive, Mara shares traits with both Adelina and Anna. Like the former, she makes the best of her circumstances; like the latter, she longs for something more. As for Augusto, he’s essentially a sex-crazed man-child, enraptured by Mara (enough to want her all for himself, though not enough to marry her) and terrified of his father, who happens to be the Minister of Labor — quite different from either of Mastroianni’s other characters. That’s part of the fun of the film: watching Loren and Mastroianni take on these varied roles, seeing their personalities, appearances and relationship change from story to story. No matter which characters they’re playing at any given moment, their performances and chemistry help make Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow an enjoyable and sometimes thought-provoking piece of entertainment.

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This post is part of the Dual Roles Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Click the banner above to see all of the other great posts.

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11 thoughts on “Loren and Mastroianni Times Three: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

  1. Wonderful! I love the idea of both Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni playing these varied roles. It sounds like they are convincing in each one, and I bet a viewer would gain new appreciation for their talents.

    I also like that each story is named after Sophia’s character.

    Thanks for recommending this, and thanks for this early entry to the Dual Roles blogathon! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been meaning to see this for awhile. I had never actually read up on the films though (didn’t know they were separate stories), but your write up has made me push it up higher on my watch list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you enjoy it! I’ve seen a number of anthology films made up of separate stories, but this is the only one I can think of offhand where the same two actors appear in all of the segments, which is fun. I don’t think it would be quite the same otherwise.

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  3. How absolutely fascinating! My experience with De Sica is limited to The Bicycle Thief and Sophia Loren to Houseboat – I clearly need expand my experience with both these people…and Mastroianni! This sounds like the perfect place to start.

    So glad you could join us and thanks for getting the blogathon off to a fantastic start!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and thanks for hosting! I’m very fond of all three of them; Mastroianni is actually my favorite actor, though I’ve really only seen a small portion of his extensive filmography so far. It’s interesting, too, to see how different this is in style from De Sica’s earlier neorealist films, even if it does share some of their themes.

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      1. His earlier films are much grittier than this one, shot in black and white with nonprofessional actors, and that may have been the result of limited budgets as much as an artistic choice. (I’ll have to look into that.) Two Women is interesting because, from what I recall, it’s sort of in between the two extremes. It has big name stars like Loren and Jean-Paul Belmondo (though I’m not sure how well-known he was when it was shot), but it’s definitely harsher than Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

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  4. Pingback: The Dual Roles Blogathon: Day 1 Recap | Christina Wehner

  5. Sophia and Marcello are really one of cinema’s best on-screen pairings, and this film really exemplifies that with the three different roles they play. So far I’ve only seen this and Marriage, Italian Style, and I’m itching to see them in their other films together as I enjoyed those two movies a lot.

    Your post also reminded me of your recommendation of Sunflower awhile back, which I still haven’t gotten around to seeing! I really need to remedy that soon. Also curious to see A Special Day after Criterion released it some time ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really want to see A Special Day too, so much so that I almost bought it sight unseen during the last Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble, but I didn’t end up doing it. Apart from the three movies they made with De Sica, the only other Loren/Mastroianni movie that I’ve seen is The Priest’s Wife, which I wouldn’t recommend. I went in with low expectations, thinking it would be a lame comedy, but the real problem for me was that it felt terribly flat and lifeless. Anyway, I hope you enjoy Sunflower!

      Liked by 1 person

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