‘Il Sorpasso’ – on the road in Italy on Criterion Channel

How did Dino Risi’s lively road movie Il Sorpasso (Italy, 1962) disappear for so many years? Perhaps because it arrived in the midst of an embarrassment of riches of Italian cinema. In fact, it’s known today in part thanks to a big screen revival in the 2010s.

This largely forgotten classic of the early 1960s Italian cinema is a lovely character piece with an odd couple friendship and a delightful portrait of Italian social life in the bistros and nightclubs and beaches outside of the city culture. Vittorio Gassman is Bruno, the exuberant free spirit in a convertible, and Jean-Louis Trintignant is Roberto, a reserved, shy law student coaxed away from his studies for a wild ride.

It’s a friendship sprung from a chance meeting and developed through the sheer power of Bruno’s charm and personality: he’s a prankster, womanizer, gourmand, hustler, and speed demon, leaping on impulse and spending freely and generously (especially when he’s borrowing from others). Roberto, by contrast, is tightly wound and nervous as the older, worldly Bruno drags him into unfamiliar situations. He looks on in distress and envy as Bruno charms, flirts, jokes, and dominates every crowd with the power of his personality, and along the way picks up just a little of the elder’s confidence.



And then the film takes an expected detour into Bruno’s past: a visit to his ex-wife and a neglected daughter (Catherine Spaak), who is growing up fast and savvy in the ways of the world. Bruno suddenly loses his confidence in the face of his past failure.

There’s not much narrative to the episodic journey but there is plenty of character and personality, a rich portrait at Italy at rest and play, and a fascinating relationship between two men with nothing in common and no reason to remain together but for Bruno’s affection for the nervous Roberto and his determination to win over the suspicious young man.

It won a David di Donatello Award (Italy’s answer to the Oscars) for Gasman’s performance.

Black and white, Italian with English subtitles

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Il Sorpasso (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray+DVD]

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The Criterion Blu-ray+DVD Combo edition is mastered from a beautiful 2K digital restoration and features interviews with screenwriter Ettore Scola and film scholar Rémi Fournier Lanzoni, an archival interview with director Dino Risi, an introduction by actor Jean-Louis Trintignant with Marie-Christine Barrault from 1983, the 2006 documentary “A Beautiful Vacation” on director Risi, and excerpts from a 2012 documentary with rare on-set color footage, plus a booklet with essays by critics Phillip Lopate and Antonio Monda.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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