Il sorpasso (1962) Dino Risi
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It’s hard not to love Dino Risi’s Italian road comedy Il sorpasso. It’s filled with laughs, excitement, danger, fights (both verbal and physical), music, romance, adventure and sadness. Although audiences didn’t exactly love it upon its initial release, time has been good to the film and I’m delighted that new audiences can experience it via streaming and recent Blu-ray and DVD releases from Criterion.
The film opens with a quiet, reserved law student named Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant, left) concentrating on his studies inside his apartment. Roberto’s study session is hopelessly disrupted by a loud, obnoxious man named Bruno (Vittorio Gassman), sitting in his sports car on the side of the road next to Roberto’s open window. Bruno yells up at Roberto, asking him to make a phone call for him. Neither man knows the other, but while the request makes Roberto nervous, Bruno thinks nothing of it. Before we (and Roberto) know it, Bruno has talked Roberto into a spontaneous road trip from Rome to Tuscany.
In a way, that’s all you really need to know about Il sorpasso (usually translated “the easy life” although a more accurate translation would be “overtaking”). The film remains oddly relevant over 50 years later, transcending cultures, technology, politics, and just about everything else you can think of. What has remained unchanged that Il sorpasso is so good at addressing? Human nature.
Who hasn’t wanted to change his or her life? How many introverts want to be more like Bruno and less like Roberto? Sure, Bruno may run through life completely brash and unfiltered, but you can’t deny his charm and irresistibility. Even after only five minutes with Roberto’s relatives, it seems as if Bruno is part of the family and Roberto the stranger.
If Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) represented the life that few could ever attain to, Il sorpasso seems to tell us that even if you’re a Roberto, almost anyone can become more like a Bruno… although there may be a price to pay for that transformation, depending on how far you’re willing to go in pursuit of it.
After you’ve watched Il sorpasso, don’t miss an excellent CriterionCast episode (#153) on the film featuring Scott Nye, David Blakeslee and Trevor Barrett. The episode contains spoilers, so be sure to watch the film first.