The powerhouse duo of Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren never saw a genre or tone they could not knock out of the park. Aside from being major stars of their time, they were consummate professionals who respected the genres and roles they were given while molding themselves into the parts instead of insisting that the parts fit their movie star personas.
Consider the stark difference in performances and dramatic approaches between Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and Sunflower, two films helmed by the same legendary director, Vittorio De Sica. The various characters Mastroianni and Loren play in Yesterday have a manic energy to them, fitting the film's satirical tone. On the other hand, in Sunflower, a heavy melodrama, they have no problem switching to a more somber mode.
Ettore Scola's chamber drama A Special Day places these two great names into a setting where they can only play off of each other for practically the entire film. The simple but effective story takes place inside an apartment complex in Rome in 1938. The place is nearly evacuated because practically everyone runs off to see a glimpse of Adolf Hitler's first visit to Rome. The complex is "nearly" empty, because forlorn and exhausted housewife Antonietta (Loren) has to stay home.
While chasing after the family's pet bird, Antonietta comes across a depressed journalist named Gabriele (Mastroianni), and the two strike up a friendship. At first, what's going on in the outside world seems disconnected to the relationship between these vastly different characters who nevertheless have an undeniable amount of chemistry. But as we find out more about them, the lines between the two events start to blur.
A Special Day is not a masterpiece within its genre (The film spends too much time on newsreel footage at the beginning and the first act takes a long time to get going), but the masterful and ego-free performances from the two legendary actors make it a must-own for fans of Loren and Mastroianni.
Another reason to get your hands on Criterion's Blu-ray is the gorgeous and pristine 1080p video transfer. Even though A Special Day is officially in color (You know what? I'm not even entirely sure about that. The trailer below makes it look entirely black and white, but I can swear I saw color elements in the Blu-ray), the faded and borderline sepia tone drenches the film in nostalgia, as if we're looking at washed out pictures of our grandparents. The HD transfer does an amazing job bringing the film's unique look to home video.
The extras are also great, as we're treated to a surprising amount of interviews conducted in 2015. There's an interview with director Ettore Scole, but the one that captivated me the most was the heartfelt interview by Sophia Loren. Segments from 1977 episodes of The Dick Cavett Show, where Loren and Mastroianni were featured together are also interesting to see the off-screen chemistry between the two stars. The most surprising extra on the disc is a 2014 short film starring Loren, called Human Voice.
A Special Day is currently available from Criterion on DVD and Blu-ray.