DVD Review: 'Il Sorpasso': an Italian road film

Dino Risi's picaresque sort-of-comedy “Il Sorpasso” was a big hit in Italy back in 1962 and a big hit (in art-house terms, at least) when it was released in the U.S. the following year as “The Easy Life.” It appears to have never been on American video before, unless some VHS edition has vanished in the sands of time.

Bruno (Vittorio Gassman in a star-making role) is a happy-go-lucky drifter, who forces himself into the life of shy law student Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and bullies him into taking a road trip. They are opposite personalities: Bruno is all about the moment, and Roberto is all about some hazy (and dull) future. Bruno charms nearly everyone, but he's irresponsible and aggressively shallow. (His overbearing presence also alienates some and seems even less likable now.) Over the course of 24 hours, he teaches Roberto to loosen up — but at a cost.

Criterion's edition generally looks pristine, except, oddly enough, for a visible thread in the lower left hand corner that pops up about 18 minutes in and is gone in less than a minute. It's no big deal, but it seems like the sort of thing that could have easily been fixed.

Once again, the company has pulled out the stops in assembling supplemental material. Alexander Payne (“Nebraska,” “Sideways”) provides a fairly interesting five-minute introduction. Then we get 20 minutes from a 2004 interview with Risi; eight minutes from a 1983 interview with Trintignant; and a new 15-minute interview with co-screenwriter Ettore Scola (later the director of “A Special Day” and “Macaroni”). Trintignant explains that he was cast at the last minute because he resembled the double standing in for original star Jacques Perrin, who had been delayed past the start of shooting and finally had to drop out. And Scola reports that Dennis Hopper watched the film several times (on a moviola) as inspiration for “Easy Rider,” which makes a lot of sense.

Criterion also includes about 15 minutes of useful commentary by film scholar Remi Fournier Lanzoni; “A Beautiful Vacation,” an hourlong 2006 documentary about the director; and the half-hour 2005 “Speaking with Gassman,” most of which is actually Risi's son Marco (who directed) speaking with his dad about Gassman. Finally, we get 10 minutes of comments from a 2012 look back on the production by several of the few surviving participants.

This additional material illuminates context that is unnecessary for enjoying the movie, but rich in extra meaning. The title “Il Sorpasso” refers most obviously to Bruno's insistence on recklessly passing every other car on the road; but we learn that the term was also being used at the time to describe the ongoing Italian economic boom, which was finally lifting the country up from the devastation of World War II.

"Il Sorpasso" (Criterion, Blu-ray/2-DVD combo pack, 39.95)


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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