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Cars in the movies: Il Sorpasso

It is Ferragosto morning in 1962. Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), a 36-year-old lover of the good life and sports cars, is on board his Lancia Aurelia B24 convertible, looking for a cigarette and a phone. All this, on the streets of empty and hot Rome. Classic Italian August. He is welcomed into his apartment by Roberto Mariani (Jean-Louis Trintignant), law student at the fourth-year who has remained in town to prepare for exams. A little less classic and a lot more sad. Bruno's intrusiveness and Roberto's submissiveness-which in reality also masks a certain attraction-leads the two protagonists on a tireless journey along the Via Aurelia, whizzing through the Italy of the economic boom. We are talking about Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso (1962), the first road movie made in Italy, as well as one of the most successful cinematic frescoes of Italian-style comedy, where the lightness of laughter is contrasted, sharply, with the satire of bourgeois customs and the social drama of those years. Bruno and Roberto represent two distinct classes: the former the upper middle class, rampant and careerist, while the latter, attracted by successful schemes but firmly rooted in precise canons of behavior and family virtues, the working petty bourgeoisie. In all, the urban underclass is still distant from the great economic processes.
In the film, the critique of mores is rendered in a particular way by the connection with the street, a scenic representation of a nation heading toward an inexorable waning of a dream, that of collective and generalized prosperity. Spoiler (which spoiler it is not because it is a film from the 1960s): in the tragic ending, Bruno, on yet another reckless overtake, catapults his car into an embankment, trying to avoid a head-on collision with a truck. Who do you think dies? No, that's right: not him. The honest and naive Roberto dies. But Risi's ending makes sense: the protagonists represent two identities of the nation at the crossroads of its history. The one bound to principles, represented by the student, is seduced and dies (and with it dies the dream), leaving the field open to the other side of Italy, the cunning, individualistic and amoral one. The story travels along the Via Aurelia, the consular artery that runs from Rome to the Fregene rivieras of upper Lazio. More than others, this road represented in the 1960s a collective and generational myth: a road to vacation, escapism and well-being, which was traveled every Sunday by Roman society to celebrate the ritual of feasting. Along the Aurelia they crossed first the bourgeois neighborhoods that had sprung up close to the center of Rome and, then, the still dilapidated working-class hamlets. They quickly ran through agricultural districts until they reached the beaches.
Symbolism is also reflected by another constant protagonist of the film: Bruno's car. The Lancia Aurelia B24, which left the workshops in 1956, represented at the time a prototype of elegance and refinement, which nevertheless soon blossomed into an aggressive and overbearing ideal. Rigged engine and boor set-ups (e.g., the annoying tritonal horn that accompanies many scenes in the film and just as many brash overtakes). You can still noticed on the right side of the car the workings of a body shop, repairs not yet repainted, and scars from the adventures sustained by the car and its driver. The choice of this car is therefore not accidental: Dino Risi, with the Lancia Aurelia, wanted to represent the corruption of an idea, the belief in the Italian economic miracle that soon ends and gives way to a divided society, in which only an opportunist like Cortona, with his pseudo-values, can be the only, real protagonist of social welfare.
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