Il Boom (1963) is considered amongst those who know, to be one of cult Italian director Vittorio De Sica’s most underrated films. A blackly comedic take on the extremes people can be pushed to when trying to maintain outward appearances, it is both dryly humorous whilst at the same chilling in its final denouement of contemporary societies preoccupation with making and spending money.
Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) and his beautiful young wife Silva (Gianna Maria Canale) live a life far beyond their means. He finds himself in constant fear that his light headed and shallow wife will leave him if he can no longer afford the astronomical bills it’s is costing to maintain the facade of affluence he has created. As he falls deeper and deeper into debt, he turns to family members and friends in order to borrow money but with no success. Then one day the wife of a rich business man, who has already refused to finance one of Giovanni’s ‘sure-fire’ money making ventures, offers the desperate young man a solution to his problems that he can’t refuse – though common-sense tells him he should run in the opposite direction.
This film with its crisp direction, witty dialogue, beautifully evocative depiction of 1960’s Italy and peopled by a cavalcade of grotesques, is as fresh and relevant today as it was was when first released. De Sica never let’s the pace slacken during the eighty odd minute running time, and his on screen vision of Rome fizzes with vitality and life. Writer Cesarean Zavattini (who also penned what was perhaps De Sica’s greatest hit, The Bicycle Thieves in 1948) fashions a razor sharp story with acidic dialogue and a suitably macabre solution to Giovanni’s financial woes that would have made Roald Dahl proud.
But it’s the array of wacky characters which are Il Boom’s most memorable components. From the vacuous Silvia whose interest in her hapless husband evaporates as quickly as she can spend his money, to the truly monstrous Mrs Bausetti (played with zesty relish by former real-life opera diva Elena Nicolai), who offers Giovanni the solution to his monetary woes – but at a high price, it is little wonder that the poor man’s sanity is pushed to the limit by the time the film reaches its climax.
Mix these with an array of bizarre situations, such as Giovanni and Silvia’s shopping trip for a new car which looks like it was lifted straight from one of those 1960’s surreally posed advertisements, to the questionable scene where they, along with some family members, go ‘faggot’ baiting (and yes – it does mean that) whilst out for a night on the town, and you have a film whose core subject, though very much of its era, is equally relevant to audiences in today’s consumer obsessed 21st century.