Late in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” Marcello Mastroianni plays a business man who’s traveled three hundred miles to bed Sophia Loren’s precocious prostitute. But she has unwittingly become the object of her neighbor’s affection, a young man who is on his way to seminary school. Obsessed with Loren, this boy is ready to give up priesthood in order to be with her. Distraught, his grandmother pays Loren a visit, and Loren makes a vow to give up sex for one week and convince the boy to do the right thing and follow a higher calling.

Now we return to Marcello Mastroianni, frustrated, trying everything in his power to get Loren in the sack. Desperate for sex, he is the comedic gem in this piece, stomping around the apartment, grunting, sighing, and throwing his hands in the air. The poor man wants a lay, and damn it if he can’t get it.

“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” winner of the 1964 Academy Award for best foreign film, is a comedic anthology of three sex related pieces starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in each of the three shorts. Playing different characters in different parts of Italy, Loren and Mastroianni climb up and down the class ladder, from extremely poor characters to obscenely rich snobs—Loren, anyway—who’s lives seem to center around sex, or the lack thereof.

In the first story, we meet Loren and Mastroianni as two peasants. Loren hocks cigarettes in a local marketplace while Mastroianni is an out of work soldier. Trouble occurs when Loren is faced with jail time for committing fraud. Pregnant, she soon learns that she cannot be arrested as long as she’s carrying a child. So she exploits this loophole and decides to get pregnant every nine months.

Cut to five children later: with a grand total of seven kids, Loren is intent on bearing as many children as possible to skirt prison, but Mastroianni, poor Mastroianni, is sexually exhausted, providing a brilliant contrast to the randy character he plays in the last chapter. His wife’s demands are too great. The poor man cannot “breed” on demand. And when he finds great difficulties in maintaining a sexual relationship with his wife, she is faced with an all-too real reality of going to prison.

The middle story features Loren as a bored, wealthy snob who despises the lower class, even though she is having an affair with a man of limited means. The man, Mastroianni once again, is tired of Loren’s horrible attitude toward lower class men and women, and their back and forth is tense and often subtly rude.

This story is certainly the weakest of the three, and prevents the film as a whole from being an out and out masterpiece. It goes nowhere and seems to exist despite its lack of a real point. It’s just there, which is not always a bad thing, hell, some films work entirely on that level, but viewed in the context of the other two stories, this one just doesn’t hold up.

“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is a clever film about relationships without getting heavy handed or ham fisted. The movie works well as a sublime comedy about the battle of the sexes and the variety of reasons people rely on sex. It is a relatively simple film with sharply defined characters who each go through a small change of some kind—though the changes are never ballyhooed or brought to the viewers’ attention.

Vittorio De Sica is a master storyteller who takes his time in developing his characters and situations. He trusts the audience to be as intelligent and as understanding of this world he’s created as he is, and he is in no hurry to second guess the audience, or to speed up the film on their behalf. And the man is a fantastic shooter who knows how to fill a frame without drawing attention to his compositions.

“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is a fun, at times charming, film about relationships and the S word. And if that doesn’t sell the flick, then perhaps Sophia Loren doing a striptease will.

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