Despite the celebratory mood that surrounds Rome, beautiful housewife Antoinetta (Sophia Loren) feels just as lonely as ever. She has a husband and six children, but feels emotionally spent: husband Emanuele (John Vernon) is overbearing and disrespectful; while her children are rude and don’t really appreciate everything she does for them. Today, Emanuele has taken the children to a parade celebrating Hitler’s visit with Mussolini in Rome, 1938. Antoinetta remains home in their small apartment to clean.
Gabriele (Marcelo Mastroianni) is Antonietta’s neighbor and likely the only other person in the building. While A Special Day never leaves the confines of the building—and more so Antoinetta’s apartment—a distant radio broadcasts the parade. When Antonietta’s mynah bird escapes to the other side of the building, Antonietta finds herself knocking on Gabriele’s door and the two catch the bird together. The two begin talking and it soon becomes clear to Antoinetta why Gabriele is not at the parade.
It’s safe to say Sophia Loren is playing against type here. An international sex symbol of the highest order, Loren wears one raggedy house dress the entire film, looking as plain as she possibly could. Director Ettore Scola and cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis go so far as to desaturate the color to what looks like a sepia tone. It really adds to the feeling of disconnect and disillusionment the two main characters are feeling with the people in their lives and society in general.
Since Mastroianni’s character is introduced with a pistol on his desk and a mention of being fired from his job for “deviant tendencies,” it’s fairly easy to figure out the source of his depression. Though in an indication of what a sheltered life Antoinetta has led, she needs Gabriele to yell out “faggot” several times before she’s able to put all the pieces together.
Once all is understood, the two are able to bond over their shared loneliness and feelings of oppression. However, both know what they have on this special day will not last. They are living in a time where party loyalty trumps all and there are no real private conversations. Gabriele will almost certainly be deported, and Antoinetta must continue her role as a loyal, doting housewife.
Sophia Loren and Marcelo Mastroianni made seventeen films together and their chemistry is undeniable, even in this uncharacteristic pairing. Once Gabriele has revealed his secret, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted of his shoulders. From then on, he an Antoinetta are free to become to compassionate souls comforting each other in the face of very difficult, unescapable situations.
A Special Day was restored in 2014 at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia—Cinetece Nazionale in Rome. Criterion’s high-def 4K transfer is sourced from that print and looks stunning. Given the fact that the director Ettore Scola supervised this transfer, it’s safe to assume it looks as he wished. Image detail is sharp throughout and is particularly noticeable during close-ups. There’s no noticeable damage to report.
The linear PCM mono track is as crisp and clean as the video. Armando Trovajoli’s score is nicely preserved and presented. Optional English subtitles are included with the Italian audio.
The following extras are available:
- Human Voice/La Voce Umana (2014) (HD, 25:34) Edoardo Ponti’s (son of Sophia Loren and producer Carlo Ponti) short film Human Voice, which inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play La voix humaine.
- Interview with Ettore Scola (HD, 21:13) Conducted exclusively for Criterion in Rome in May 2015, Scola discusses his career as a journalist at Marc’ Aurelio, his work as a screenwriter, his first feature film, his politics, Italy’s fascist past, his work with producer Carlo Ponti and more.
- Interview with Sophia Loren (HD, 14:37) Conducted exclusively for Criterion in Geneva in June 2015. Loren discusses her first meeting with the director, her initial fear of playing Antonietta, her relationship with Marcello Mastroianni and more.
- The Dick Cavett Show: An archival interview with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni from The Dick Cavett Show while the two stars were in New York to promote A Special Day. The long interview is broken into two episodes which were originally broadcast on October 10 and November 4, 1977. Part I (October 10, 1977) (HD, 28:03) The two discuss their professional and personal relationship, their on camera chemistry, their lives before appearing in films, their characters in A Special Day and more. Part II (November 4, 1977) (HD, 28:04) Loren discusses working with Charlie Chaplin and Marcello Mastroianni’s inability to work in the morning. Mastroianni discusses how Fellini approached him about appearing in La Dolce Vita. Both touch on the various themes in A Special Day.
- Trailer (HD, 2:47) Restored original trailer.
- Leaflet: Illustrated leaflet featuring Deborah Young’s essay “Small Victories”.