Federico Fellini's next cinematic outing after the staggering La Dolce Vita came with the anthology film Boccaccio 70 (1962), a lively and hilarious comedy in the style of writer and poet Giovanni Boccaccio, which also featured stories by Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica and Mario Monicelli. The latter's contribution to the film was only included in the Italian version, meaning Fellini's tale was first up in the worldwide release. Some objected to the underrated Monicelli's segment being omitted, and sadly today the major version available in the UK is the one with three stories rather than four. That said, the three included are all worthy of mini classic status.
Fellini's first-up vibrant tale features a gigantic Anita Ekberg terrorising a middle aged doctor who preaches about the vulgarisation of Rome. It begins by showing the prig's pursuits to purify Rome, stopping couples in cars who are unmarried, slapping women who sit outside restaurants with cleavages on display. While awarding some boy scouts for their bravery one day, he is horrified to see the erection of a huge billboard advertising milk, the glass of it being held by a buxom Anita Ekberg who lies, with cleavage on display, across a bed in a revealing dress. A crowd gathers and a typically Felllini-esque party begins as the sign, in all its glory, goes up. The man, outraged, hopes to remove the sign, but his aims are quashed when she comes out of the poster and terrorises him.
Ekberg, two years after La Dolce Vita, and here playing herself, is womanhood personified, her huge bosom, flowing blonde hair and endless legs a testament to free femininity, a celebration of modern sexuality in the face of stiff repression. Her formidable presence and luscious sex appeal make the point alone. Fellini always had a fondness, or perhaps obsessive infatuation, with large bosoms, seeing all women as a mother and desirable goddess. Ekberg fits the bill perfectly, the milk being symbolic too, and she is the very embodiment of sex appeal rampaging through decadent Rome.
Fellini's instalment in the film may well be a direct reply to the stiff and priggish reactions to La Dolce Vita, a film which was essentially about Rome's hedonism. This was a picture which, though successful, also sparked a national backlash in his homeland. Here, as if to slap the doubters in the face, Fellini goes one further, winding up his critics with a gigantic, Godzilla sized Anita, large breasted, flashing her feminine charm at all times. It is almost the ultimate joke, and is the most excessive story in Boccaccio 70 by far.
Many would see Fellini's part of the film as its highlight, but in my view it has stiff competition from De Sica's part. The neorealist icon's story is La Riffa, featuring Sophia Loren as a beautiful and sexy fairground worker called Zoe who sees herself become the main prize in a sordid raffle where the winner will get to the spend the night with her. But Zoe is no push over, no man can own her, and she has an alternative to her objectification.
De Sica's instalment is full of life, and so infectiously good natured that the mob of sex hungry men marching towards Sophia like starving hounds, who would be threatening in other surroundings, come across as loveable rogues rather than the sexist relics they really are. In the face of their collective desperation however Sophia is empowered, a beautiful, statuesque woman who knows that even a glimpse of her leg will send them into a wild frenzy. But she cannot be owned or had for any amount of money.
Visconti's tale is also worthy of praise, but it is in the wild and wonderful tales of De Sica and Fellini that the film really comes alive. Boccaccio 70 is playful and wonderfully over the top, with each Italian master relishing the opportunity to throw away subtlety and inhibitions all together. That said, this is not Fellini's finest work of course, but a light breather which separates La Dolce Vita from his next iconic moment as the world's greatest filmmaker, 8 1/2.
It should also be noted, essentially, that Boccaccio 70 is Fellini's first released film to be shot in colour. Explaining this fact, Fellini said, "For the episode in Boccaccio ’70, the choice wasn’t mine. It was an episodic or anthology film, and the producers decided that it was to be in colour. I didn’t object at all. The playful air of the whole undertaking and the brief form of the episode seemed just right for an experiment with colour without too great a commitment on my part. I didn’t think about the problem very seriously; I didn’t go into it deeply."
Fellini chose to shoot in black and white right after Boccaccio 70 for 8 1/2, obviously finding a lack of colour more fitting to Guido's strange and fantastical journey. But from then on Fellini went full colour, diving headlong into its magic, knowing it was more conducive to mind bending imagery, fantastical and expansive, but also too aware it could distract the viewer from the purity of the image as intended.