DVD Review: Il Sorpasso

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Dino Risi | CAST: Vittorio Gassman, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Spaak, Claudio Gora, Luciana Angiolillo
4/29/14 | PRICE: DVD $24.95; Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.95
BONUSES: New interviews with Ettore Scola and film historian Remi Fournier Lanzoni; introduction by Alexander Payne; vintage interviews; short documentaries,
SPECS: NR | 105 min. | Foreign language comedy drama | 16:9 widescreen | Dolby Digital | Italian with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


Beautifully scripted and acted, the 1962 Italian road movie Il Sorpasso has become a cult classic thanks to its memorable characters and its status as an utterly sublime time capsule. Filmmaker Dino Risi crafted a “light” male-bonding tale that grows deeper and darker as it moves to a surprisingly tragic conclusion.

The plot is deceptively simple: a charming, rogue-ish drifter (Vittorio Gassman, Big Deal on Madonna Street) convinces a timid law student (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Le Combat dans l’ile, Amour) to accompany him on a road trip. The two become fast friends as the drifter teaches the law student how to pick up women and worry less about the morality of various situations.

Il Sorpasso movie scene

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vittorio Gassman hit the road in Il Sorpasso.

As it stands, that plotline could have been used in any era and in any locale — in fact Risi reveals in one of the interviews found here that Dennis Hopper told him that Easy Rider was influenced by Il Sorpasso. However, Risi and his two co-scripters, Ruggero Maccari and Ettore Scola, rooted the film so carefully in the Italian economic “boom” of the early Sixties that one can’t help but be swept away by Gassman’s cool convertible sports car, the lively Riz Ortolani score (supplemented by Italian hits of the time, including “Quando, Quando, Quando”) and the proliferation of people in swimsuits dancing the twist (including our antiheroes).

The film’s importance as a document of its time is explored at length in several of the supplements included in the three-disc (two DVDs, one Blu-ray) release. In a new interview shot for Criterion, Scola talks about the way in which the screenplay was written, and the fact that he and his colleagues did want to include serious matters in this “comedy.”

He reflects how the “invisible debris in people’s souls” crept into the film’s narrative (no doubt referring to serious sequences in which we learn the back stories of both characters). He also justifies the picture’s tragic ending by stating “there’s no boom without a crash.”

In another new interview segment, film historian Remi Fournier Lanzoni discusses the film’s immense popularity in Italy and the debt it owed to the Neo-Realist movement that preceded it. He also talks about how it fits into Commedia all’italiana, the much-loved cycle of comedies produced from the late Fifties through the late Seventies.

Other vintage supplements include a video feature about the close relationship between Risi and Gassman (the pair made 16 films together, including the original Scent of a Woman), Jean-Louis Trintignant’s introducing Il Sorpasso on French television and an Italian TV documentary about Risi featuring comments from some of his “discoveries” (including Monica Bellucci) and celebrity fans of his work (Martin Scorsese, Umberto Eco).

Curiously, for a man considered a giant of Italian comedy cinema, Risi is quite somber in the interviews included here. He speaks at length about missing his dead comrades, how the Italian critics were quick to trash a number of his best-remembered films and the way he basically snuck the tragic conclusion of Il Sorpasso into the film over the producers’ objections. Says the then-90-year-old filmmaker (who died in 2008 at 91), “[the conclusion] is a bit cruel, but that’s how life is.”

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”