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Sophia Loren 4-Film Collection

Neapolitan Carousel / Attila / Madame Sans-Gene / Sunflower
Director: Vittorio De Sica, Ettore Giannini, Pietro Francisci, Christian-Jaque
Cast: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Anthony Quinn

(US DVD: 10 Jun 2008)

As I have often bemoaned in past reviews, the box set is too often overlooked as a medium for artistry, companies readily trading sophisticated unity for cheap piecemeal. One look at the Sophia Loren 4-Film Collection immediately resolves any debate which side this work will fall on, squarely and proudly positioning itself in the camp of beautiful anthology.


Wrapped in striking red, plush vinyl, the set is every bit as attractive and voluptuous as its eponymous star actress. It’ outward appearance, though, is not merely an ornate varnish on a poor product. Rather, the plump sheath of the Sophia Loren 4-Film Collection is an accurate mirror of the quality radiating from within.


One only has to slide out the folder which holds the set’s three DVD’s to recognize the amount of careful work that went into this piece’s creation. Ethereal red photography of the Italian beauty is printed on every disc and bleeds onto the interior of the case, as well. Put one of the DVDs into your player and a similar rosy Loren collage splays itself across your screen, marked by elegantly simple menus. This is no ordinary buy-the-rights-and-repackage collection; this is the work of attentive and skillful authoring and design.


With such sophisticated package, one might briefly wonder if it even mattered if the films were of a similarly distinguished quality. Of course, such a postulation would be inane and foolish but more ridiculous things have come to pass on account of hypnotic beauty—in fact, this is one of the themes of the Loren anthology. Luckily, the films themselves do not disappoint.


The first offering is the bizarre Carosello Napoletano. A sort of Italian hymn to the nation’s rich musical and cultural history, the film features several set-pieces tied together by a loose plot about a traveling story teller and music salesman. A stray piece of sheet music will prompt a dissolve to a scene from a production of its opera, a look out a window will transition to a duel between rival serenaders.


Altogether fitful and inordinately long, Carosello Napoletano becomes a bit of a strain to view but the gorgeous cinematography and the stagey yet impressive set dressing rescue the film from mediocrity. Loren plays only a supporting role but the film’s inclusion in the set seems more to situate Loren in Italy’s artistic tradition rather than showcase her performance.


Attila and Madame Sans-Gene are a nice pair of exemplary war epics about, largely, famous generals who fell in love with Sophia Loren. The former, somewhat obviously, chronicles the merciless rise of Attila the Hun to power until a religious miracle stays his hand from the destruction of Rome.


Madame Sans-Gene substitutes the Hun for the petite French emperor and the stakes are much lower. Loren is not a paramour of the powerful man in this film, but, an acquaintance of Napoleon’s from his days as a low-ranking officer. Eventually, Loren falls in love with a soldier who rises to the ranks of Dukedom and eventually Kingdom as a loyal Napoleonic soldier. However, Loren’s sensibilities as a somewhat crass washwomen cause social scandal.


Both films are extremely pleasant to watch, engaging, but never cheap. Sacrificing no grandeur for 90-minute run-times, modern epics could learn a good deal from these pieces.


Finally, I Girasoli is the Loren classic of the set. Although nowhere as famous as Two Women or El Cid, this film seeps cinema (in every positive way). Directed by the Italian master De Sica and costarring Loren’s silver-screen match Marcello Mastroianni, I Girasoli gracefully sweeps through the story of a woman, Giovanna, searching for her husband lost at war in the Russian theatre. Balancing his classic realism with the magical beauty of the film’s star, De Sica crafts an enthralling picture about love and revelation.


The collection absolutely succeeds, charting its focal actress as an icon, a sex symbol, and a wonderful performer. With its genre hopping and its lack of apprehension at dipping into Loren’s less-known catalogue, this box set paints an incredibly full picture of the Italian star. The featurette on Loren and her diva status is no less professional and is the icing on an already sweet cake.

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