Sog.: dalla pièce omonima (1916) di Luigi Chiarelli. Scen.: Luciano Doria. Int.: Italia Almirante Manzini (Savina Grazia), Vittorio Rossi Pianelli (Paolo Grazia), Ettore Piergiovanni (l’avvocato), Leone Papa, Ginette Riche. Prod.: Itala Film. 35mm. L.: 1799 m. D.: 85’ a 18 f/s. Bn.
What can we expect from a great comedy? Here’s a suggestion: to have all the problems of the world thrown at us, yet to walk out of the theatre in a better mood. If we can agree on this, then La maschera e il volto is indeed a great comedy.
Once again, Genina gives further proof of the acclaimed ‘modernity’ of his cinema, with that typical balance of his, which allows him to be one step ahead of other directors, even when seemingly hiding behind conservative choices. The film appears to play it safe. It is based on a three-act play by Luigi Chiarelli, first staged in 1916 – a resounding success that gave birth to a new national theatrical movement: ‘grotesque theatre’, which staged the exasperations of bourgeois comedy.
And there is nothing more pedantically bourgeois than a story of betrayal. However, Genina transforms it into a film that is joyful yet cruel, dense yet light. An unremorseful woman cheats on her husband with a lawyer, simply because she wants to. She cares only for herself. Still unaware, the husband boasts in public how he would not hesitate to kill his wife should she be unfaithful to him. But what he cares for is appearance, and saying the right things.
When her betrayal is revealed to him, he invents a most melodramatic of Italian crimes, but one which only exists in his recounting of events. The lie of the down-to-earth male and the female lost in her reveries crumbles to dust. Society plays out its hypocritical drama and the courtroom becomes its stage: the lawyer, a master of rhetoric, the accused acquitted for having done what was right, the presumed murderer now a star.
Then, a corpse is fished out of Lake Como. Although disfigured, it is taken for granted that it is the alleged victim, who, for the moment, considers it more prudent to watch from the shadows (Pirandello isn’t far away). She then reveals herself to the supposed widower and takes him back, with a second, hidden honeymoon. In the background, the band plays the funeral march, which never before sounded so matrimonial. Yet another sign of how Genina, even during the silent era, had an exceptional ear.