Director Dino Risi’s "Il Sorpasso" is a curious beast of a film. The Criterion Blu-ray release suggests it’s a product of the traditional Italian comedic genre, but I detect more swirling below the paved surfaces of this road comedy. It watches two polar opposites, a loud and brash ladies man (Vittorio Gassman) and a meek law student (Jean-Louis Trintignant) go on an unplanned road trip, approaching women and family and interpersonal conflict in dichotomous manners. It all builds to a conclusion at once inevitable and shattering. I can’t believe this is typical of a long tradition of Italian comedy. It feels more like a broader version of the farces Fellini was engaging in - with his predilection for brutal denouements left intact.
I presume there’s a sizeable audience feeling goodwill toward "Sorpasso," because Criterion has afforded it a selection of extras worthy of a world cinema classic. They start off with an introduction from filmmaker Alexander Payne ("Nebraska," "The Descendents,") who spends a few minutes raving about "Sorpasso," and detailing the influence it had on his films, like "Sideways."
Following that is a veritable feast of interview featurettes: 20 minutes with Dino Risi from 2004, 10 minutes with Trintignant from the early 80s, 15 minutes with screenwriter Ettore Scola (conducted recently,) and 15 minutes with film scholar Remi Fournier Lanzoni. These interviews cover a wide range of topics, from Risi’s career to arguments over the ending of "Sorpasso" to the climate of Italy when the film was made. Taken together, they offer vital context, if not vital analysis.
As for analysis, you can get that from the three documentaries that wrap up the disc. First off is a 10-minute look at the small town where much of "Sorpasso" was shot, intercut with comments from people who worked on the movie. Next up is an hour-long take on Risi’s career, made up mainly of interview footage filmed with Risi and his collaborators. Finally, there’s a half-hour-long look at Risi’s collaborations with Gassman, directed by Risi’s son Marco.
"Sorpasso" is hardly a masterpiece of Italian cinema, but the treatment afforded to it by Criterion suggests there’s still a large audience for its particular brand of comedy. That audience won’t be disappointed by this stacked release: the film can’t have looked better in previous home video releases, and the collection of extras is comprehensive.
Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Release