Screen Reviews
The Sunday Woman (1975)

The Sunday Woman (1975)

directed by Luigi Comencini

Radiance Films

40 years before Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Italian director Luigi Comencini assembled his own all-star cast for a wickedly funny murder mystery with a heavy dose of commentary on social classes, especially skewering the upper-crust art scene in Turin, Italy. Based on a hugely popular novel of the same name, The Sunday Woman is a murder-mystery romp that is making its debut in the States thanks to Radiance Films.

When the incredibly boorish architect Garrone (Claudio Gora) is found bludgeoned to death with a marge stone phallus, Police Commissioner Salvatore Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) must gingerly navigate the minefield of ego and power of the city’s wealthy elite. Rounding up the usual suspects and seating out a confession isn’t going to work, so Santamaria conducts his investigation with a more delicate touch and is soon immersed in the petty drama of the Turin art scene. At the center of everything, including suspicion of murder, are wealthy housewife Anna Carla Dosio (Jacqueline Bisset) and her “friend,” closeted homosexual Massimo Campi (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The full nature of their relationship is intentionally left vague, but suffice it to say, they are catty confidantes of the highest order. Although they are both prime suspects, Santamaria needs their help to gain entree to people and places where his badge is given little respect, namely the mansions in the cool mountain air outside the city. For all of Santamaria’s cocktails and lunches on the lawn, it is Campi’s working class lover Lello (Aldo Reggiani) who proves to be the most helpful in the case.

The Sunday Woman is a later example of the Commedia all’Italiana (Comedy in the Italian way) genre, a film style that made comedies out of serious social issues. The films tended to skew more toward the sardonic rather than broad comedy, and The Sunday Woman is no exception. The entire murder mystery plot could have run as an actual police procedural, but it is elevated by its smart comic jabs at the characters and their stations in life. In fact, for a non-Italian audience, some of the humor is too smart, as it often mines dialects and social minutiae for laughs that whiz past American ears. Jokes about Santamaria being from Rome instead of Sicily and cigarette brands don’t translate well, and some of the attitudes toward women and homosexuals haven’t aged well either, but there is still plenty to enjoy with a number of laugh out loud moments. Although the mystery is intriguing in The Sunday Woman, the parade of fascinating and often bizarre characters quickly overshadows the procedural aspects of the story, and the film is much better for it.

It’s a bit shocking that The Sunday Woman has been absent for decades. It is a sharp comedy that doesn’t skimp on the murder mystery elements and a cracking good watch, even if it takes a few minutes to assimilate into the film’s vibe.

Radiance Films


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