Boccaccio ’70 is a three- or four-part (depending on which version you see) modern variation on the author’s saucy sex stories in The Decameron. None of the segments is an adaptation of a Boccaccio story. Each stands alone and is individually close to feature length. (The four-part version, the only one to include the “Renzo e Luciana” segment, runs 208 minutes.) Different stories, casts and, most notably, directors are featured in each segment. Therefore, because they have little similarity besides the influence of Boccaccio, and because they have considerable qualitative differences, it makes sense to discuss them separately.
The first, “Renzo e Luciana,” directed by Mario Monicelli, tells the story of a young, working class Italian couple frustrated by their inability to find some privacy so they can consummate their marriage. By far the weakest of the four segments, it doesn’t lack ambition or scale. Quite the opposite: there are times when it seems the entire population of Rome(?) is there to serve as one hundred percent effective birth control. The result is an all-too convincing evocation of an itch for a quick one that can’t be scratched. To distract a little, there’s a sub-plot involving Luciana’s boss, with hints that he might provide even further impediment to their happiness, but that comes to naught. At best, it’s a junior variation on the story’s central vexation.
Frustration is a dicey basis for storytelling because it practically negates narrative drive. Since we spend so much time stuck in neutral, Monicelli and company presumably stage this piffle on an epic scale to divert at least our eyes. The crowd above, for example, may make an animated background, but it has nothing to do with the story except that Renzo and Luciana happen to be there. The hordes of extras are not especially entertaining, and the contrived road blocks to the couple’s wedding night don’t arise out of the situation. They are mechanically imposed to keep up the joke, such as it is. If we sympathize with the pair at all, it is for the negative reason that we are just as eager to get on to the next segment as they are to experience marital bliss.
Still, some sympathy for Monicelli is probably in order as he competes with the three directorial heavy weights (Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio de Sica) in the other segments. His work is competent, even flavorful, but what he does hardly measures up to what any of the others could do in their sleep. And if competing with three of the masters of Italian cinema were not enough of a disadvantage, the other segments feature major stars, while Renzo and Luciana are played by unknowns. All Monicelli can do is point to the crowds that keep Renzo and Luciana out of bed and say “Look what a Big Picture I’ve given you!” Viewers can be forgiven for thinking that is not enough.