Boccaccio ’70 is a multi-part modern variation on the saucy sex stories in The Decameron. Because the four parts have little similarity besides the influence of Boccaccio, it makes sense to discuss them separately.
The second segment of Boccaccio ’70, “Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio” (“The Temptation of Doctor Antonio”) is the first color film directed by Federico Fellini, a director I respect more than I like. That is not incidental, for “Temptation” is one of those films that stands or falls on your sympathy with the director’s temperament. The story of puritanical zealot Dr. Antonio Mazzuolo’s (Peppino De Filippo) obsession with a billboard on which Anita Ekberg encourages people to drink milk, it teeters between a kind of sci-fi surrealism and the comedy of the grotesque and offers little appeal beyond Fellini’s outlandish mannerisms.
To be sure, no Fellini film is ever less than distinctive. That is part of the problem. Besides the obvious (and superficial) thematic focus on repression, “Temptation” is not about anything other than the director’s treatment of the material. When the story veers into science fiction territory as Ekberg’s image comes to life and assumes gigantic proportions, we are clearly not in any world other than the filmmaker’s fantasies projected on to a character. And those fantasies do not enrich or heighten experience; they are merely, obviously, and I daresay, tritely nothing but “Felliniesque.”
Antonio is as much prune as prude. We know when we first see him that he’s desiccated by libidinal denial. It is only a matter of (too much) time before he succumbs to the results of his repression. The setup is too blatant and heavy-handed for the character to be anything but undone by his uncontrollable emotions. That’s why the science fiction aspect is both necessary and vaguely offensive: instead of understanding Antonio (or really eviscerating him, for that matter), Fellini literally blows up the content to larger than life proportions, as if the outrage were enough to make up for the lack of perception.
Of course, it’s meant as satire, but comedy has an obligation to be funny. Having relied on fantasy as a substitute for the wit of Boccaccio’s stories, however, Fellini doesn’t do much with it. While “Temptation” does not exactly look like anyone else’s work, it also doesn’t provide the startlingly vivid imagery of the director’s best films. His invention stops with the idea of making Ekberg into a giantess, which is another way of saying it doesn’t go very far. (That Ekberg romps through the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a Fascist era relic, may be meant as some kind of political comment, but it’s one best ignored.)
So, what does “Temptation” provide? Predictable material devoid of Boccaccio’s sparkle, a basically unattractive protagonist, comic exaggeration instead of development, surprisingly little visual embellishment and a tedious drawing out of the never terribly compelling situation. Fellini’s name above the title and Ekberg’s endowments do not compensate for the distasteful results.