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.
Given when it was made (1962), it seems likely that the main reason for creating Boccaccio ’70 was to exploit the star of its fourth segment, “La riffa” (“The Raffle”). While the directors had their share of fame, Sophia Loren was undoubtedly the biggest name of anyone associated with the project, at least in terms of popular appeal. While the writer (Cesare Zavattini) and director (Vittorio De Sica) were famous early lights in the Italian Neorealist movement, their critical cachet was less important in commercial terms than Loren’s earthy charm.
She doesn’t disappoint. Like all great stars, Loren has the ability to bend any material to the shape of her persona. Her amiable sensuality suggests she feels her looks and vivacity are the most commonplace things imaginable. Whether “La riffa” provides something worthy of her matter-of-fact voluptuousness is another matter, however.
Everything about “La riffa” feels a little synthetic. While De Sica and Zavattini were known for their interest in lower class milieus (their most famous film together was Bicycle Thieves), the film’s setting amidst carnival workers can hardly claim to offer a representative environment. Even less typical is the contrivance of having Zoe (Loren, who works one of the booths), auctioned off in a raffle by her brother-in-law. The “comedy” results from the clumsy efforts of the horny men at the carnival to purchase the winning ticket.
That all of the characters are created more for their theatrically “colorful” characteristics than for any serious examination of their social conditions makes the lumpenproletariat setting seem dubious. Zoe is not even asked her opinion of the raffle, as if she is expected to agree to the results no matter what they may be. Even when she falls for a young stud visiting the fairgrounds, there’s no suggestion she won’t go through with her brother-in-law’s machinations.
That De Sica stages this with consummate skill raises more questions. To be sure, the lively atmosphere is handled with playful good humor. Nonetheless, while not exactly slick, “La riffa” is made with the smooth surfaces only professional film making can provide, and given the material, the results come perilously close to sleaze. Instead of depicting the hardships the poor endure, their environment becomes an animated backdrop to pandering—of Zoe to the male characters, and of Loren to us.
Zoe is spared anything disagreeable when a harmless cipher wins the raffle, and the two of them let everyone think they “did it.” He’s treated like a local hero, while she slips away with her hunk. The skill that goes into this ending may produce a certain charm, but it also makes “La riffa,” for all its proletarian pretenses, a monument to artifice.