“Il cappotto” / “The Overcoat” (1952)
In “Il Cappotto”, director Alberto Lattuada transposes Nikolai Gogol’s short story from 1800’s Russia to a contemporary Italy, and while the film is representative of an early fledgling move in Italian cinema in the use of a more sentimental, comedic wink in addressing issues heretofore touched upon by the harshly unforgiving gaze of neorealism, it also retains the original tale’s conclusion- the spectral revenge of a character haunting the townspeople and one particular authority in particular -that signifies a rare advance of a non-genre Italian film embracing the realm of the supernatural.
That Lattuada’s film signifies an unrecognized leap forward in the formation of many of the characteristics now commonly associated with the Italian cinema (his influence on the young Fellini can be seen in their collaborative directorial effort “Luci del varietà”), not the least significant of which is a rich vein of sentimental humanism unashamedly running through a story that in Gogol’s version is ultimately sympathetic to his protagonist after a rather cruelly drawn exposition. The original story’s bluntly critical, if darkly satiric, consideration of the oppressive and dislocating effect on the individual by both institutional social structures and their companion authority has been converted into a more comic poke at corrupt and vacuous bureaucrats whose authority seems only to exist to serve enhance their own benefits and their pay for their private pleasures. This film adaptation, by Lattuada and his small army of co-scenarists (Giorgio Prosperi, Giordano Corsi, Enzo Correlli, Luigi Materba, Leonardo Sinisgalli and Cesare Zavattini), is characterized by a mollifying of tone and a major shift in narrative focus; prioritizing the bureaucratic antagonists rather than the individual protagonist.
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