Color, 1975, 109 mins. 18 secs.
Directed by Luigi Comencini
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Aldo Reggiani, Claudio Gora
Radiance Films (Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 HD), Koch Media (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Warner Bros. (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A familiar and prolific name in Italy thanks to his string of observant social comedies like Tutti a casa and La ragazza di Bube, director Luigi Comencini got to dabble in the murder mystery format and enjoy one of his finest casts at the same time in 1975 with La donna della domenica, or The Sunday Woman. Sometimes classified as a marginal giallo even though it doesn't really feel like one, the film is largely a sunny comedy of manners with a couple of murders thrown in, carried along by a lilting Ennio Morricone score and the charm of its lead actors. The perverse sense of humor and laid-back attitude at play here made it something of a tough sell outside Europe (it barely played subtitled in the U.S. from Fox), but decades of subsequent exposure to genre-twisting films should allow it to find a more receptive audience now.
Several high society residents in Turin are connected to a slimy architect named Garrone (Seven Blood-Stained Orchids' Gora) who thrives on shady deals and powerful connections. When Garrone ends up bludgeoned to death by a gigantic penis sculpture (yes, you read that right), suspicion is aroused by the presentation of unsent piece of correspondence between wealthy wife Anna Carla Doslo (Bisset) and her best friend, Massimo Campi (Trintignant), indicating they wanted to get rid of the dead man. Commissioner Salvatore Santamira (Mastroianni) finds his investigation into the crime distracted by Anna Carla's presence, and meanwhile Massimo's covert boyfriend, Lello (Reggiani), does some sleuthing of his own.
Essentially a lively trip to Turin with some movie stars, The Sunday Woman may center around a mystery but doesn't really make many concessions to being a thriller. Instead you get to see the ins and outs of the Italian upper crust being punctured by multiple kinds of detectives, and its benevolent treatment of its two central gay characters feels wildly ahead of its time (especially considering La cage aux folles was still three years off). Bisset and Mastroianni make for a fine, winning duo despite the fact that they clearly weren't speaking the same language on set, while Trintignant gives it a bit of heart as someone whose money can't overcome the restrictions of the society around him. The outrageous nature of the murder weapon (which anticipates the sleazier direction later on with The Sister of Ursula and Red Rings of Fear) is really something else and pays off in an unforgettable trip to the factory where it was manufactured, a setting that seems even more surreal when you drop Bisset in the middle of it.
Available on VHS and DVD in Europe in various editions over the years, The Sunday Woman was released in most territories in Italian with no English dub apparently ever created. (Bisset was speaking English and Trintignant French, with Mastroianni looping himself for the track we have now.) The 2023 limited edition Blu-ray from Radiance in the U.K. and U.S. marks a welcome physical media HD debut for the film, taken from a fine 2K restoration presented in 1.33:1 or matted 1.85:1 options. A disclaimer notes that the production company mandated the 1.33:1 lensing for TV, while cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria, The Passenger, Tenebrae) composed it to be safe for matting. You're really fine watching it either way, with the 1.85:1 looking more artfully composed overall. The 1.33:1 option has been around on various streaming platforms for rental and purchase for a few years, and it's nice now to have a choice between the two. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Italian mono track is in perfect shape and features optional English subtitles, which do their best to capture the playful linguistic games in much of the dialogue. A new video appraisal by academic Richard Dyer (18m15s) goes into the bestselling source novel, the use of more gentle comedy than expected, the treatment of sexuality and class, and the rapport between the leads, while an archival interview with Tovoli (22m11s) recorded in 2008 covers his work on this film in the wake of his sudden fame with The Passenger, his other work around the same time, his memories of Comencini, his introduction to the industry, and the fact that he was imposed without his knowledge on the project. An interview with academic and screenwriter Giacomo Scarpelli (36m1s) is a discussions of the film's co-writer, Furio Scarpelli, who adapted the book with his regular writing partner, Agenore Incrocci. He also goes into some of the other key creative partnerships of the era, as well as other tidbits like his dad's background as a cartoonist. Finally a TV appearance by Trintignant (4m28s) for the French show Allons au cinéma from 1976 has the star briefly encapsulating the gist of the film as a depiction of Turin's wealth and the tension that provokes. You also get to see a clip of the film in French for an idea of how Trintignant's performance came off in his native tongue (and how Mastroianni sounded dubbed in French). Also included is the jaw-dropping Italian trailer, which uses every single second of dildo battering from the feature itself. The package comes with a reversible sleeve design and an insert booklet featuring a new essay by Mariangela Sansone and a reprint of an article about the film.
Reviewed on April 21, 2023.