Death as a theme in Dino Risi’s ‘Il Sorpasso’ (1962)

Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso (1962) is a commedia all’italiana film that presents two male characters that go on an unexpected journey together and bond with each other in spite of their differences. The fact that Bruno (Vittorio Gassman) and Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) come from two different worlds and have distinctly opposite personalities is highlighted in their individual introductions. The opening sequence is of Bruno driving in his car on the hunt for a telephone. He is therefore associated with openness, a wild life. The first scene of Roberto, however, is an incredibly isolating and empty scene and one in which he almost appears like a ghost. He is seen looking at Bruno through the window of a brick walled building. This shot can be seen as characterizing the introvert Roberto is; closed off, hiding in the confines of his own home.

Bruno dominates each scene physically and verbally as he is the extrovert. With Roberto being an introvert, his thoughts are expressed through a voice over and his conflicting sense of self is revealed through the contrast between what he thinks and what he says. For instance, when he decides he does not want to partake in Bruno’s journey, he agrees to it anyway. When Bruno tells Roberto to “enjoy yourself for once,” it’s as if they have known each other for years rather than a matter of minutes.

Risi integrates ideas of death through the script. In the beginning, Bruno first describes Rome to be “a graveyard,” because of how empty it is. When they meet Roberto’s family, Bruno leaves calling the place “a morgue”. In fact, one of the first things they encounter on their journey together is a roadside accident, and a body lies covered by a white sheet. Being that the film is a of the ‘commedia all’italiana’, death is ever imminent but Risi integrates ideas of mortality subtly through the script so that it remains an ever present theme. The close-up of the speedometer and the good luck charms in Bruno’s car are images that appear in the beginning of the film. When these are cut to in the last scene, it becomes clear with how fast the car is moving that something tragic is about to occur. The use of sound is also important, with the incessantly annoying horn of the car dominating every moment of transit in their journey. Like the body under the white sheet at the roadside accident, Risi gives the audiences images that imply death but he never reveals an actual dead body. The tragedy of the ending is enough to dramatize and overturn the comedy of the film.