November 21, 2009
The Overcoat, 1952
In an early sequence in Alberto Lattuada's The Overcoat, the mayor (Giulio Stival) relishes the idea of history having to be rewritten as a result of an archaeologist's discovery of ancient artifacts that had been unearthed during the groundbreaking of his commissioned, large-scale urbanization project. Designed to transform the landscape of the town's main square - one that strategically obstructs the view to the impoverished, outlying suburbs - in time for a dignitary's official visit, the project receives overwhelming support from the council despite its steep price tag in the belief that the investment would elevate the city's status on a national level. This idea of exploitive economics and window dressing as a means of gaining respect and dignity also foreshadows the plight of lowly office clerk, De Carmine (Renato Rascel whose reluctant purchase of a handsomely styled, fur-trimmed overcoat from the local tailor (having been unable to convince him to repair his well worn, but still functional overcoat) unexpectedly gains him entry into the rarefied world of high society. Retaining Nikolai Gogol's idiosyncratic fusion of social commentary, wry humor, and gothic tale, Lattuada, nevertheless, diverges from the dreamlike narrative of Gogol's short story, and instead, frames De Carmine's bumbling encounters as a realistic, if satirical, exposition on the arbitrary and superficial nature of privilege and exclusion. Transplanting Gogol's cautionary tale from nineteenth century St. Petersburg to contemporary Italy, Lattuada creates an incisive allegory for the underlying reality of postwar reconstruction and its inequitable human cost under the illusion of collective rebuilding, cultural development, and social progress.