Monday, 3 November 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1977: Alberto Sordi in An Average Little Man

Alberto Sordi did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Giovanni Vivaldi in An Average Little Man.

An Average Little Man is an effective film that is a bit like In The Bedroom if the first half was a comedy.

Alberto Sordi plays Giovanni Vivaldi who is the titular man. Sordi is best known as a comedic actor and that is quite obvious in the first half of the film, although that certainly comes into play in a way for the second half as well. Sordi relies on his old fashioned comic chops for the most part in the early scenes as it tells the slightly wacky story of Giovanni who is a government office worker close to retirement. He lives with his loving wife (Shelley Winters) and his somewhat dim witted son who has trained in accounting. It is Giovanni's task in the first half of the film to try to get his son a job at the same office he works by any means his superior suggests. Sordi in these scenes plays the role as the average little man of the title who might be a little off but it is shown at the beginning to be nothing of an actual concern and merely fitting to the overall humorous nature of the first half of the film.

Sordi is fairly broad in these opening scenes as Giovanni goes upon his day to day tasks as well as attempting to get his son a job. Sordi succeeds on one side of this in that he is rather amusing in portraying the particular passion that Giovanni has as he makes his way through life. He's particularly enjoyable in his scenes of Giovanni's mad rush to work which Sordi portrays as a bit of insanity but only in an entertaining sort of way. Sordi takes on a particularly energetic approach to the part of Giovanni, who technically seems to be the average guy in every other way. What Sordi does works though as he makes the first half of the film a rather lively affair as he has just enough fun with the part without wholly compromising the character. Sordi gives a comic performance in this first half but importantly though he does not allow it to be come completely absurd, although he does come to close that.

Sordi does ground the character of Giovanni enough so he does not seem just like a caricature of a screwball comedy, even though he is fairly close to that. Sordi mixes it up enough with his performances as he does provide some grounding when it is needed. Although he plays much of his scenes with the family as a fairly kooky father type of character Sordi importantly does bring some nice warmth to his performance as he interacts with his wife as well as his son. He never emphasizes the point but he makes it just an underlying truth of the matter. Sordi is careful to say stay fairly believable as a man even while he's being rather overtly comical in the early scenes. Sordi carefully calms down always at the right moments to show an important softer side of Giovanni, or just merely to do more reactive comedy, such as when Giovanni joins a Mason lodge.

Of course the film takes a rather sudden jump though when spoiler his son is killed randomly during a bank robbery. Sordi quieter moments earlier pay off once this happens, even though it is still extremely jarring, which it was obviously meant to be, Sordi never loses his standing. Sordi instead very effectively shows that all the humor in Giovanni's life drains out in just a moment of horrible luck and nothing is ever same after this sudden tragedy. Sordi is especially good in the moment of the tragedy, as Giovanni is walking right next to his son when it happens, and Sordi reaction is incredibly heartbreaking as he expresses both the confusion and intense devastation of the moment. Sordi's performance not only completely stays with the sudden tonal shift his performance only helps to accentuate the power of it. It is absolutely striking to see the usually funny Sordi lose all his laughter in an instance.

After that point the film is an extreme change in every way as Giovanni formerly bright future is one of such bleakness made even worse by his wife becoming an invalid due to the shock of her son's death. Sordi is intensely moving in these scenes as he creates such a hollowness about the man now as Giovanni just slowly paces through the life he formerly ran through. One especially affecting moment is when Giovanni sees his son's killer in a police line up. Sordi expresses the memories of the terrible moment flowing back into Giovanni's mind and something strange happens to him. Well Giovanni decides to take the I Saw the Devil route and plans on exacting his own revenge by slowly torturing the young man in his cabin. Sordi once again benefits by taking his moments of insanity shown in the first half and bringing that back now, but without humor making quite dark and disturbing to watch.

Sordi's performance is particularly effective because of the way he turns the wacky father character completely on his head in this section. Instead of being enjoyable in these eccentricities as Sordi was in the first half he instead quite brilliantly shows just how with a slight tweak such behavior can be unnerving instead. Sordi doesn't exactly change his performance completely and that is what makes his performance work so well. It's not a great comic performance in the first half than simply a dramatic one in the second, Sordi rather bridges the two. Sordi still makes him the same likable lead of a comedy but shows what that turns into when a deadly reality added to the mix. Alberto Sordi gives a great performance here by never playing against type, the first half is firmly in type and entertainingly so, but the second half Sordi decides to merely delve deeper into his average little man.


luke higham said...

Louis: There's a couple of links that you need to fix.

'61 supporting only shows the results page and Richard Attenborough's review for Dr Doolittle is on the '67 Lead page

RatedRStar said...

I dont believe I have seen a Alberto Sordi film so far but this rating and film will make me change that statement very quickly.

The thing I will always remember him for was that he beat Albert Finney (Tom Jones) for the Golden Globe in 1963, that must have been a major upset, maybe you should check out Il diavolo as well Louis, might be a hidden gem like this.

Michael McCarthy said...

Does anyone know where I might be able to watch this? Aside from the obvious I mean.

Anonymous said...

@Michael McCarthy: I'm sorry I really don't know. I saw the movie on TV so I can't give you a link :(