Watching Dino Risi’s ‘Il Giovedi’ (1963), or ‘The Thursday’, it was easy to wonder if the Italian filmmaker might not’ve been firing on all cylinders with this one as despite containing the director’s usual tropes — a road trip, the deconstruction of the Italian man/child, social satire, etc — the film appeared to be lacking his usual bite. Is this Risi losing his edge?
Feckless Dino (Walter Chiari) is pretty hopeless: he scrounges off his girlfriend, has an endless list of creditors, is allergic to work, is a failed entrepreneur and has an air of self-importance that’s utterly undeserved. No wonder his wife left him and took their son, Roberto, with her for a better life years ago. Still, today, Thursday, is a special day as today is the day Dino gets to spend with Roberto for the first time in years although considering his now 8 year old son has grown into an intelligent and precocious, if somewhat uptight, little lad Dino will have to work extra hard to cover up the fact he’s a complete failure.
What follows is nothing terribly original as we join this odd couple hanging out together with Dino learning something about responsibility from little Roberto and Roberto learning to loosen up and enjoy himself, and with the majority of this episodic film taking place in a car it’s easy to view ‘Il Giovedi’ as a sentimental retreading of Risi’s superior ‘Il Sorpasso’ (1962). It’s all somewhat pleasant and amusing, but nothing much more than that — somewhat pleasant and amusing.
Then, around halfway through, the film really picks up and this occurs when we get a little more insight into Dino’s thinking, and it happens like this -
Near the start Dino is asked to solve the riddle of how a farmer can safely transport a goat, a wolf and a cabbage across a river by boat without the goat eating the cabbage of the wolf eating the goat, a riddle Dino is unable to figure out causing him much vexation for the rest of the day. Then, as he and Roberto relax by a river, they spy a farmer with a goat, a cabbage and his dog effortlessly make the crossing with the farmer putting all three into the boat at the same time. Dino, having mistaken the dog for a wolf, sees this as the solution — why not put them in the boat all together?!
It’s an utterly naive way of viewing the world but it reveals that Dino’s perspective of how he thinks society works is completely innocent and utopian — why can’t everyone (the rich, the poor, etc) all just get along without devouring each other? No wonder he failed as an entrepreneur and Dino’s childish, yet touching, “realisation” is not just humourous but also helps endear him to us, something that’s further enhanced when he takes Roberto to visit his grandmother in a scene that not only gives us further insight into the man but is also incredibly funny.
Risi keeps this energy going with Dino bringing Roberto to a TV studio to meet a friend of his and we’re suddenly treated to a delightful song and dance number by the glamourous Kessler twins, the look of spontaneous joy on the boy’s face almost as fun to watch as the Kesslers’ performance itself. It’s also a slick way on Risi’s part of inserting a full blown musical number into a movie that’s been presenting itself in a more “realistic” manner.
When the inevitable time comes for Dino and Roberto to part and for the father to hand his son back to his mother I was shocked to discover I was incredibly moved and tearing up, something I would never have expected from a Risi movie. Their goodbye is incredibly touching, beautifully performed and evidence that these two have gotten under our skin a little deeper than we might’ve expected.
This might not be Risi’s best film (then again, his best sets a very high standard) but it’s without a doubt his sweetest.