Certainly one of the signs of the modern age is the speed with which we travel. Add to that the speed of our communications, especially with cell phones now, and we can see that all the drama and complications of life are that much more amplified. Two movies—one from 50 years ago, the other brand new—exemplify this tendency in both fascinating and distressing ways.
“Il Sorpasso” (1962), an Italian film directed by Dino Risi just recently released on DVD by the Criterion Collection, is a simple story: it’s a hot summer day, and a hyperactive young man, Bruno, in a slightly beat-up sports car, sees Roberto, a law student, in his apartment window. Bruno needs to call his friends, whom he’s missed. He asks Roberto, a somewhat timid and quiet fellow who isn’t quite sure how to handle this whirlwind character, who says yes. Before either of them know it, they are on the open road and leaving Rome—the Italian countryside beckons, and Bruno, who refuses to be stuck behind any vehicle, uses his rather musical (and obnoxious) horn, and his engine, to get his way. Stops pile on stops, with a gas station, German women, priests and nuns, fish soup, relatives and an ex-wife all part of the quickly moving plot. Roberto, who keeps wanting to go home to study, nevertheless can’t help but enjoy himself with this man who never stops going. The film will strike some as tonally shocking—what starts out as light-hearted turns into something else before the end comes, and that change certainly makes “Il Sorpasso” stand out—especially when one compares it to most mainstream American movies.
“Locke,” a new film from England by director Steven Knight, is a simply situated, but not simplistic, drama, entirely set in the interior of a car at night. Lest you think that sounds mind-numbing—or at least more appropriate for a radio drama or a play—think again. The movie works, carried by one actor who drives the car, and helped hugely by the voices of those he loves and works with as they call him and he calls them on his very sophisticated dashboard cell phone system. The driver is Ivan, a family man, a construction manager (he builds skyscrapers), driving from somewhere in the north of England to London. He is going to a hospital there to be with a woman not his wife. He is also facing huge pressures from his employer, because the next day there will converge an armada of cement trucks on the site he’s been managing, one of the biggest projects of its kind in Europe, and he won’t be there. And because he is “connected” so completely with everyone in his life, everyone has a (disembodied) voice to scream at him, plead with him, argue with him, and maybe even console him before the end of the movie. On top of all that, there is also the (unseen and unheard) ghost of his father, who was less than stellar in that role for Ivan. As he navigates his vehicle through the night, Ivan controls access to himself, through his car and his phone, but that doesn’t mean he is free from the consequences of his actions. “Locke” takes a perfectly modern situation and runs with it—a wonderfully balanced tale about choices that, despite the trappings of its modern technology, never loses its human touch.