[SUNFLOWER - (1970) - Directed by Vittorio De Sica - Widescreen - Italian w/ English subtitles - 107 min.] During WWII, a new army recruit, Antonio (Mastroianni) and his lover, Giovanna (Loren) wed and enjoy the marriage furlough awarded him before he's shipped off to the Russian front, never to be seen or heard from again. After the war is declared over, and fraught with despair upon hearing that he was last seen on a frozen battlefield attempting to return against impossible odds, Giovanna promises Antonio's mother that she will set out on an odyssey search for him, and won't return without knowledge of his fate. It's critical to them both to know, despite the outcome. Their mourning may never cease, but they may take dark comfort in closure.
She searches and searches, showing his picture to scores of women who don't even understand her language, in relentless pursuit of a possible lead to his whereabouts, even after being led to a site of unmarked graves acknowledged solely by wooden crosses that stretch out forever. She eventually discovers he's alive and where he is currently dwelling, but their reunion is anything but blissful. Why didn't he return to her after the war? Who is this person he currently resides with? Why wasn't there even a letter sent? Did he no longer love Giovanna, his family, friends and homeland? The answers to these questions aren't easy to comprehend.
As always, the pairing of Marcello and Sophia on screen insures a cinematic event not to be missed by lovers of world cinema, and adding the brilliant directorial skills of De Sica is more than just icing on this multi-tiered cake, it makes for mandatory viewing. At the time of its release, its lack of a Hollywood (read: cop-out) ending insured it dismal box-office receipts and lukewarm reviews due to it going against the grain of what was then the contemporary film trend - America was (for the first time) seriously anti-war thanks to Vietnam, and almost all portrayals of WWII were of the 'MASH', 'Kelly's Heroes' or 'Catch 22' variety, unless we're speaking of 'Patton'. But this film seriously demands careful reconsideration now, as it showcases a heart-wrenching performance by Sophia Loren, the always understated brilliance of Marcello Mastroianni, and the keen, mindful eye and expertise of Vittorio De Sica.
A great, gripping drama that doesn't dwell too long in its melodrama, and a bittersweet ending that's thought-provoking long after the end credits roll, 'Sunflower' is a film about life, war, marriage, love and loss, even if there's a twinge of belladonna in the air. Highly recommended.
The Lorber Films blu-ray release offers a stunning print with exceptional colors and great audio quality, and there is a stills gallery and trailers for a few other Loren/Mastroianni must-see films.