Wednesday, February 9, 2011

L'Uomo dei Cinque Palloni (1965)

This is the most unusual project of Catherine Spaak's career as no less than three (known) versions of this film exist. The only version released in Italy was a truncated thirty-minute cut shoed into the omnibus film "Oggi, domani, dopodomani" (1965, and this may or may not have been released in America under the title "The Man, the Woman, and the Money") while there were at least two different American releases of a feature length edit, one under "The Man With the Balloons" (distributed by Sigma III-Filmways) and another through MGM as "Break-Up," both include additional footage not shot by the film's director, Marco Ferreri, and both apparently played in America in 1968. It's not known to me at this time if these American cuts differ significantly from one another or if they were the same cut packaged differently (it's safe to assume that one of these was dubbed into English). Beyond this, there was a print screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, which is either a restored version of "The Man With the Balloons" or "Break-Up," or a restoration of Marco Ferreri's original director's cut that he shot and assembled in 1964.

Still with me? The story goes that Carlo Ponti agreed to produce a comedy script Marco Ferreri wrote for Marcello Mastroianni. Financing in place, Ferreri made an announcement on the first day of filming that the script everybody read and studied was to be thrown out and that they would be doing an improvisational absurdist comedy. Catherine Spaak, who at this high-point in her career had total freedom in the projects she chose to work on, wasn't happy with this but stayed on because she wanted to work with Mastroianni.

In an interview I saw with her on the documentary "Marco Ferreri: The Man Who Came From the Future," she comes across as bitter about the experience, not smiling once for the camera in recounting her experiences during the shooting, acting particularly stern expressing how disgusted she was during the filming of a scene where Mastroianni squirts condensed milk all over her stomach and licks it off (only included in the longer cuts, but seen in this documentary).

When Ferreri assembled his first cut and screened it for Ponti, the producer flipped and said he wouldn't release it, saying among other things that he was sure it would "ruin" Mastroianni's career. What Ponti eventually did was cut it down to thirty minutes and place it at the beginning the omnibus film "Oggi, domani, dopodomani" (which included two other segments starring Mastroianni), and three years later distribute a feature-length cut (or two feature-length cuts, or one cut released under two titles) in America.

The version I saw is the thirty minute cut, which is reasonably incoherent even on the most outlandish, absurdist level. Edited in a very haphazard fashion, the plot involves a candy manufacturer who's obsessed with how much air can be blown into a balloon before it pops, which is an interesting idea that can be used as a metaphor for the same person trying to go as far as he can in a risky situation without having it fail (or explode in his face, so to speak). But, at least in this cut, Ferreri is content with using the man's obsession as a springboard for randominity. Luckily, both Mastroianni and Catherine Spaak have a great screen presence together and are fun to watch. Spaak plays the man's fiance, who doesn't understand his obsession with balloons.


  1. Fantastic movie.
    This was the cutted version of Break Up,
    Ferreri was a giant.
    I put "la calda vita" in "beautiful places",
    hi friend.

  2. I would be interested in seeing "Break-Up" for many reasons, but first and foremost as almost every scene in this version has been trimmed and there's more Spaak in the longer version, but I also want to see if this concept is more coherent in a feature-length edit.

    My guess is that this 30 minute version encompasses most of the "relationship" scenes from the other cut(s) in an attempt to make a segment that best suited this omnibus, the other segments of which also involve strange relationships. In this version the film takes place over the course of one evening, and I'm curious if the feature-length version spreads it out. I do have access to a version of "The Break-Up" but the quality is unwatchable and it's not subtitled. Having seen this version, I can wait for a better version to surface.

    I've seen a few Ferreri. My favorite so far is "The Last Woman," an interesting film that yielded a very strong response from me. I think it's one of the best movies of its year.

    I was thinking that knowing how shocked Carlo Ponti was by Marcello acting crazy in this film & what Ponti thought of some of the Mastroianni's significantly more perverse comedies in the seventies, like "What?" and "La Grande Bouffe," where he's acting much more outlandish (which he was very good at) & in a much stranger context. Mastroianni's finest hour was the late fifties and early sixties, but he clearly had a very perverse side to his sense of humor that he really let loose later on. I've always loved his work and enjoy seeing him in whatever he did.

    Thank you for linking my blog! You recently posted a few good pictures of Spaak I hadn't seen before.

  3. The last scene, with a monstruous cameo by the great Ugo Tognazzi, is memorable.