If Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960) contextualizes capitalistic consumption within existential ennui, then Vittorio De Sica’s Il Boom (1963) can be seen as L’Avventura’s obverse, situating materialistic greed in a comedic framework.
Il Boom tells the story of Giovanni Alberti (Alberto Sordi), a failing building contractor massively in debt. Deeply in love with his wife Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale), Giovanni finds himself torn between accommodating Sylvia’s bourgeois lifestyle and telling her the truth. He begins a quest for money, visiting a loan agency and after being refused, propositioning friends with business opportunities—a guise for get–rich–quick schemes that are seen through.
On another extravagant night out, Giovanni stumbles upon and introduces himself to a Mr. Bausetti (Ettore Geri), a construction tycoon missing his left eyeball. Pursuing a rumor that Bausetti has ties to the loan agency, Giovanni pleads to have his debt cleared. Mr. Bausetti refuses him, but more importantly, Mrs. Bausetti (Elena Nicolai) doesn’t. She offers Giovanni a deal: Giovanni’s eyeball in exchange for more than enough money to clear his debt. Hesitantly, Giovanni accepts and De Sica devotes the rest of the film to examining the moral, social, and domestic consequences of such a choice.
Sordi plays Giovanni with the zeal of a tragic clown, masking his desperation with a squalid smile. During a game of tennis, he gets away with asking a friend for money, pivoting his solicitation into a joke. “You bastard,” the friend teases back. The tennis match highlights the social rituals of the elite, and the mental exhaustion that comes with it. Forced to keep appearances for the sake of impressing his wife, Giovanni transforms sleazy to boor ensuring everyone has a good laugh.
De Sica glides his camera in tune to the film’s casual-jazz soundtrack (both diegetic and non) and creates a rhythm with which to lampoon the artifice of Giovanni’s life and those around him. At a party celebrating Giovanni’s new riches, De Sica highlights the smorgasbord of Giovanni’s wealth and the jealousy of his friends with a single pan. In the background, the band drones on monotonously Giovanni flits about, once again putting on appearances.
But then the camera stops, and so too does the music. Giovanni’s veil of comedic glib has begun to fall as the secret behind his acquired luxury creeps upon him. He begins to make an ass of himself as he drinks more and lashes out at the selfishness of his friends, who only care for his money and the company of his wife. De Sica’s use of silence and lack of movement here become antithetical to the film’s previous frenetic rhythm meant to represent the titular economic boom. Giovanni’s “friends” leave, and we’re left to witness what lies behind the facade of promised wealth: grim isolation.