A florist named Adelaide (Monica Vitti) sits behind a concave glass window, quietly observing something we cannot see. She’s handed a drink by the wealthy Amleto (Hercules Cortes), who loudly explains a cow’s anatomy as it pertains to butchering. Shot from above, she glances towards the ceiling; the camera gazes back down at her, canted to enhance the cylindrical window. “Not everyone knows these things,” Adelaide comments wearily to the viewer. Though the dialogue might mockingly attempt to endear viewers to the brute stranger lecturing her, Vitti’s dry delivery suggests she’d rather be anywhere else. 

 Directed and co-written by Ettore Scola, the film presents a love triangle between Adelaide and two men: older communist bricklayer, Oreste (a Cannes Best Actor-winning turn by Marcello Mastroianni), and young pizza chef, Nello (Giancarlo Giannini). Adelaide first meets and falls for the married Oreste; months afterward, while the pair dine at the restaurant where Nello works, the latter sends Adelaide a heart-shaped pizza. Thus begins, in Adelaide’s words, “a storm brewing in the heart.”

 The shot of Vitti in the window, courtesy of cinematographer Carlo Di Palma (Blow-up (1966)), is indicative of Adelaide’s entrapment. In her glass bubble, she’s alienated from the rest of working-class Rome, the person who just handed her a drink, and most crucially, from the two men she’s in love with. After Adelaide eventually leaves Amleto, he suggests he’d “give seven, eight million to have her back.” Unlike the audience, he’s unaware that the price of forgiveness in Jealousy, Italian Style is a brush with death.

Yet this love story is merely one piece of a larger crisis. When we first meet Oreste, he’s being demanded by police to recreate the scene of a violent crime he was involved in. A distraught Adelaide booms in voiceover – “have you ever suffered for love?” – guiding us into a retelling of the events preceding the attack. In a polyphonic account of misplaced desire and possession, the film oscillates between narration and direct-to-camera addresses from various characters involved in the romantic web. These insights are not mere exposition, but testimony in an ongoing court case regarding the film’s central crime. This creates conflicting accounts that unsettle clear chronology, obfuscating the true timeline of Adelaide’s relationship with Nello.

 Initially, Adelaide is the self-possessed emotional core of the debacle; then, in increasingly fraught circumstances, becomes liable either to burst into hysterics or shut down entirely. Vitti’s ability to project a sense of vacancy, integral to her iconic work with Michelangelo Antonioni throughout the early ‘60s, comes in useful when the ribald threatens to teeter into absurdity. It’s a deftly self-aware, vibrant performance, only a few years post-Antonioni, right as her much-lauded comedy phase entered full swing.  

 Also distributed under titles The Pizza Triangle and A Drama of Jealousy, the film is one of Scola’s many contributions to the Commedia all’Italiana genre, a series of financially successful, satirical Italian films released between roughly 1958-1980. The genre’s emergence coincided with Italy’s post-war economic boom, producing various politically conscious comedies detailing a protagonist’s efforts to assimilate into Italy’s swiftly modernising society, with shifting values, hypocrisies, and a consumerist ethos.1

 However Jealousy, Italian Style, released in 1970, came at a time of serious political conflict in Italy: hopes instilled by the economic boom began to dwindle, leading to widespread disillusionment and anti-capitalist sentiment. Scola himself joined the Communist Party in 1968,2 around the time of o movimento del Sessantotto: a series of student and worker protests expressing distrust of dominant systems of power, preceding Italy’s Years of Lead, a period of great socio-political turmoil lasting until the early 1980s.

 This period of radical advancement and social unrest characterises Scola’s dark humour. As Simone de Beauvoir once wrote of the film, “theirs is a city very unlike the tourists’ Rome.”3 Street fires inconspicuously litter the background of shots. Romantic encounters occur against mountains of industrial waste. A NATO drill interrupts a day at the beach. Even while characters commune to eat pasta and learn English (a tool for a globalised future), theirs is a city of workers ill-equipped to keep pace with rapid modernisation. “They were more cheerful when they were poor,” one tourist claims. 

 Death and the grotesque become inextricable from acts of affection. Oreste’s presence is signified to Adelaide by a persistent blowfly, often the first insect to arrive at a corpse. One of his hands is visibly wounded on each finger, so that even tenderly caressing his lover’s face conjures images of deterioration. Ambulance sirens become a running gag, turning self-harm and violence into corollaries of desire. When Nico’s suicide attempt draws Adelaide back into his arms, the trademark cynicism of the Commedia all’Italiana seems to say: the only way to measure love in a profane, consumerist world is to die for it. But even this might be performance; a symbolic act in a world already brimming with symbols. 

 In montages, Scola assembles blissful early moments in the characters’ relationships alongside the warm sincerity of Armando Trovajoli’s score, constructing a dreamy sheen atop their troubled dynamics. Leaning in to kiss Adelaide, Oreste pauses, exclaiming “Catch me!” “Not again,” she mutters privately, before leaning into the moment regardless, but for whose benefit – the audience’s? The montage is ideological: a simplified, marketable image of love and friendship that the film itself distrusts.  

Perhaps the most curious aspect of Jealousy, Italian Style is its intersection of love and politics. The proclamation “you can do anything to me” is met with a plea to vote Communist; multiple character meetings occur peripheral to political gatherings; a rally is almost, then comically not, the site of an emotional epiphany. Upon the leading men’s first meeting, they debate their views on communist love: for Oreste, the only possession the worker has is his woman, but for Nello, this is an injustice – to oppose oppression and ownership is to oppose “unique and possessive love.” Scola may satirise the inconsistencies in some radicals’ approaches to politics versus romance, but even the ostensibly more progressive Nello eventually falls victim to jealousy.

Because there is no sturdy ground for these characters – in Oreste’s words, Rome is “all a mountain of garbage” – they become dangerously dependent on love. Try as Oreste might to ascribe a broader, Marxist meaning to losing Adelaide, his intellectualising is to little avail. Ultimately, casting Vitti seems fitting. Viewed by some at the time as “too identified” with Antonioni to work with other directors,4 here too she strains to be more than a woman belonging to a man. 

Jealousy, Italian Style (1970 Italy 99 mins)

Prod co: Dean Film, Juppiter Generale Cinematografica, Midega Film Prod: Pio Angeletti, Adriano De Micheli Dir: Ettore Scola Scr: Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Ettore Scola Pho: Carlo Di Palma Ed: Alberto Gallitti 

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Monica Vitti, Giancarlo Giannini


  1. Rémi Fournier Lanzoni. “Italian Comedy in the 1960s” in Comedy Italian Style: The Golden Age of Italian Film Comedies. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2008), p. 69.
  2. Fabrizio Cilento. “Visual Transitions in Ettore Scola’s Comedies” in The Cinema of Ettore Scola, Remi Lanzoni and Edward Bowen, eds. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2020), p. 55.
  3. Simone de Beauvoir. All Said and Done (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974), p. 180.
  4. Kerry Segrave and Linda Martin, “Italian Actresses: Monica Vitti” in The Continental Actress: European Film Stars of the Post War Era (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland Publishing, 1990), p. 76.

About The Author

Tiia Kelly is a writer and editor living in Naarm. Her work can be found in The Guardian, The Big Issue, Junkee, Kill Your Darlings, Overland, and elsewhere. She currently edits nonfiction for Voiceworks and is a 2022 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow.

Related Posts