The title refers to Italy's economic miracle which transformed the country from the 1950s to the 1970s.
What price the boom?
A merciless comedy, much grimmer than almost any serious drama, as was habitual in the remarkable phenomenon of la commedia all'italiana from the 1950s to the 1960s.
The movie starts in an atmosphere of crushing banality, with annoying muzak themes, and a general sense of heartlessness whether we find ourself on a freeway or on a horse track. There are moments of dangerous accidents: when Alberto Sordi trips on the stairs of the racetrack, when the show jumping horse falls, and when in the background we hear that a construction worker has fallen from a height of five meters. This is a time of hectic financial growth at any cost.
Sordi is the protagonist, an inept businessman whose main endeavour is to keep up appearances and placate his wife accustomed to a jet set lifestyle. He leaves rubber cheques all over the place, and all Rome knows about it. He has not even a baker's credit anymore. He is a master of empty credit, but now no one will help him anymore.
Until there is an unexpected proposal. Sordi's eyes are brilliant, and now he makes a deal to sell one of them at top price as it's illegal.
Tables turns, there is a big banquet, and everybody wants to be a friend again. Even his wife comes back. But Sordi's jokes are not funny, he gets drunk and insults everybody.
In the first part of the film the soullesness, the joyless partying, and the lack of gravity make the movie embarrassing to watch. This is a comedy of anxiety, of fear. The satire borders on misanthropy.
Alberto Sordi's character is a paragon of dishonesty to begin with, but in the second part he carries his character even further, to deep dimensions of despair. His inferno is also reflected in the sequence of the barefoot religious pageant. The utter horror of his distress resembles somehow John Frankenheimer's Seconds, starring Rock Hudson.
Il boom is an Alberto Sordi vehicle, a unique and amazing work. We cannot sympathize with the character, but we start to care, and there is enormous psychological wealth in this satirical study. Il boom is a special case of horror comedy.
The richness of the performances of the other characters becomes also evident in the secondo tempo. Especially memorable is Elena Nicolai as the formidable Mrs. Bausetti.
The visual quality seems flat and banal in the beginning but becomes better and richer towards the end, including in the terrifying long shot of Alberto Sordi being escorted to the eye clinic from which he has tried to escape.