My mom is special in a lot of different ways, but here are just a few of them. She always compliments me in my work and my stories. She thinks they are funny, and so do I. She also cooks me a special homemade meal for my birthday. She will always make sure I am healthy and active. And she will read me a book every night and give me hugs and kisses. We make up handshakes and jokes together. She tries to make me laugh when I am sad about something. Like, she sings to be funny, but not a lot. She will try to sing a Britney Spears song in opera - it is so funny. I am usually the one who makes her laugh. She takes naps with me when I am sick. She makes me a sick couch and makes sure that I have everything that I need. I love that! She is always there for when I am sick or hurt. I love it when she "nurses" me back to health because then I feel like her little baby again. We take pictures of each other and talk on the phone a lot when she goes out of town.
My mom is always a special person to me and to others. I think that I should win this essay because everyone should know just what a special mom does for her kids.
- Jaycee Mountain, 9, Deerfield School
Mother: Cori Green
My mom is wonderful. She is kind and generous. She cares for me every day and night (and makes dinner). She is always saying how bright I am. She is really as sweet as honey. My mom is very gentle and careful, and she's organized, too. And oh, how wonderful she is! I really do love her. She's really bright and super pretty. My mom is my hero, and she loves me a lot. Her name is Kaki, and to me it's like saying my favorite color. She's always thinking about the bright side and not the negative side! When I am scared, she always comes and calms me down. Every night my baby brother wakes up, and every night she goes in his room and puts him back to bed, and she is never cranky! (I just don't get it.) She definitely is the greatest mom on earth.
- Maci Movsovitz, 9, Quail Run School
Mother: Kaki Movsovitz
I ran across the article about writing an essay explaining why your mom is special, and I think, man, I don't have a chance, there's too many people going to enter. As you can tell, I finally got up the courage to write it. Everyone is going to say the most obvious things like her cooking, cleaning and how she understands everything. Well, that is great, but what's the difference from their mom and mine? That is simple - my mom is a mom to everyone. She always gives someone a chance. My friends love and confide in her for advice. She's the kind of mother who you can walk downtown with and not be embarrassed. My mother is always getting calls from my friends wanting to know if they can come over and hang out. My mom has taken me to my first concerts, and she's my best friend. We have the kind of relationship that I can say "I love you" and not have her ask, "And what do you want?" I can crank the music up in the car, and she will rock out with me. We hardly ever fight, and we share each other's clothes. Yes, she is beautiful, a great cleaner and an awesome cook, but I know no one can say they have a mom like mine. She is my best friend, mother, adviser, protector, manager, and most of all she is Mary Beth Retke.
- Ashley Morris, 16, Lawrence High School
Mother: Mary Beth Retke
My mom, Kathy Frye, is the greatest mom in the universe because she lets me call people and go to friends' houses.
Some people say they hate their mom because she's too protective. She always has to know were you're at and stuff like that. I like it when my mom does that because it lets me know how much she loves and cares for me, because she does not want anything to happen to me.
My mom always makes us kids clean the house. I like to because it helps her out. I mean she does pay all the bills, and all the extra things I like, but don't need. She doesn't only do that, she also cooks dinner and is a manager at Great Clips.
I can talk to my mom about anything. No matter what it is, if I need advice or have a question, she's always there to answer me. If a kid is bullying me and saying things that aren't true, she tells me I'm pretty, and nobody can take that away.
My mom is special because there's nobody like her. She does things like have a "girls day" for my sister and me. No matter what happens, if we're having a bad day, she will always find a way to have fun.
I would like to thank my mom. Most people's moms don't do all that fun stuff. So that's why I know my mom is the greatest mom and person in the universe.
- Amanda Frye, Perry Lecompton Middle School
Mother: Kathy Frye
My mom is the coolest mom in the world because she works a lot of hours just to make good money so we can eat and go places. But because she works all the time, my sister and I don't see her as much as we'd like. When we do see her, which is usually on the weekends, we have lots of fun; like she likes to ride three-wheelers. She helps with any problems I have at school, or what is nice to wear, and she helps me straighten my hair. My mom is amazing in every way possible. She is always there for my sister and me.
- Mikalia Munoz, Perry Lecompton Middle School
Mother: Vivian Munoz
My mom is the biggest helper in the family. She cooks, cleans and does the laundry. She takes me shopping in downtown Lawrence. My mom is a life saver! If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be here and we wouldn't have our pig Jo-Jo. (She loves pigs).
My mommy also coaches and takes us to our sporting and school events. We lounge in our pool (cattle tank), we go on walks and bathe in the bathtub, read and lay in bed and watch HGTV.
She loves mowing, and she is teaching me how to mow!
My mom works hard at work as a nurse, but when she comes home she still has time for everyone else.
I don't know how she takes care of my dad, brother and me without any complaining. My mom is awesome!
- Kennedy Morey, 9, Tonganoxie Elementary School
Mother: Jan Morey
My mom is a genuine piece of artwork
created by the Almighty One.
She was crafted by His perfect Hands until she was done
Then she was lovingly placed on this earth
to become my wonderful, perfect mother!
- Shelby Holmes, 11, Veritas Christian School
Mother: Ann Holmes
She taught me how to sing, walk and jump. We go on walks by the park. We sing in our basement. We jump on the trampoline.
She shows she loves me by saying it all the time. She kisses me all day long. She hugs me all the time.
She cooks hotdogs for me. She makes me feel better when I'm sick. She takes me to my soccer practice.
We watch birds together. We clean up the house together. We play basketball together. She is a fast runner. She is funny. She thinks all the time. She is very calm. And I am glad she is my mom.
- Jackson Mallory, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Kristen Mallory
Things we do together! We go on walks together as we sing songs. We ride bikes together, bouncing up and down the hill. We like to go to Sonic and get malts.
Things she does for me! She likes to take me to the park. If I need help getting out of a tree, she comes running and helps me! She helps me with my homework when I need help.
Things she taught me! She taught me to skate on the rocky road. She taught me to climb trees, and she taught me to read some.
How she shows she loves me! She reads me a story every night. She gives me gifts not only on a holiday. She loves to give me hugs.
What my mom likes to do! She likes to play volleyball and she likes to play tennis. And she likes to cook.
- Abigail Parsons, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Deanna Parsons
My mom is special because she loves me and we do things together. We like to dance and watch movies. Things she does for me is: She cooks, cleans and buys me stuff I need. She cooks for me when I'm sick. She buys me flashlights and water.
I know she loves me because she shows me and does it. I can describe my mom as smart, funny and swift. She taught me to swim, sing and dance. I love my mom a lot.
- Alexandra Clark, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Christina Clark
She goes to chess tournaments with me so I can get ratings. She takes time off work so she can go to a wedding with me. She taught me how to cook food. She cleans and organizes my room. She helps me figure out how to use toys. She teaches and loves to read. Most of all she plays badminton. She cooks for me when it's dinner time. She buys toys for me. She makes sure I get better when I'm sick.
- Mark Briggs, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Ivy Shane Briggs
Me and mom like to be funny and play together. We like to play cards and board games.
She loves to watch Rachael Ray, and she likes to play tennis, too! And she does a lot for me, but I'm just going to name some. She cooks for me, takes me where I need to go and watches me.
She taught me these things. How to talk, ride a bike, and play games like Scrabble and Sorry.
- Lee Andrews, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Jaime Wagner
My mom taught me some microbiology. I did not know much. But I learned some. One time my brother wanted to see a wild raccoon. Carrie, my mom, told us if an animal had rabies, it could bite you, then they would kill it and see if it had rabies. Carrie told me about when I lived in Virginia and Florida.
Carrie pays for school. So does dad. Carrie buys good food. Carrie is going to get a sweet job.
Carrie always says good night. Carrie helps me in the morning by fixing my hair. Carrie is there at special times. Carrie is really nice. Carrie likes reading about things. Carrie is funny.
Carrie drives me to the club. Sometimes we go to restaurants. Carrie and me go to Dillons. I get gum.
- April Hodges, 7, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Carrie Hodges
Me and my mom watch funny videos together and play Battleship, and we also play tag. She makes dinner and gives me cool presents and drives me to cool places. She taught me how to clean and walk and play soccer. My mom makes me smart and gives me hugs and tucks me in at night. My mom is tall and has brown hair and brown eyes and is quick.
- Kyle Berry, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Casandra Blevins
She plays with me she is not mean to me at all. She plays soccer with me, and that's my favorite sport.
My mom is special, and she's silly, too. She tells good jokes.
She taught me how to speak. Good thing she taught me how to speak or I wouldn't be able to write. Or I wouldn't be able to hear what other people say to me. She also taught me how to swim. Good thing, too, because I'm a good swimmer, and I like to swim. She also taught me how to walk. Good thing, too, because I would not be able to run or play or hike, and I like to do all of those things.
The way she shows she loves me are she reads to me at bedtime and she plays with me. She helps me with my homework. She buys me things, and she buys for my school, and she feeds me when I'm hungry.
- Ray Faith, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Sarah Faith
Did you know my mom likes to cook? And she likes to play with me. Me and my mom like to throw the football or throw the Frisbee. My mom buys me clothes and games. When my mom goes shopping, I get something if I was very good at the store. My mom helped me learn to ride a bike. And she sometimes takes me fishing. When my string gets stuck she tries to get it unstuck. If she can't, she cuts some of the string off. But so far she has got it unstuck.
- Harold Herd, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Jessica Cameron
My mom buys a lot of candy, like lollipops, candy bars and gum. She buys me toys, like Legos and robots.
She hugs me really hard. She kisses me a lot. She lies next to me all the time.
She taught me how to walk. Every time I tried, I fell down. She taught me a lot of things.
We go to the Great Wolf Lodge and go down the water slide. We go to the park and go down the slides. We play all kinds of games like Monopoly.
- Eric King, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Jody King
My mom taught me to cook grilled cheese. We read together at 8:00. My mom is a nice person to me. She helps me with homework. She makes things for me. She plays board games with me. We plant flowers in the garden. We eat at El Mezcal, my mom's favorite.
- Bowen Hudson, 7, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Chrissy Hudson
Me and my mom walk at the park. She gives me the number to call dad. Me and my mom read.
My mom is 39. We play go fish. She is a kind and nice mom. She taught me how to tie my shoes, she makes my bed for me in the morning. We go places. She taught me how to make a paper airplane.
- Dylan Hudson, 7, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Chrissy Hudson
My mom shows me she loves me by paying for school so she lets me learn. She cooks for us. I'm glad. She plays games with us. She does a lot for me. She washes clothes so I have some clothes. She reads so I can sleep good. She vacuums the floor for me so I do not step on anything. She loves to read and she plays games a lot, and we play them together. We go to the park and play. We eat together as a family. We read books. She taught me how to read so I can read fast. We plant a garden so the yard looks pretty.
- Robert Down, 8, Wakarusa Valley School
Mother: Michele Teter
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Though it was shot three decades after the war, Ettore Scola’s A Special Day (1977) remains one of the most telling films ever made about Italian Fascism, viewing the period’s oppressive atmosphere and enforced flag-waving through the prism of a delicate human relationship between a man and a woman. The action takes place on May 6, 1938, when Adolf Hitler and his chiefs of staff, including Joseph Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, came to Rome to pay a state visit to Benito Mussolini, Il Duce. Though not quite a love story, it perversely plays on the auras of two long-standing icons of screen romance, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, turning the audience’s desire for cinematic passion upside down. Who could have imagined the glamorous Loren playing a mousy hausfrau in an old robe and slippers, or Mastroianni, the prototypical Latin lover, as a gay intellectual? Only in an Italian comedy, perhaps, is the combination thinkable—but A Special Day is no comedy.
This is all the more surprising coming from Scola, who at the time was a well-established political satirist and comedy director. Born in 1931, he was just fifteen when he began drawing cartoons for popular satirical magazines like Marc’Aurelio, where Federico Fellini won early fame. (Scola’s affectionate 2013 tribute How Strange to Be Named Federico provides a charming description of the period.) By the 1950s, he was churning out film and TV scripts for the commedia all’italiana, often with Ruggero Maccari. It was in the sixties that his screenplays began to evolve into incisive social critiques. Il sorpasso (1962), starring Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant and directed by Dino Risi, cast an ironic eye on the excesses of Italy’s economic boom, while he explored the fragile social position of women in I Knew Her Well (1965), directed by Antonio Pietrangeli and starring Stefania Sandrelli.
Thus, when Scola began directing films on his own in 1964, social comedies were a natural fit. We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974), a direct predecessor to A Special Day, looked back at thirty years of Italian history through the lives of three anti-Fascist friends, played by Gassman, Nino Manfredi, and Stefano Satta Flores, with Sandrelli as their love interest. It was followed by Down and Dirty (1976), a grotesque spoof starring Manfredi and set in Rome’s outlying slums.
Faced with recounting the Hitler-Mussolini summit, Scola might have been expected to opt for an approach like that of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 political satire The Great Dictator, where Jack Oakie played a ham-fisted “Benzino Napaloni.” Instead, A Special Day sets aside humor to look back at a grim red-letter day and its personal implications. In the quietly lyrical screenplay, written by Scola and Maccari, the historic occasion is the backdrop to a brief encounter between two lonely people. One knows he is “different”; the other recognizes her specialness only at the end of the film, when both reclaim their individuality with dignity. Affirming the need for human warmth and affection as an antidote to an inhuman society, A Special Day has lost none of its relevance or fascination over the years and ranks among Scola’s most accomplished works.
The Fascist period in Italy, which began with Mussolini’s triumphant march on Rome with his Blackshirts in 1922, formally ended with his overthrow in 1943, and more definitively with his inglorious execution two years later at the hands of the partisans. Italian cinema has struggled to make sense of the country’s Fascist past ever since. It took a big step in that direction in the immediate postwar period, when the highly influential neorealist movement directly conveyed the sensations of a society at war and in transition in gritty films like Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City (1945) and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948). Yet by the late 1970s, a good part of the population still viewed their country’s Fascist past with nostalgia, as a time when Italy counted for something on the international political scene and Mussolini made the trains run on time.
Scola was then a leading intellectual in the powerful Italian Communist Party, and his political ideas surely contributed to his decision to make A Special Day. Though Fascism had theoretically been defeated decades earlier, in reality this was far from the case. The Italian Social Movement, heir to Mussolini’s party, had just split into four groups and was constantly in the news due to violent, often deadly clashes between its Youth Front and young Communists. At a time when memories of the war’s horrors were fading, Scola had the credibility to remind Italians what Fascism was really like. The resounding critical and box-office success of We All Loved Each Other So Much had consolidated his reputation as one of Italy’s leading directors, one who could tackle social and political subjects in all their psychological and moral implications without simplifying matters. And A Special Day was destined to bring him more acclaim. It was presented in competition at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival and, after winning the Golden Globe Award for best foreign film, was nominated in the same category at the 1978 Academy Awards, where Mastroianni also received a nomination for best actor.
Rather than try to re-create Hitler’s visit, Scola made the bold decision to show official newsreel footage and to use commentary from a contemporary radio announcer. The film opens with six uninterrupted minutes of archival images showing the pomp and circumstance with which Hitler was greeted by “imperial Rome”—though as some historians have noted, there was a lot more show than substance on the Italian side. The material comes from a public service film entitled The Führer’s Trip to Italy, which details the key events of the day. It was shot and edited by official propagandists, who deftly emphasize the importance of the personalities and confer the dwarfish king of Italy, the oversize Duce, and the preening führer with mythic status as they parade before soldiers in formation, saluting in unison with Leni Riefenstahl enthusiasm. As fascinating as it is repulsive, this black-and-white footage is presented without any introduction and is the last time Mussolini and Hitler appear on-screen.
And yet they permeate every waking moment of the characters’ lives. The story opens in the spacious courtyard of a housing project, the largest of its kind built in Rome in the 1930s. Cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis films it in highly desaturated colors, leaving the impression of a grayish-green fish tank smothering Luciano Ricceri’s detailed period sets. There is one note of color, however. The building caretaker, played with spiteful ill will by Françoise Berd, has hung out the Italian flag next to a huge red Nazi swastika. As the camera continues to slowly cross the courtyard in a single leisurely zoom, it closes in on the upper-floor apartment of Antonietta (Loren) and her husband, Emanuele (John Vernon), a pompous ministry employee. We notice that he treats his wife like the proverbial doormat, even drying his hands on her blowsy housedress as they bicker without affection. As she wakes their six kids and everyone begins to dress up in their uniforms and best clothes, it becomes obvious that she will not be accompanying them to the rally in honor of the great Italian-German alliance.
As Antonietta gazes out the kitchen window, Scola uses a repeated overhead shot to show the neighbors pouring out of their apartments in excitement and hurrying to the rally in droves. For a moment, it seems as if she is going to be the only one left at home. But even when the whole housing complex has gone, silence doesn’t fall. Because someone has left a radio on full blast, and it is spieling out live coverage from the rally. This constant Big Brother noise track is the counterpoint to every scene in the film, pervading the most intimate moments of daily life and creating an underlying tension that never lets up.
In the pre-television era, the radio was a major propaganda tool for the regime, and its omnipresence in the film (coupled with the opening newsreel footage) emphasizes how important the media were to Fascist consensus building. It recalls Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 film The Conformist, also set in the thirties, in which the hero’s best friend is a blind radio announcer and a convinced Fascist. Though Scola’s approach is quite different, both directors underline the theatrical nature of the Italian regime, which created a world of make-believe that attracted masses of people.
One of these is Antonietta, who is initially filled with naive admiration for and faith in Il Duce. She tells an incredible tale about fainting in the park one day when Mussolini rode by her (this is supposedly based on a true story about Loren’s mother). She also keeps a book of clippings in Mussolini’s honor, not to mention a large portrait of Il Duce that she has ingeniously created out of buttons. One imagines that most of her neighbors are similarly reverent, or at least compliant, including the grim super, who snaps the Fascist salute as a matter of course. The regime tampers with even the most intimate areas of life, as seen in her husband’s calculating plan to have a seventh child so that they will qualify for a cash prize awarded to large families.
But on this special day, something happens that will change Antonietta’s outlook forever: a chance encounter with a fellow tenant, across the courtyard. If she looked out her window, she could almost see him bent over a pile of letters, pensively fingering a pistol. This is Gabriele (Mastroianni), who has been fired from his job as an announcer on state radio and is about to be sent into exile because of Mussolini’s antigay laws. Appropriately enough, it is a pet mynah bird, escaped from its cage in her kitchen, that brings the trapped Antonietta to his door. He’s relieved to put aside his dark thoughts and, desperate for company, passes the day with her.
In one of his most memorable if atypical performances, the fifty-two-year-old actor reveals Gabriele’s homosexuality in a few telling gestures and gentle words. His irony confounds the practical Antonietta. He’s a joker who grabs on to her for dear life. He makes fun of everything, but is tenderly touching in a brief phone call to someone far away whom he obviously cares for. The eagerness with which he shows Antonietta a few rumba steps, or races around the apartment on her son’s scooter, and the impulsive practical joke he plays, wrapping her in laundry on the terrace, all point to a man who, despite his dark side and his life of repression, delights in life’s simple pleasures. The opposite of the careworn wife and mother in front of him. Yet somehow, they have recognized each other as kindred spirits, needily seeking compassion and acceptance for what they are. “You’re not like the others, you’re here with me,” Gabriele tells her poignantly.
Apart from the busybody superintendent, they seem to be alone in the building, suspended in a timeless moment and a surreally empty space. The super derides him as an anti-Fascist and warns Antonietta not to associate with him. “I’m not a husband, a father, or a soldier,” Gabriele assures her, rejecting a macho credo. Antonietta is confused; she finds him so well mannered and thinks he’s flirting with her, missing the point completely. Just as the triumphal march on the radio celebrating “the magnificence of Fascist Italy” and “Germany, Italy’s new sister,” reaches its climax, he angrily blurts out the truth.
Though she was still a very glamorous forty-two-year-old star when the film was made (and happily married to Carlo Ponti, who produced the Italian-Canadian project), Loren was transformed by makeup expert Franco Freda into a wan housewife to play the role of the lowborn Neapolitan Antonietta. It’s a striking makeover, particularly when the viewer conjures up the steamy Loren-Mastroianni pairings of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964). Submissive and lacking in self-esteem, Antonietta is not a diva’s role; in Loren’s career, it is perhaps closest to her Oscar-winning, glammed-down performance in Two Women (1960) or her recent turn as an abandoned lover in Edoardo Ponti’s 2014 short Human Voice (included on this release). Yet there is a beckoning intimacy in the star’s wide green eyes that conveys an unmistakable, familiar challenge to Mastroianni.
The film reaches its dramatic high point in a whisper-smooth, heart-wrenching seduction scene, played without music and with the camera barely leaving Antonietta’s face. Antonietta and Gabriele will probably carry their secret to the grave, but the events of this special day have changed both of them profoundly. Even if daily life must go on. Closing the film on this quiet but convincing note of inner resistance, Scola suggests a path that cuts through mass-think ideologies, one that anyone can follow with a little human solidarity and courage.
Based in Rome, Deborah Young is a film critic and journalist who has written extensively about Italian cinema. She is the international film editor of the Hollywood Reporter.