There’s Still Tomorrow: a dark melodrama fuelled by humour, rage and neorealism

Paola Cortellesi’s debut – already a breakout hit in Italy – puts the spotlight on women’s post-war subjugation with a satirical depiction of an abusive marriage that’s full of formal playfulness.

23 April 2024

By Kate Stables

Paola Cortellesi as Delia in There’s Still Tomorrow (2023)
Sight and Sound

It’s the slap that sets the tone, hard. A casual, early-morning smack across the face is received with preternatural calm by battered housewife Delia from her husband Ivano in the blackly comic melodrama There’s Still Tomorrow. It announces the directorial debut of popular Italian actress and screenwriter Paola Cortellesi as a smart, audacious oddity, whose neorealist-styled monochrome dramedy about an impoverished housewife’s everyday struggles in the Rome of 1946 carries unusual dramatic and political weight. An uncompromising look at women’s post-war social oppression, it has proved wildly popular in Italy, becoming one of the country’s highest-grossing films ever.

This satirical, historical look at marriage – Italian style – cleverly embeds hefty themes into a close-up look at Delia’s hard-knock life. Cortellesi, who also stars, captures Delia’s determined stoicism and sass as she juggles work and ceaseless caring for her family (plus a groping, ghastly father-in-law). 

The camera follows her across dusty Trastevere in widescreen as she dashes to a handful of scrappy, underpaid jobs. But what makes the film pop is its genre mutability, sliding deftly from violent misery to deadpan gags. Full of formal playfulness – the beatings are staged as darkly funny dance scenes, soundtracked by perky Italian retro love ballads like ‘Nessuno’ – it startles the viewer out of preconceptions. 

Other quirky needle-drops keep the film nicely off-balance: raw 90s blues dashing Delia to her jobs, Outkast’s ‘B.O.B.’ cranking up a tense getaway. And as Delia schemes for a better life for her nearly engaged daughter Marcella, the story’s stream of hopes and humiliations subverts our expectations. A masterfully tense lunch for Marcella’s snobby potential in-laws elicits a shower of grim laughs, an over-familiar American military policeman offers risk as well as opportunity.

Employing a period-perfect neorealist visual style (along with respectful nods to Bicycle Thieves, 1948, and Rome, Open City, 1945), the film keeps its fine central performances in the same serious register. Valerio Mastandrea’s cruel loser of a husband excuses his violence shruggingly with “I did two wars!“, and Romana Maggiora Vergano’s luminous Marcella brims with pity and contempt for her mother. 

All the while, Cortellesi makes Delia’s thoughts race behind her dark, docile eyes, planning to end her plight. Hidden in this bittersweet narrative is a tale of unexpected empowerment. For the film’s big point is that the patriarchy isn’t in the past. Through its dark satire of 1940s subjugation, it also smartly spotlights the enduring issue of Italian domestic violence. Think of it as Delia’s chance to slap back.

► There’s Still Tomorrow is in UK cinemas from 26 April. 

► A season of films, Chasing the Real: Italian Neorealism plays at BFI Southbank, London, throughout May and June. 

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