VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Cafe Express (1980)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the August 16, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

One of the things that I love about the 80s mom and pop video store explosion was that there was such a need for content — unmatched until the era of streaming — that everything, it seems, came out on video. Like this Italian tragicomedy, directed by Nanni Loy and written by Loy, Elvio Porta and Nino Manfredi.

Manfredi, who stars in this as Michele Abbagnano, was one of the most prominent Italian actors in the commedia all’italiana genre. He was an incredibly popular actor — described as one of the few truly complete actors in Italian cinema — and is still remembered decades after his death.

Michele makes a living on the night trains between Naples and Vallo della Lucania — I wonder if he ever ran into Macha Méril — selling coffee and cappuccino from the thermos and stolen sugar packets he keeps hidden from the railroad workers. He provides a service that the trains do not — becoming whoever each passenger wants him to be, whether that’s a concert piano player or soldier missing an arm from war or a freezing winter — such as waking them before their stops or keeping their secrets.

Why does he work so hard, keeping so many pleased, long into the night, every night? It’s all to keep his son Cazzillo (Giovanni Piscopo) alive. He suffers from a heart defect and he must remain in the hospital while Michele makes money for his surgery.

On this night, Michele is chased by three conductors — Giuseppe (Silvio Spaccesi), Nicola (Gerardo Scala) and Vigorito(Luigi Basagaluppi) — as he conducts his illegal business, but none more powerful than chief inspector Ramacci-Pisanelli (Adolfo Celi, still playing the villain, even if this isn’t a Eurospy or giallo). If they catch him, he’ll be arrested and he’ll lose the one chance to save his son, who unknown to him has left the hospital and is wandering the night trains himself.

Loy was inspired to do this movie after he worked on a hidden camera show, Viaggio in Seconda Classe, on the night trains. The movie uses that half awake setting to present a series of characters and stories that exist in their own midnight world.

I love that everyone — I admit, I discovered it in the same way — that found this movie on the Video Archives podcast is complaining about the video quality of the version of this movie on Amazon Prime. Perhaps these people — listening to a podcast about a video store’s library of films — never rented from an actual video store, where tracking issues would show up and you got whatever prints some smaller labels would get. Yes, we live in a world of pristine 4K UHD releases — yes, I have more than my share — but for someone who grew up in an era where we took what we could get, sometimes you need to appreciate the actual film more than the media that delivers it to you.

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