It’s a bold, and risky move to open a movie with a borderline comical use of domestic abuse. But it’s a choice that pays off, as Paola Cortellesi’s, There’s Still Tomorrow (C’e Ancora Domani in the original Italian), straddles a very fine line between paying a neorealist homage to the time, the people, and the cinema of old Italy, while also angrily pointing an accusatory finger at the ingrained personal and societal sexism and its lingering influence today.

It’s certainly an arresting image as Roman woman Delia (Cortellesci), awakens in her bed, only to be slapped full across the face by her husband Ivano (Valerio Mastandrea) for sleeping-in later than him and not making breakfast. But as with much of the film, it’s framed in an almost soap-opera fashion as uncomfortable everyday normality, rather than a moment of horror. Something Delia just grimly accepts as she gets on with her day.

Set in the immediate post-war years, There’s Still Tomorrow follows Delia, as she juggles the herculean efforts of her myriad of small jobs and tasks, while still tending her familial duties as a wife and mother. This she does in the face of her bed-ridden father-in-law’s constant berating, her daughter’s petulant scorn, and her husband’s abusive disdain. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are bittersweet lingering embers of a long-past romance with the local Mechanic Nino, (Vincino Marchioni), sister-like kinship with local greengrocer Marisa (Emanuela Fanelli), and a budding friendship with William (Yonv Joseph) a Black GI who doesn’t speak a word of Italian. There’s also potential joy in the future in the prospect of her daughter Marcella’s (Romana Maggiora Vergano) romance with a well-to-do café owner’s son, Guilio (Francesco Centorame).

It’s a beautifully captured little tale, using sparing locations and sets, to fully cement the audience into the sense of time and place. Delia’s story isn’t just a kitchen sink drama, but rather a broad canvas on which Cortellesi has painted a believable and all too real portrait of someone struggling against a fiercely constricting life.

Choosing to film the movie in stark black and white, with a period-evoking full frame aspect ratio leans heavily into the style the film is aping. There are knowing nods to Fellini, De Sica, and Rossellini, yet it plays into a more modern musical-unreality that comes and goes throughout the film in a manner that while clumsy, is effective. Notably there is the choice to portray an extended scene of domestic violence as a literal dance sequence between Delia and Ivano, whose balletic blows and brutal clutches leave bruises and wounds that fade away seconds later. It’s deliberately beautiful and horrifying in equal measure, yet the choice to keep such moments rare and significant allows the audience to invest properly in the drama.

It’s choices such as these that are surprising when considered that this is Cortellesi’s directorial debut. She’s a well-established and respected actor and screenwriter but the success of There’s Still Tomorrow, both technically, and commercially (it literally outsold Barbie in Italy) shows that this could mark a new chapter in her career as one of the leading women in Italian cinema. As a showcase, the film shows she can veer from soap-opera, to farce, to unbearably tense drama without ever losing the definitive tone and message of the piece. It would be unfair not to mention that there are some teething problems with the film, such as a few pacing issues and plot threads that don’t quite link up as soundly as they could, but nothing that would detract heavily from the experience.

The relative rarity of Italian cinema on general release in the UK means that this is something of a luxury. As such it would be a shame to miss out on what might well come to be regarded as a modern Italian feminist classic.

On general release now