"A special Day" is the warm, evocative portrait of two lonely high-rise apartment dwellers in Fascist Italy: one an uneducated housewife whose life is confined to six children, a contemptible husband and a dreary view, the other a proud-but-tormented neighbor whose homosexuality has cost him his job as a radio announcer and his party card. It is also the story of their brief if unlikely victory over alienation, their "special day," and of the battle individuals wage daily against estrangement from the self and others.

Magnificent and maternal as Antonietta the housewife, Sophia Loren exudes more Earth Motherlines than sexual allure in her longing after fulfillment. And director Ettore Scola, who collaborated on the sensitive screenplay with Ruggero Maccari and Maurizio Costanzo, offers a nice twist by casting Marcello Mastroianni (in his ninth film with Loren) as Gabriele, the homosexual who shares a need for companionship.

Their interlude comes to pass on a "special day" for Italy, the day Mussolini welcomes Hitler to Rome, and the whole city, including everyone in the apartment complex - everyone, that is, except Antonietta, Gabriele and the inquisitive landlady - turn out to celebrate.

Just as their individual circumstances keeps them away from the parade - Antonietta to clean house, Gabriele to consider suicide - the background of martial music accompanied by news broadcasts of the day's event constantly blaring from the landlady's radio underscores their isolation.

It is a well-structured film, with news flashes neatly juxtaposed against the apartment drama. Their restrained, confusing encounter turns into a delicate ballet of reconciliation, with the characters evolving brilliantly, warming to each other in a brief but meaningful pas-de-deux.

Yet, as the reel unwinds, the radio and prying landlady cast a pall over a day that began with the escape of Antonietta's pet myna bird, Rosamond, whose rescue brings the couple together. As carefully named as the film is crafted, Rosamond was the legendary mistress Henry II locked away in a labyrinth to keep her from the world and the world from her.

"A Special Day" is the story of two such prisoners who, in each other, glimpse momentary freedom inside their maze.