"La morte civile" was based on a popular melodrama by Paolo Giacometti and has been filmed several times. It is the story of a woman, Rosalia, who marries a failed painter, Corrado, despite the opposition of her family to the marriage. They have a little daughter, Ada. A violent argument between the woman's brother and her husband provokes Corrado into killing his brother-in-law. He is tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Some grim sequences delineate this incarceration. Meanwhile a doctor who has lost his wife and little daughter comes to Rosalia's aid, assuming the role of the child's father while Rosalia is hired as the little girl's governess. The child is now called Emma after the daughter that Palmieri lost. Rosalia is in fact her mother. The girl believes this fiction as the next few years pass. Later Corrado escapes from prison and returns in an attempt to restart his life with his wife and daughter, but he comes to see this cannot be. He asks Rosalia to have little Emma call him "father" before he goes away forever. The "forever" turns out to be a brief one as Corrado dies in a fall, probably a suicide. But, as the title implies, he has already died a "civil death" in his imprisonment and separation from family and society. The film is very well acted by Dina Sassoli as Rosalia, Carlo Ninchi as Corrado, and Renato Cialente as the benevolent Doctor Palmieri. The stark atmosphere of the Gargano peninsula in Puglia gives force to the stark emotions of the drama which contains, like a somber and tragic opera, absolutely no humor or levity. A particularly good scene has a procession of townsfolk to a religious shrine. It has a surge of emotion that is similar to the one in Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria," and it is taking place as Corrado makes his re-appearance from the dead. The last half-hour of the film is particularly strong and moving. Director Ferdinando M. Poggioli was one of the finer craftsmen of the Fascist era, though this film has descended into virtual oblivion. It deserves to be better known.
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