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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The action of THE MILL ON THE PO takes place near the Po River in the area of Ferrara around the end of the 19th Century. On the floating grain-mill belonging to the Scacerni family everyone is celebrating the engagement of Berta (Carla Del Poggio) with the young peasant farmer Orbino Verginesi (Jacques Sernas). The difficult predicament of the millers who are burdened by high taxes and the resentment of farmers toward their landowners, will cause, under the impetus of a newly-created socialist movement,large demonstrations and open opposition to the public authorities. It is a theme that this film shares with Bertolucci's better-known NOVECENTO (1900). (ATTENTION, SPOILERS AHEAD!) Reduced to misery, Berta is forced to become a servant of the Verginesi family, postponing until better days her marriage to Orbino. During a general strike the police authorities side with the landowners. Spirits are inflamed, especially because the millers unite in solidarity with the peasants. Berta, who belongs to a family of millers, is beaten and insulted, while Orbino is restrained by his family. Princivalle Scacerni (Giacomo Giuradei) intervenes to avenge his sister Berta. Misinformed, he takes it out on Orbino and kills him. The body is thrown into the Po. According to the beliefs of the river people, the soul of a drowning victim can have peace only if a person who loved him retrieves his body as soon as the waters return it. In the evening the Scacernis accompany an old man of the river to a bend in the Po where drowning victims usually resurface. There Berta gathers the body of her fiance' Orbino. THE MILL ON THE PO is a truly exciting and solid picture about a people in turmoil, accompanied by a farm Romeo and Mill Juliet love interest. The direction of Lattuada, who was always heavily influenced by Russian cinema and its thematic elements and visual style. (THE STEPPE, THE TEMPEST, THE OVERCOAT) gives the movie a canvas-filled grandeur which is much aided by the remarkable photography of Aldo Tonti, one of Italy's finest cinematographers. He imparts to the film the stark grandeur of Dovzhenko's EARTH and Eisenstein's BEZHIN MEADOW images. While most of the performers serve the film well, one actor stands out above all the others: Giacomo Giuradei as Princivalle, a man of unfettered passions and a rousing love of life. A scene between this burly bull of a man and an earthy woman called La Sniza, played by Leda Gloria, has a truly unbridled erotic passion that rivets the viewer. IL MULINO DEL PO garnered a great deal of international acclaim at the time of its release in 1948 in Italy at a moment in Italian history when turbulent social events mirrored what was happening in this on-screen period piece. It got very good reviews in the daily papers when it was released in the United States in 1951, was seen a while, then disappeared, and has not been seen since, except on video in Italy. It is a major classic that deserves to be better known and it is one of Alberto Lattuada's best movies.
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