N.U. (1948) Poster


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Underexposed but fitting tribute to street washers!
Manicheus9 February 2003
The only available copy is very much underexposed so it's hard to actually see what is going on in this early Antonioni venture. However, it explores the wee hours of a profession altogether unglamorous and is a small tribute to people that keep European cities from being overrun by rats and rubbish.

A worthy pursuit and too bad that Antonioni's crew did not have a better light meter at hand.
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Italy's Dawn
tieman646 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Whilst not in the same league as "Michaelangelo Eye to Eye", a masterpiece of short form film-making released three years before the director's death, Michaelangelo Antonioni's "Nettezza Urbana" (or "The Dustmen") is an excellent short film released early in Antonioni's career.

It's 1948 and Italy's streets are bathed in darkness. Gradually the dim glow of the early morning sun appears. Anonymous figures then lumber across the cobblestone landscape, beginning their daily routine of street sweeping and garbage collecting.

As the day moves on, and the streets begin to grow busy, the faces of these men become apparent. The world is awake now, Antonioni portraying the city as a giant organism, every human being integral to the workings of this sprawling machine.

Someone throws something our a window and we follow it until it finds the broom of a street sweeper. Another man tears up and throws away a piece of paper, its fragments promptly finding the bristles of brooms.

Gradually more and more characters appear, anonymous, but all bound to the city. We watch as they travel to unknown destinations while the street sweepers continue about their mundane work.

This short film has to be put in its proper context to appreciate what Antonioni is doing here. European cinema of the 1940s tended to focus on proletarians or peasants, characters (often fishermen, workers in slaughterhouses, homeless children, farmers etc) struggling to survive, find work, bear the burden of financially supporting their families or uniting in protest against exploitation. And so in the aftermath of World War 2 we had such seminal films as "Germany, Year Zero", "Bicycle Thieves", "La Terra Trema" and "Stromboli", all about characters attempting to climb out of the literal and economic rubble of post war Europe.

"Nettezza Urbana" belongs to this movement of films. What's different is that Antonioni's tone is far less sentimental, far more objective and far more subtle. Antonioni's camera simply dispassionately observes, leaving the socioeconomic context and thoughts of these characters to our own deductions. What's more, he neither pities or romanticises these characters. They are at once symbols of the economic hardships, troubles and injustices of the time, and humble, even noble, figures necessary for Italy's reconstruction.

The film thus sports a sort of triple vision: it's concerned about the nitty-gritty daily activities which "look ahead" to a "rebuilt" and "stabilized" Italy of the future, it looks at the economic hardships in the present and demands that post War Italy urgently shunts its citizens back into useful work and it looks deep into the past, garbage and litter becoming a metaphor for the social, political and economic messes from the war that the nation needs to clean up before it, like the numerous flittering characters in the film, "wakes up and moves on".

This being Antonioni, the film also has a very mournful, cosmic edge. With melancholic music wafting in the air, these characters already seem dead. Even in their own era, nobody looks upon or speaks to them. Not only do they seem destined to be lost in history, consumed by the past, but they're anonymous men and women in their very own time. What Antonioni thus does is contrast the insignificance of these hobbling characters, their "tinyness" in both their time and ours, with their unsung importance. Their role in rebuilding nations.

8/10 - Worth one viewing.
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