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Vittorio De Sica
Eduardo De Filippo
Women wait anxiously at a minehead in Capodarso, Sicily. Their men are underground. The mine is closing and the miners refuse to come up unless the owner relents. After three days, they give up in despair... In a bar in town, Ciccio is recruiting workers for jobs in France. He can get people over the border - for L20,000 a head. Enough people to fill a bus sell their belongings to pay the fee, including Saro and his 3 young children, and Barbara and her man Vanni, in trouble with the law and desperate to flee Italy. After reaching Naples by train, Ciccio tries to slip away but is grabbed by Vanni. Vanni tells Barbara where to meet at the border if anything should go wrong. In Rome, Ciccio points out Vanni to the police. In the shoot-out, both Vanni and Ciccio escape. The others are arrested. They are ordered by the police to return to Sicily or be charged with "illegal expatriation". With Saro as leader, and nearly out of money, they head north instead. Hardship draws Saro and Barbara... Written by
Sicilian miners and their families make their way to France in search of work and a better life
I have the honor of being the first to review this superb film.
The story opens with workers in a Sicilian sulfur mine on strike 400 meters below the earth's surface. The mine is no longer profitable and they have no other source of income. We come to know them and their women folk, as they decide to be guided to France where there is the promise of work. Raf Vallone plays Saro, their unofficial leader. He is the widowed father of 3 children. Joining their group is Barbara, a young unmarried woman living with the disreputable Vanni who is a lawbreaker. There is the older accountant, and a young couple who marry just before departing. And there are several young men, including a singer and guitarist.
When they get to Rome, they run into police problems due to Vanni's presence. Later they must face and surmount yet other obstacles as their guide has abandoned them.
The screenplay has 2 credits and the story has 3 credits, including Frederico Fellini and the director Pietro Germi. They miss no opportunity to draw out the human element, often in small bits and pieces of action, and these small details are what contribute to making this a great picture. But really the larger bits of action equally add to the impact. There are no moments of screen time in which we are not involved intensely with some revelations of character, or the social conditions, or the human conditions. There is enormous understanding and empathy going into what we see on the screen. Even more amazing is that the direction and cinematography bring this out in the acting, which is always completely natural. The film editor has known exactly when to show us a hand, an eye, a look, a stare, a smile, a tear, a panorama, a knife, and for how long to show them. And the music score fits them.
A great deal of the picture is filmed outside studios, in town, city, farm, pastoral and mountain locales. While it is all natural, the filmmakers have evidently exercised great care in composing the shots to heighten the communication and impact. The same is the case for the interior shots, and they use deep focus photography quite often, with figures in the foreground and background being shown with subdued lighting. Evidently, great skill was used in creating what we see on the screen. Neo-realism is not merely filming reality. It actually is the creation of a new heightened experience that uses a palette of the real.
The overall effect is highly emotional. Adding to it are the background reactions of the supporting actors to the main actions. These are always of interest and utterly natural, even when or especially when the children are involved. The directing is excellent.
The gripping nature of this film and perhaps all neo-realist films of the period may be arising from the unpredictable course of the story. In that respect, it mirrors life itself. There are several occasions in this story when surprise "switches" occur that turn the action 180 degrees in an opposite direction for at least some of the characters, and yet these switches are entirely natural and not concocted. We come to moments where a decision has been taken, it seems, and yet just as naturally, the opposite occurs within a few moments as people change their minds. Or else, we come to places where we can't predict what a person will do, and we wait to see what he or she is going to decide. And we are involved with them as this happens.
This is really a stupendous film and a tremendous credit to Italian neo-realism. There is a temptation to compare it with other such great works like "La Strada" and "Open City", but rather than succumb to that, I'd rather just say that this cinema, this body of work, is very simply all a treasure for viewers and for filmmakers of today and tomorrow.
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