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Disbelieving lawyer Massimo Girotti defends Michel Jourdan
"Ai margini della metropoli" (1953) (translated At the Edge of the Metropolis or Margins of Metropolis or At the Edge of the City) is a very good and overlooked neo-realist picture. It's easy but an error to take a picture like this for granted as being just another crime and trial story. But the screenplay and the location photography lift the story greatly.
The screenplay is extremely well thought-out. It contrasts the lower-class and underclass people who live at the edge of the city with the bourgeois class that lives in the city and runs the justice system. The story revolves around the murder (before the story begins) of a woman named Marcella and the accusation and trial of a lower-class worker, Michel Jourdan, for the crime. Jourdan lives with Giuletta Massina and they have a baby. During the movie they marry. Massina has a friend, Marina Berti, who is a typist for a middle-class lawyer, Massimo Girotti. He's a rising star, his fiancée being the daughter of the prosperous head of the law firm. On Massina's behalf, Berti gets Girotti to take the case. But he doesn't take it because he believes in Jourdan's innocence or in getting him justice. It's more because it's a juicy case that will bring him and the firm attention.
By well thought-out, I mean that from beginning to end, the characters are shown "in character" by natural bits of action, so that what transpires seems entirely logical. We are not left guessing how someone feels or thinks. We don't have to sit through long pauses, staring, sexual antics, cursing, car chases, etc. and still end up not understanding the characters. In this movie, the people are real. On top of that, the supporting characters also come across as varied, colorful and real; and they tie into the story in logical ways.
Girotti is the center of the movie. His attitudes and his arc of change are the focal point, but yet there is a high degree of balance as the picture also shows us Massina's feelings, Berti's tireless efforts in the slums to find witnesses and locate the real culprits, Jourdan's confusion and glimpses into the machinations of the culprits. One set of witnesses, led by an older homeless man (Giulio Cali), provide a look into the truly down and out at the fringes.
As in many Italian movies, there is a great strength here in showing us how people feel and in bringing out the emotional side clearly and strongly. The actors are adept at this and director Carlo Lizzani brings it out, milking the screenplay for all it's worth. This too is why one cannot simply take movies like this for granted.
As a noir fan, I also enjoyed the look of the film, which includes several well-handled night scenes and realistic slum locations.
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