Here is a wonderful example of Italian realism from 1960 that I'd never heard of until this week--and I'm 65 years old and a big fan of this genre. It was shown in San Francisco as the only "classic" film in a festival of recent Italian cinema. It deserves a wider audience. How can a film that stars Simone Signoret and Marcello Mastroianni remain so obscure? This story of four prostitutes forced to fend for themselves when a new law closes the bordellos of Rome reminds one of "Bicycle Thief" or "The Organizer," in its gritty social realism, but there are scenes of happiness and humor too. They pool their savings to open a trattoria, but find they cannot get a license. A prominent fixer with connections obtains the license for them, on condition that they conduct their old business upstairs and pay him an exorbitant monthly fee. The women are not anxious to turn tricks for a living any longer and find joy in running the restaurant. The women long to settle down--one has a child, another meets a man who loves her. Only one is tempted to return to her old life. Signoret, the major character here and as wonderful as ever, falls for Mastroianni, a glib car salesman, hustler and womanizer. While the trattoria is a success, it does not bring in the kind of money demanded by their "patron," which leads to conflict. The resolutions of their individual stories develop alongside that of their collective story. In this genre, happy endings are not a staple. Grim reality is, however. We can feel great sympathy for these women, but we know that such people are too often bound by destiny, given the realities of power--who has it and who hasn't--and the attitudes of society. All this drama is accompanied by a terrific jazz soundtrack, which is unfortunately not credited. The black-and-white cinematography is first rate. The closing scene in the rain ranks among the all-time unforgettable film endings.
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