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The story of exploited textile factory workers in Turin, Italy at the turn of the century and their beginnings of their fight for better working conditions. Professor Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni) is sent by (presumably) the Socialists to help them organize their strike and give form to their struggle. Written by
Most comments on this movie are positive - and quite rightly so. Except for someone who said I Compagni was "depressing". Well, of course it's depressing : it's an Italian comedy ! Why do you think Monicelli and writers Age-Scarpelli abolished the happy end from popular comedy with their milestone farce I Soliti ignoti? Because humor has nothing to do with good feelings. At least, it didn't to the eyes of that crazy movie industry which for a while gave its country of origin the dimensions of a continent.
Which brings me to this other topic : is it possible that most comments here were made by people who saw that movie with English subtitles? That can be a problem, especially for comedy. To difference of all other countries of the western world, English speaking markets (United States, England, English Canada) never developed a dubbing industry worth of the name. (Which also means that when they nevertheless try to dub something or other, the result is generally awful). Of course, from the point of view of domestic market dominance, that's excellent : with such a prophylactic wall, no foreign movie can seriously compete with English-speaking productions. (American comedy director Mel Brooks lead the battle a few years ago to have the French farce Les visiteurs dubbed in English, and lost).
Sometimes, I agree that subtitles are the least worse solution. But not when it comes to comedy, to farce, to entertainment. A subtitled comedy IS NOT FUNNY, or much less funny than the original-language OR dubbed version. For comedy is a matter of tempo, of timing : the one-liners have to fall in place all at the right millisecond. (Even more so when it's written by Age-Scarpelli, the best comedy writers in movie history!) And if you're busy reading the words down below instead of watching the faces of the actors, most of the time, you miss the shot.
To me, the most striking aspect of I compagni (which I saw and re-saw in French as Les Camarades) is that it is surprisingly funny : not unlike Monicelli's and Age-Scarpelli's preceding masterpiece La Grande guerra, I Compagni is a commedia all'italiana, i.e. a tragicomic, satirical fresco where epic and derision are mixed in equal proportions. This is what makes I compagni the best strike-movie ever made - better than Eisenstein's The Strike?!? yes sir! better than John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath?!? yes madam! better than Miguel Littin's Actas de Marusia, starring our beloved red icon Gian Maria Volontè?!? yes comrade! For its humorist's view of life is the perfect antidote against the rhetoric that almost always permeates that kind of film.
Mario Monicelli, Age-Scarpelli are ENTERTAINERS. Comedy specialists. For sure, the type of entertainment they were cooking back then was at the antipodes of Hollywood's feel-good, reassuring, consolative recipes, but IT WAS a recipe all the same, attracting spectators in Italian movie theaters by millions and millions. Commedia all'italiana is a SERIAL, an industrial recipe, producing tons and tons of movies each year between 1958 and 1980.
My problem here, you see, is one of perception : as soon as a movie is not American, it is almost automatically perceived in the United States as something "for intellectuals", happy few, snob radical-chic, whatever. The idea that foreigners also make ENTERTAINMENT for the million is quasi taboo. Well, it is a grave mistake.
As a spectator, I've never been so entertained than by Mario Monicelli's great comedies of the 50s, 60s and 70s - even when they are also very tragic (i.e. "depressing"), as this one evidently is.
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