Simply one of the best Italian productions since 1980, this epic film was originally made for Italian TV RAI rather than the movie theater. Which is a shame since it has three brilliant filmmakers to collaborate on it. Suso Cecchi d'Amico who passed away last year at the age of 96 was the brilliant writer who adapted Elsa Morante's novel into a terrific screenplay. Suso is one of the great writers of cinema having wrote everything Italian including Open City, Bicycle Thieves, Le Notti Bianche, Big Deal On Madonna Street, Rocco And His Brothers, The Leopard, Sandra, and Jesus of Nazareth. She also should have been credited for the Oscar-winning Roman Holiday (with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck) which she wrote.
The other two filmmakers: Luigi Comencini directed Claudia Cardinale twenty years earlier in Bebo's Girl, another World War II tragedy which won Claudia Cardinale a Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon) by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalist (Trivia: the Silver Ribbon is the second oldest cinema award after the Academy Awards). Which is a minor tragedy in itself since Claudia Cardinale was good in that film, but simply brilliant in this one.
Claudia's role is superior to Sophia Loren's in La Ciociara (Two Women) and rivals Anna Magnani's best acting. Claudia Cardinale performs differently however. Rather than the overbearing, over-dramatic Sophianna which stereotypes the Italian matriarch, CC plays a vulnerable middle-aged woman who suffers, loves, and witnesses joy and tragedy of her two sons Nino and Useppe. The role is poignant and gritty as war takes it toll on her. The aging make-up is the challenge every serious actress wants to have. The wear of aging, worrying, pain, sadness is perfectly portrayed on Claudia's face. She has a few positive moments as her famous smile shines through watching her two sons on the bicycle. it is not overacting, but convincingly real expressions. Ida Ramundo (played by CC) has a teenage son (Nino) at the start of World War II and is tragically raped by a German soldier and bears the child (Useppe) in secret (much like the real CC). It is a role, if in English, would have certainly been nominated for an Oscar, if not outright win it. That is the opening of the movie and the rest shows the tragic impact of World War II on a mother and her two sons. They survive but the aftermath of the war brings the real tragedy. The film is a bit sentimental but it has powerful dream sequences as what appears to be a miscarriage in a dream with blood all over CC's legs or when Useppe imagines his brother lying down in the grass by the lake.
It's quite moving with the European icon Claudia Cardinale at her best. If it could have been shown in the theater, it should be shortened to about 130 minutes (rather than 150 minutes). Sadly this is not available in English or better yet, with English subtitles.
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