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Il testimone (1946)
A Very Interesting Film Debut
The first of 19 titles directed by Germi, this film is impressive; mostly for the very solid direction of the actors. The main character trio also deserves special mention for the most notable acting featured. They are played by Roldano Lupi (whereas this performance of Lupi's is perhaps as impressive, or is more impressive, than in Il Dellito di Giovanni Episcopo, (directed by Alberto Lattuada) which is to be released next year), Marina Berti (whose simple but eloquent beauty probably has never been so well-explored) and Ernesto Almirante. As its title hints, the film takes on the tone of a moral fable. It may be compared with the tone of the more sophisticated work of Robert Bresson, and later, with that of Kieslowski (A Short Film About Killing). Stylistically, it is impossible not to link this production with neo-realist films for the massive use of locations. Otherwise, three perspectives differentiate it from neo-realist films: Firstly, its clear accomplishment is with the deft, cinematic representation of generic conventions; in which case, the fact that it's a suspense film seems to provide a kind of answer to American noir films. And it does so in a closeness more intense than in the work of Antonioni (e.g., Cronaca di un Amore), which is a characteristic trademark of Germi. Secondly, the film evokes a visual style that is indicative of being very self-conscious. Technically, this is accomplished by the beautiful shots/counter-shots made with frontal camera and fast editing, during the unique dialogue between Pietro and Andrea. (However, the intensive use of back shots, in the idyllic sequence that Pietro had his first intimate contact with Linda, resounds quite dissonantly with the style of the rest of the film.) Thirdly, like in classical cinema, there is a focus on the psychological aspects of the main characters, that engender the own narratives and which force the social commentaries and milieu to a background position. Set in the modern metropolis, the film documentary prologue with a voice-over narration (a characteristic present in other films that Germi directed thereafter, e.g., In Nome della Legge) that claims that in modern cities people who are physically proximate lack awareness of each other. It is important to note that the storyteller's only interest in the crime at the center of the plot is for the product thereof, i.e., a large sum of money that Pietro carries around with him. Critics could argue in hindsight that choosing not to describe the crime is a weakness at best (and possibly a fatal plot hole at worst). However, others may find cleverness in the fact that the film's narrative takes no interest in describing the crime for its own sake; thus relegating it to a certain imposing, nagging obscurity (i.e., the 12,000-pound elephant in the room). Regardless of one's preference, in this sense, the film differs from the typical Hollywood approach. Like Hitchcock's technique, the suspense is built between the spectator's conscience of the culpability of Pietro, and the characters' lack of consciousness of the same. The film's tacit critique of modernity seems sometimes fragmentary and not organically integrated with the narrative at all. That is the case for its accusation of bureaucracy in the situation the new couple asks for their wedding agreement, in a public office, where of there being irrationality in the realm of rational bureaucracy.
L'onorevole Angelina (1947)
Nothing changes at all
Probably one of the most engaged neo-realist films, showing in a some didactic way the origins of a spontaneous social movement with feminist characteristics in a very poor community. It is very important for its objective the well balanced cast and the pathos commonly associated with Magnani's filmic persona since at least her Pina in Rosselini's "Rome Open City (1945). The movie stills the tension levels of his main character, but shows some unnecessary subplots, like the case of the innocuous love story between the daughter of Angelina and the mogul's son (first and acceptable unique role made by a very young Zefirelli as actor). But what diminish its bright is the end of narrative, with the abortion of the public engagement voluntarily made by Angelina in spite of the community support. She would be awake for her main role as mother and wife, the main unsatisfied with her new role being obvious the ineffective husband (Nando Bruno) that lack his importance in the family since she begun her cathartic leadership. Is a kind of counter climax for someone waiting a more progressive end. This return of status quo values is indicative even in its visual style - the last sequence, in a circular way, reproduce the same long camera movement describing all the family quiet in its respective beds of its prologue. Nothing changes at all. In this sense, is too little in comparison with his next film, "Anni Difficili", a stunning panorama of Italian fascist years from its rise to the fall.
Processo alla città (1952)
Zampa anticipates in some way the Italian political film
It is remarkable the dynamic way Zampa works with themes, style and genres completely different. At same time this movie leads with typical characteristics of the investigative kind and appoints for the societal corruption, something very uncommon at that time. In a certain way it anticipates a political filmography of names as Francesco Rosi (and particularly Le Mani sulla Città) and it is no coincidence that Rosi is one of the the authors of the basic plot. The fact that is a historical drama is less important than a description of a corrupted society, almost inducting the spectator to think it lasting until the days of the film production. Its visual style and narrative plot structure its deep influenced for Welles'"Citizen Kane", something that could be particularly noticed in some sequences as the deep focus use of the restaurant that serves as momentary place for the suspects arrested by the police. Amedeo Nazzari, a lead actor that peak his career under fascist years lives a sophisticated judge with irreproachable ethical values and obsessive desire for justice in opposition to the nervous and violent policeman of Paolo Stoppa. Both are very well casted.Its prologue, with two poor kids running on the beach could be read wrongly as another neo-realist movie, although the way that movie approaches politics is more mature than most of the movies labeled as such.
Fra' Diavolo (1942)
Luigi Zampa's debut as director
Zampa's debut as director in nothing could guess he would make some master chronicle about fascist years that is "Anni Dificile" (1948). Someone could appoint that both movies have narratives that touches in points of Italian historical past recent or not. In the case in question, however, this historical approach is very subordinated to generic conventions contemporary thrillers in Zorro-style. The own story of the real peasant that inspired the play that was adapted in this movie is very well designed to it. Perhaps the best virtue of this production, and probably the lasting one, is that it relatively free itself of its theatrical ancestry. The visual elements are there even in a much more popular way than in comparison to more pretentious and artistic "Piccolo Mondo Antico"(1941), by Mario Soldati, a mark of Italian cinema produced under Mussolini's years. Soldati's movie equally has a theme linked with Italian unification, although in a later period - here late 17th century and early 18th, there 1850s. The ambiguity of the character of Fra'Diavolo (Enzo Fiermonte) in relation to two women in love with him doesn't make him a romantic hero in a more typical way as Soldati's main character. Perhaps an womanizer sounds better and more virile to generic conventions and we couldn't forget that its linkage with American western isn't resumed to cavalry or shooting sequences. At least a dozen of other versions were produced to large and small screen, but the character was particularly popular in the silent years, when half of those productions were released - including a British and an American one (the last one made by Alice Guy).
The Cuckoo Clock (1950)
A free adaptation of Poe in Tex Avery-style
Certainly what is most interesting in this short cartoon is its rare immersion in a dark and Gothic universe more associate with the psychological dramas of the previous decade (a mansion, a tortured main character) as with Poe's short story in which is informally based. At same time it could be inspired by a prior free short cartoon version of Poe's tale produced twenty years before - "The Cuckoo Murder Case" by Ub Iwerks. Avery tone of course is more subordinate to the generic conventions of the cartoon universe of its time, as show the fast reorganization from its uncommon prologue to more usual clichés of the cat-search-a bird in a Sylvester-Tweety style. Curiously, only 3 years after, a more radical and credited version of Poe's tale - "The Tell-Tale Heart", by Ted Parmlee for UPA Studios would be made. Anyway, it is noticeable the interesting solution Avery uses to adapt the clichés of cartoon universe to show the split personality of his psychotic feline in the beginning.
Il treno crociato (1943)
Weak Melodramatic War Film
Inside a military train convoy, the lieutenant Alberto Lauri (Rossano Brazzi), sick, remember the relationship with Clara (María Mercader),a post office girl, and the opposition of his mother (Ada Dondini), horrified with his choose. Clara had a baby without marriage, and both were refused by Alberto's mother. When the train stops quickly in the city of Alberto, his faithful subordinate (Carlo Romano) leaves them to meet Alberto, that just recover of a blood transfusion. Perhaps from the cycle of war films produced in Italy during fascism that one be the most melodramatic. Its maudlin situations are in the extreme opposite of "La Nave Bianca" (1941), by Roberto Rossellini and its fiction built upon a documentary style. Although the first minutes could provoke a mistaken hypothesis of a more traditional war movie, that is far from be the case. All the apparent Army and medical hierarchy and prescriptions are nullified by the generous and paternalist official, a figure very common in this cycle of movies, represented here by Captain Bianchi. This movie seems more a compensatory fantasy for its white lead character. All important things rounds about him: the paternalist Captain, the idiotic subordinate, the unrestricted love of woman and mother. All dramatic or comic element that aren't linked to him, like the guy that get his dog with himself in a clandestine way or even the sister that is killed in the air attack to the convoy (in a involuntary humorous scene) are superfluous. Their tricks are very precarious, simulating the convoy advances with a very fake toy train and amateur props.
Tokio Jokio (1943)
Very Bad Propaganda Short Cartoon
The level of virulence more than usual, even for the propaganda shorts that were released by the studio certainly is linked with the fact that this one was directed by an army official. Any signal of effective humour or irony characteristic of the cartoonists of this long-life series that was Merry Melodies flops before the grotesque way Japaneses were portrayed. This caricature is present not only about the Army and their leaders, but in the civilian life dimension. Sometimes has indirect comments about historical events linked with the Japanese nation as the moment when the chassis down as a Chinese boy in traditional clothes cycling in an allusion to Manchurian War. Another moment the caricature going for the Axis forces at all, showing Rome as a ruins catalog and Germany through Hitler receiving a message by Rudolph Hess from a concentration camp. It has no virtues even in stylistic or narrative terms. Produced in b&w and like a profusion of gags not linked at all, it was certainly more oriented for adults than for kids. For comparison with an equally anti-Japanese war propaganda made with characteristics associated easier with warner bros. cartoon values just see Bugs Bunny Nips to Nips.
Anni difficili (1948)
A Very Lucid Political Portrait of Fascist Years in Italy
In a time when the revision of the recent past produce more innocuous works as Sotto Il Sole di Roma by Renato Castellani, Zampa directed this bitter and lucid parable focus on people that, like the main character, have been to maintain the difficult equilibrium between public and private interests in an authoritarian society. What seems at begin a light chronicle marked by a nostalgic and precocious maudlin feeling, like the one present in Castellani's movie, quickly becomes a narrative politically audacious, something relatively rare on neo-realist films, and with a notorious relative absence of Manichaeism. The movie shows, for example, how opportunistic were most of the old fascists, now very close friend of Americans after the bankruptcy of Fascism. But the same isn't so different for the shy resistance old guys that usually meets clandestinely at the pharmacy. The owner of the same (Aldo Silvani) was murdered by the fascist after an emotional explosion between a Mussolini's rally. His prison and death, however, were far from our eyes and far of the grandiose and heroic tone showed in films like the classic "Roma, Cittá Apertá" (1945). The Sympathy with the American soldiers wasn't shared by the own film and even in the fictional world it seems much more a fruit of opportunism than sincere. Filmed in a conventional way, this movie make an interesting use of archive images between fictional ones, something very common nowadays but probably an original strategy then. The narrative is framed not only by a voice over throughout the film, far from being excessive intrusive, but by newspaper headlines, radio comments and even one of the hundreds of propaganda short movies produced by LUCE, the educative fascist institution. At least one moment archive images weren't inserted in diegesis but an obvious comment of the own narrator that helps to illustrate the time passing. Perhaps one of the most important elements of the film is to be vehicle for many things repressed all those years of fascism on Italian society (and its movies of course), showing a human face under the appearances. This is particularly true for the moment of Giovanni (Massimo Girotti) reclaiming about the excessive times he heard or say "Signor Si", a kind of military subordination salute very popular those days, at the Army, and equally very present on war films of that time directed by names as Roberto Rossellini, Alessandro Blasetti or Augusto Genina. This movie anticipates in an important way, the political satire vein that would be very disseminated not only in Italian cinema of the next decades.
A Sad Comedy (in the worst sense imaginable)
It is very interesting to notice that even Un Garibaldino al Convento (1942) sounds a reasonable movie after the sad experience of see this boring film, the second one (first alone) directed by De Sica. The reference to be followed here is the typical frivolity of Italian comedy of its times, above all, the one represented by Mario Camerini, and starred in some cases by the own De Sica. However, De Sica doesn't have the Camerini's touch to build an atmospheric sense as he did in his comedies.De Sica's artistic relevance grown at same proportion that himself no more work as actor in his own films. The cast is as fake as the own situation, but in the worst sense imaginable and the pretense gags, with few exceptions, are even worst, although the movie has a relatively good way to lead with "universal" clichés linked with any classroom. The fact that the most responsible girl was equally considered the most boring and distasteful by the students and the main character and focus of identification be the opposite of it, is a strong evidence of the victory of the gender conventions under the idealization of types more associated with fascist ideology.
La grande speranza (1955)
Far from being interesting war submarine opportunistic drama
It is really true that the fraternity between members of different nations in times of war tension provoked memorable moments in such classics like Le Grand Illusion (1937) by Jean Renoir, but the same isn't true for the everyday production throughout the time, provoking much more sentimental equivocal like this one. This film has a notorious absence of balance since his first cartels, an opportunistic tribute to more than 90 Italian submarines that operated in Second World War; it is very ironic that although its pretense worries in create an humanistic approach to a war theme, evidently a genre more linked with destruction and combat, the movie reclaims a tribute to the "submarines", not to the human beings that worked on them. It is the melodramatic logic of feelings that nurtures all the actions in an abstract idealized world.Perhaps through this frame only we could understand the passive way that the 24 Danish men just pray when they are in an imminence of being submerged together with the submarine the room where they stay isn't free of the effects of submersion. The same could be said for the pathetic and very long scene of Christmas night, as fragile in dramatic terms as the Christmas tree jumped after the back of "normal" routine situation. Anyway this shows how all the events are only subordinated to the imperatives of the (weak) narrative. Even with all involuntarily histrionic plot and acting, with few exceptions like the commander played by Renato Baldini, this movie was certainly a production with a budget above the media of Italian cinema then produced, some perceptible even by the use of color cinematography, something rare at the time.