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La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare, 1948
[The Earth Trembles: Episode of the Sea]

La Terra TremaOn the idyllic Sicilian fishing village of Acitrezza, generations of the Valestro family have upheld the traditional vocation and simple existence of their ancestors, despite economic hardship and personal tragedy. The men (and even boys) earn their subsistence as hired fishermen for wealthy, opportunistic wholesale merchants who collude with rival merchants to depreciate the market prices of the villagers' daily catch for sale to the neighboring town of Catania. Each day, the Valestro women, Mara and Lucia, maintain the household and anxiously await the return of the men from sea, helplessly aware of the dangers and natural catastrophes that could befall the family on any unassuming day. The elder sister Mara is in love with a poor young construction worker named Nicola, but economic circumstances and her family's inability to provide a dowry prevent them from marrying. The eldest brother Antonio realizes that any hope for prosperity resides in the town's collective resistance from the exploitation of the wholesalers. Rallying the discontented and more vocal younger fishermen, the men unsuccessfully attempt to bargain with the wholesalers, and a public disturbance ensues. Antonio is among the young men arrested by the police, but the criminal charges are inevitably dismissed after the wholesalers use their influence to prevent prosecution upon realizing that all of the able-bodied fishermen in the village had been arrested, and have now destabilized their own profitable commerce. The experience further galvanizes Antonio's determination to gain independence from the unscrupulous wholesalers. He convinces the family to circumvent the wholesalers by processing the fish themselves for sale directly to Catania, using proceeds from the mortgage of the house as collateral. However, as the Valestro family turn their back on the traditional means of commerce by the local fishermen, they risk not only losing the family home, but also their solidarity with the village who rely on the wholesalers for economic survival.

Based on the Giovanni Verga novel, I Malavolgia, La Terra Trema is a captivating examination of rural life, community, exploitation, and human resilience. By filming in the peasant fishing village of Acitrezza in southern Italy, and capturing the local dialect of the indigenous nonprofessional (and uncredited) actors, Luchino Visconti preserves the authenticity and universality of the story of human struggle. In contrast to Visconti's later, more embellished films, the camerawork in La Terra Trema is distilled, minimalist, and documentary. Visconti uses medium and long shots, graceful pans, location shooting, and natural lighting to reflect the austerity and simple beauty of peasant life: the fishermen's daily preparations before sailing out to sea; the line of fishing boats demarcating the horizon against a setting sun; the Valestro women standing on the rocks amid crashing waves, scanning the turbulent sea. Through the exploitation of the fishermen, Visconti parallels the chaos and uncertainty of social revolution with the deceptive and cruel nature of the sea. In the end, like the unpredictable tempest, the travails of the Valestro family are inconstant, life-altering, and ultimately inevitable.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Rocco e i suoi fratelli, 1960
[Rocco and His Brothers]

DelonRocco and His Brothers chronicles the life of the Parondi family from the perspective of the five brothers as they seek a better life in the industrial city of Milan: Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), Simone (Renato Salvatoi), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier), and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi). Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou), a proud, possessive widow, has decided to uproot her family from the rural village of Lucania in Southern Italy to spare her children from the fruitless toil of the family farm that consumed her husband's life. The eldest son, Vincenzo, has been sent ahead in order to arrange housing and employment for the older children, but he has been distracted from his familial obligations by his developing relationship with the beautiful Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale), whose family has hospitably provided him with food and lodging. The Parondi family unexpectedly arrives at Vincenzo and Ginetta's engagement party, and Rosaria quickly antagonizes Ginetta's family by presumptuously invoking Vincenzo' s duties to the Parondi family over Ginetta's happiness. Driven away from Ginetta's family home, a friend advises Vincenzo to follow in the footsteps of other Southern migrants: to rent a room for the family until the money runs out, and allow themselves to be evicted in order to qualify for council housing. Unable to find proper employment, the older brothers accept odd jobs to make ends meet. Simone is recruited by a renowned boxing trainer who believes that he demonstrates potential as a prize fighter, and finds early success in the boxing ring. However, his focus is tested when he meets wanton, emotionally unavailable woman named Nadia (Annie Girardot), and becomes obsessed with her. Rocco finds work in a laundromat, where his shyness and gentle demeanor has endeared him to the proprietress. However, his employment is jeopardized when Simone exploits Rocco's trustworthiness in order to steal from the proprietress and impress Nadia. Ciro resumes his studies in order to become an auto mechanic, and has isolated himself from the affairs of his brothers. Despite the Parondi family's adjustment to their new life in the city, Rocco continues to hold out hope of someday returning to their beloved village. However, as Simone's decadent and self-destructive lifestyle continues to erode the family's happiness and unity, Rocco's idealistic dream proves to be increasingly distant.

Luchino Visconti provides a visually adept, insightful, and harshly realistic social commentary in Rocco and His Brothers. Using perspective shifts among members of the Parondi family, Visconti symbolizes the passing of the elusive, unattainable dream: Rosaria's wish for a reunited family; Vincenzo's struggle to distance himself from his manipulative mother; Simone's continued attempts to reconcile with the inaccessible Nadia; Rocco's dreams of returning to Lucania; Ciro's desire to assimilate with the modern, industrialized culture of Milan. Inevitably, the personal pursuit of dreams proves to be the unraveling of the family's unity, as individual needs conflict with familial responsibility. As the saintly Rocco misguidedly sacrifices his own happiness to save the undisciplined Simone, he finds himself sinking further into moral complicity and unredeemable guilt. The final scene shows young Luca visiting Ciro at the assembly plant. It is a realization of his own hopes apart from his mother's wishes - a resigned acceptance that the Parondi dream and bond of family are forever lost.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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