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July 25, 2014

Love in the City


L'Amore in Citta
Cesare Zavattini - 1953
Raro Video Region A Blu-ray

While there may be some debate as to which film marked the beginning of Italian Neo-realism, this omnibus film certainly marks the end. What ideas Cesare Zavattini had when he came up with the concept, commissioning several mostly new filmmakers to create short films around a central theme, the best work here are the films that stray furthest from the kind of work associated with such classics as Shoeshine or Bicycle Theives.

Federico Fellini couldn't be bothered with making his segment, "Marriage Agency", appear like a documentary, albeit a staged recreation of reality. Anticipating future work, the film is about a journalist, in this case one investigating a small match-making operation. Much as Marcello Mastroianni would wander through various maze-like environments, Antonio Cifariello gets lost through several impossibly long hallways looking for the marriage agency. Claiming he is looking for a friend who has the tendency to turn into something like a werewolf, his story and money are happily accepted. The woman this imaginary friend is matched with turns out to be something of a dim bulb, faintly attractive, looking for a real home. Like the women portrayed by Giulietta Masina, this would be bride is virtually kicked to the curb.

Better is the final segment by Fellini's directorial collaborator on Variety Lights, Alberto Lattuada. Shot with a hidden camera in a truck, "Italians Turn Their Heads" is purportedly cinema verite of Italian men ogling attractive women. As notes and the commentary track indicate, the women in question are mostly young actresses, the most famous being an eighteen year old Giovanna Ralli. Marco Ferreri, a producer on this film, also appears, chasing a babe up a flight of stairs only to find that the young lady has a rendezvous with a man at the top. This segment is undoubtedly sexist with its presentation of gorgeous women with wide hips and spectacular breasts, but it also serves as a reminder as to why Italian movies were a popular art house staple when Hollywood was still under the yoke of the Production Code. The music by Mario Nascimbene might be worth mentioning for possibly inspiring Ennio Morricone to use the Jew's harp in his own scores.

Dino Risi nowadays might be remembered for a remake of one of his films, A Scent of a Woman. The only available feature for stateside viewers is Il Sorpasso, released with the English title of The Easy Life. Risi's segment, "Paradise for Three Hours" shares much of the flair for observation and humor of Il Sorpasso. Taking place on a Sunday evening, the film takes place in a dancehall. The women are housemaids, the guys are probably blue collar workers slicked up for the evening. Some of the couples are oddly matched - either in height, girth or looks. A shy soldier sits next to an equally shy young woman - they exchange glances, but no words until the young woman bolts out of the dance hall due to the time, and the soldier, realizing that he's almost lost his moment, chases after the woman, catching up with her at the film's end. There is also the woman who has captured the eyes of most of the men, a beauty in a dress with a checkerboard pattern more appropriate for a table cloth. Risi's segment is sweet and funny, and my favorite chapter here.

I don't have anything more to add on the segment by Michelangelo Antonioni, also seen as an extra on the new Blu-ray of I Vinti. Carlo Lizzani's segment on street prostitutes was considered shocking at the time, but comes off as the work of a condescending male whose notions of middle class morality have been upset. As indicated by the poster below, Lizzani's episode was excised in the original release outside of Italy. While the credit is shared with Zavattini, Franco Maselli's commentary seems to indicate that the filming of "The Story of Caterina" is mostly his work. The recreation by the real Caterina of her time as a homeless woman who temporarily abandons her child, the film very much resemblesUmberto D with its tale of someone with minimal resources trying to find their place in a virtually indifferent Rome.

All of the segments have commentary tracks, some of which were done by Italian documentary filmmakers. Lizzani and Maselli contributed commentaries to their segments. Based on notes with the Blu-ray, the commentary tracks were done around 2001 for the Italian DVD release.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 25, 2014 07:26 AM