La terra trema: Episodio del mare, Luchino Visconti (1948)

The Joads look like the Rockefellers compared to the family of Sicilian fishermen hung out to dry in Visconti’s heartbreaker. The fishermen in the village are at the mercy of the wholesalers who own the boats and buy the fish at fixed prices. One socialist-minded lad, Ntoni, mortgages his family’s house to buy his own boat. But controlling the means of production is a bitch; one storm wrecks the family’s boat, and thus their livelihood, causing them to default on their debts and be evicted from their house. After a lot of gnashing of teeth and macho pledges to starve rather than work for the Man again, Ntoni heads back to sea a prole puppet of the fat cats. The end. Odd how the movie’s explicit message is one of the desparate need for social justice, but its implicit message is that if you stick your head up you’ll just get whacked. The cast of nonprofessional actors (Visconti credits them en masse as “Sicilian Villagers”) is amazing and gorgeous, and the cinematography is a dream. Favorite shot: the family women waiting by the shore at dawn for the men to return. In their black cloaks, they look to the camera to be part of the set of towering offshore rocky outcroppings: immovable and resolute as the landscape itself. An excellent and wholly gripping film, even in this lousy DVD transfer, even though a half hour too long. (Yeah, that’s right, I said it. You know you thought it.)

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