Mario Monicelli, one of the most prolific and popular directors of post-war Italian cinema, never earned a reputation in the U.S. like his compadre, Federico Fellini, despite the international success of numerous films, from Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) to A Very Petit Bourgeois (1977). Perhaps it’s because his preferred genre was comedy, notably the commedia all’italiana, a mix of social satire, clownish comedy, streetwise attitude, and earthy compassion, that he helped pioneer. But satire doesn’t always export outside of its culture and comedy isn’t often granted the same respect as “serious” drama and his modest, gentle visual style never attracted the attention of his flamboyant countrymen.
(1963) brings the sensibility of commedia all’italiana
to social drama. The story of a labor strike among the socially tight but politically disorganized community to textile workers in a mill outside of Turin in the late 1800s, this is not a political statement nor a social protest. It is lively, funny, chaotic, appreciative of the foibles and failures of the frustrated collective, if you can call them that. Not really a union by any definition, the workers meet after another 14 hour day in which one of their own was maimed by a machine to brainstorm a response. Half of them can neither read nor write and they have all resigned themselves to conditions that demand everything and still keep them in poverty. Their idea of a protest is simply to sound the whistle and walk out an hour early, and they can’t even execute that plan, much to the ire of Pautasso (Folco Lulli), the hot-tempered veteran who volunteers to blow the shift whistle and thus make himself the most visible member of the nascent protesters.
Enter Professor Singaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), a threadbare intellectual riding the rails out of a previous scrape to hide out in this town. The arguments in the schoolhouse rouse him from his sleep in the storeroom and, in the manner of a gently encouraging teacher, builds up their confidence and spurs them on to greater (if still modest) goals, along with a little practical advice in preparing for a long strike. He’s no con man, but his oratory passions sweep them up before they really know what they’re in for. While they lack any faith in their power to effect change, he believes in the inevitability of labor’s collective power. Just maybe not this time around.
Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies
The Organizer (Criterion), a portrait of a labor walkout in a textile mill in late 19th Century Turin, is both a provocative portrait of social action and a rich, compassionate story of a community struggling to hold together to get the smallest of concessions from an employer that demands 14-hour days for a wage that keeps them all in poverty. The story of a labor strike among the socially tight but politically disorganized community to textile workers in a mill outside of Turin in the late 1800s, this is not a political statement nor a social protest. It is lively, funny, chaotic, appreciative of the foibles and failures of the frustrated collective that hasn’t any faith in their power to effect change.
Marcello Mastroianni plays against type as a threadbare intellectual and labor activist whose idealism keeps running into reality. Warm, modest, passionate in his conviction and sincere in his actions, the Professor is an idealist with a practical side, whether he’s rousing a deflated collective to hold out or scrounging for a meal. Even under a scraggly, unwashed beard and patchy clothes, he has an easy dignity and the comportment of a gentleman.
But while Mastroianni is the lead, he’s also an outside to the rich community that director Mario Monicelli creates through the dynamic collection of characters and the density of physical detail, from the chilly, overcrowded homes (morning begins by chipping a layer of ice form the pitcher holding their washing water) to the thrum of rows upon rows of clattering looms in a suffocating, steam-powered factory. The seriousness of the drama is buoyed by wonderful comic streak running underneath, not as satire but as simply human comedy in a tough world. It only makes the tragic dimensions more resonant, right down to the resignation of the final image, while still holding out some hope for next time.
On Blu-ray and DVD, with a video introduction by director Mario Monicelli recorded in 2006, and a fold-out booklet with an essay by J. Hoberman.
More Classics and Catalog releases at Videodrone
Sophia Loren Award Collection (Kino Lorber) is branded with the name and likeness of the Italian sex symbol turned iconic actress, but in fact it’s more properly a celebration of a collaboration between three influential Italian superstars: Loren, Marcello Mastroianni and director Vittoria de Sica. The three features they made together, plus a documentary on De Sica, are released on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
The DVD box set
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Kino Lorber), their first collaboration and winner of the Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film in 1964 (one of the lightest films to ever take home that honor) is a comic trilogy featuring Loren and Mastroianni in each story. “Adelina” is the broadest of the bunch, a loud farce with Loren as a black market cigarette-selling mother who manages to stay out of prison by remaining eternally pregnant, which wears out unemployed husband Mastroianni (relegated to babysitting the enormous brood) so much that he finally is unable to perform. It has a pleasant sense of community but is overlong and slight. “Anna,” about an affair between a bored industrialist’s wife and a handsome journalist, is a sharp and subtle look at class hypocrisy and reflexive materialism. It’s little more than a vignette, but its brief glimpse into their lives has more resonance than either of the framing films. The film’s reputation comes largely from Loren’s striptease in “Mara,” where she plays a high-class prostitute who gets involved with a crisis of faith by the divinity student next door, much to the frustration of her devoted client Mastroianni. The notorious striptease was parodied by Robert Altman in “Ready to Wear” with Loren and Mastroianni reprising their original roles.
More on Marriage Italian Style, Sunflower, the 2009 documentary Vittorio D. and Vittorio De Sica’s 1946 Shoeshine.
Continue reading at MSN Videodrone
The blockbuster releases of the week are featured at MSN—I review Iron Man 2 (Paramount) and leave Get Him to the Greek (Universal) to my colleague Mary Pols—and the release of the week, Criterion’s superb new edition of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line on DVD and Blu-ray, is featured on my blog here. Here are the rest of the releases…
The Killer Inside Him takes a break
Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me (IFC) is actually the second adaptation of Jim Thompson’s violent pulp novel about a blankly pleasant and reflexively polite lawman, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), taking his place in his small Texas hometown. He also happens to be a sociopath taking his revenge on a few choice community leaders and using bystanders as bait. Winterbottom directs with a chilling calm even as the violence erupts, and he doesn’t flinch from showing the brutality of the beatings he unleashes with cold fury and cool focus. I admire his nerve—the violence, presented in almost clinical detail, is neither exploitative nor titillating—but the film saves the most brutal scenes for violence perpetrated against beautiful young women. He batters the head of Jessica Alba (whose dazed look of betrayal is heartbreaking) into a bloody pulp and kicks in the ribs of another with the seething anger of a man putting the blame on her with every blow and Winterbottom presents both with unflinching focus. It’s the misogynist edge of a sociopath and it sparked many debates over the ethics showing violence onscreen, and it’s so visceral and unpleasant that some audiences will simply want to steer clear of the whole film.
Read more »