Luchino Visconti’s famous film about the hard life in a Sicilian fishing town is more ‘known about’ than seen. It may be his only strict neo-realist work (non-professionals, real locations, story of ‘the people’), but it pales next to OSSESSION/’42 and BELISSIMA/’51, his stunning films before & after this, which only use what they need from the style. The story follows a three-generation family unit of fishermen, women & children living in a single home, who attempt to cut out the middlemen and sell their own catch. But harsh economic reality & nature itself conspire against them. The outcome is as predetermined as a Party Line vote by a politburo, but in spite of a few uncharacteristic speeches from the laconic proletariat, the film’s leftist sympathies look less like the crush of capitalism against labor than as a proactive punishment for coveting the joys of bourgeois entrepreneurship. The film comes without grace notes, but it’s harsh visual beauty is often impressive, in spite of its poor physical condition (try the Image DVD). And there’s no denying this rustic tragedy now feels twice cooked, like ricotta.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Visconti hit the jackpot with Franco Zeffirelli & Francesco Rosi as his assistants. One of these three found the only two near-blonde guys on the island and stuck them into the family. Cola, the boy who leaves town, is also the best actor on screen.