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domenica 1 maggio 2011

Five witches for one star: Silvana Mangano in Le Streghe (The Witches)



Five segments put together with Silvana Mangano recurring in the lead role; every short on a different female character. Produced by her husband Dino De Laurentiis, who assembled a package of first class directors and stars.

La strega buciata viva (The witch burned alive).
A famous movie star, Gloria, secretly reaches a mountain cottage to attend a friend’s party celebrating the tenth anniversary of her marriage. While there, she’s under close examination by the other women, whose envy for the beautiful actress is as high as the peak of the surroundings mountains, and the men whose only interest is to try to sleep with her. Gloria doesn’t feel good, and she soon realizes to be pregnant. A shocking phone call, with her husband and patron in NY, who doesn’t want even to talk about any pregnancy that could ruin her career forever, plunges her into a great anguish. But the following morning the woman, reprising her role of a real movie star,  leaves the place, surrounded by fans and photographers who in the meantime have discovered her arrive.
Written by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (Metti una sera a cena, Identikit), and directed by Luchino Visconti (Il gattopardo, Senso, Rocco e i suoi fratelli just to name few of his masterpieces), this excellent episode displays all the favourite themes of both writer and director, the expose of high society environment and his members with a very low moral code. A theme to which Visconti will return later for another contemporary piece Gruppo di famiglia in un interno. While the director has always favoured period pieces to comment the contemporary way of life, this is an exception of great relevance.
The film business is shown at his worst, with its false façade; a world of “homo homini lupus” and in which who is famous has to pay the higher price for his success, renouncing to any kind of private life, showing no frailty or emotional feelings. The upper class around it, is as decadent as eager to be part of the showbiz, but it’s not any better. Marriages are kept alive only for a formal appearance, favourite sport for both men an women to complain of each other.
The episode is masterfully shot, with beautiful camera angles, and acted by a whole group of Visconti’s regulars: Annie Girardot, Massimo Girotti.

Senso civico (Civic virtue)
A man is severely wounded in a car accident. A very fancy young lady, get him in her car declaring she’s going to bring him to the hospital. To avoid the wait for the ambulance could be crucial, and her initiative is highly praised by the surrounding crowd.
She is an hell of a driver as she goes faster than light with her small town car. She avoids other vehicles, she doesn’t stop to traffic lights, she’ll do everything to get in time: at an appointment with her boyfriend! When the man realizes she’s not going to stop to any Emergency Room, it’s too late. The poor guy, left in the middle of a street again, since she achieved to arrive in time at her meeting, will die ignored.
A funny and sardonic little short with Alberto Sordi, as the injured man, performing his usual routine of a simple Roman guy. Directed by Mauro Bolognini (Il bell’Antonio, Gran Bollito) the short is amusing and technically interesting, having been filmed mostly in a small car. Bolognini, while delivering the comic pieces, has the opportunity to shoot well made camera car that increase the sense of speed and the rhythm of the story. He creates tension in the viewer cutting from the fast running vehicle, to the interior of the car where the situation is as funny as discomforting. While this kind of situation looked grotesque and excessive at that time; it is not nowadays when news more often report of people left dying in the streets with nobody paying attention. A premonition of how unfortunately worse our society was going to be. 

La Terra vista dalla Luna (Earth as seen from the Moon)
Ciancicato Miao (Crumpled Meow) has lost his wife. She died because instead to eat sprouts she ate poisoned mushrooms. Miao is sad, he wants to find a new bride as soon as possible, to give a mother again to his only son. After one year of researches, and have been beaten by a young window offended by the proposition, and avoided a prostitute; Miao meets in a middle of the street a beautiful woman with green hair Assurdina Caì (Absurdine Caì).
She’s deaf and hear impaired, but she agrees to marry him. Not only looking gorgeous, the new bride is sweet like a candy and mostly a perfect housewife transforming, like  if she had magical power, the stinky damp of an house in which Miao brought her, into a nice cabin with a decent look. But men and women are never satisfied. When they realize their neighbour put his house for sale, the trio, mother, father and son decide to raise some money to buy it. Climbed on the Colosseo, Assurdina menaces to jump and kill herself, declaring to the hurried crowd she can’t stand anymore poverty. It’s a trick of course, but an incident as abrupt as unforeseeable occurs: she slips on a banana peel, thrown away from some noisy American tourists, and falls to death. Left alone again, Miao and his son are mourning at the cemetery. But when back home again they unexpectedly find Assurdina waiting for them. At first the two run away scared, but then they realize that she is dead indeed, but still can cook, clean and make love to Miao as she did before. The trio reunites for the happiest of the celebrations. Moral: to be dead or alive is the same thing.
Directed by poet, writer, helmer Pier Paolo Pasolini (Decameron, Mamma Roma, Accatone, Salò) the episode is visually outstanding and masterfully told. A tender, sad, fairy tale, with typical Pasolini’s heroes from the suburbs. The great Totò in the role of Miao, and Pasolini’s regular Ninetto Davoli, shine in the depiction of this duo of bumps who are as good as simple minded. Mangano as the fairy is excellent as well, as beautifully plays along with the others, all of them delivering a performance that goes back to the origin of Italian ancient theatre. These tragic masks, whose Pasolini always sung the praise in his poems, novels and films, are immersed in a lyric concept of a story that works in contraposition to the desolated milieu of their own lives. But simplicity is the key role of their miserable existence; and only when they will try to advance their social status, wishing to buy a bigger house, they will be corrupted and led to a tragic fate. Being a fairy tale, the story has an happy ending, but the final declaration: to be dead or alive it’s the same; could be the saddest conclusion ever. Their lives are so poor and wretched that would make no difference for them, they would be hopeless if they hadn’t each other. Pasolini suggests that if they’ll be together and will continue to live their simple life not even death will tear them apart, only consumism could do that.

La Siciliana (The Sicilian woman)
A young Sicilian woman has been offended by a man that dared to look at her, and then he didn’t anymore. She confesses her father and without thinking about the consequences, she gives the start to a vengeance in which both families, hers and the offender will be killed. Shot by Franco Rossi, this is a very short episode, whose pace and chain of events is shown following sketches sequences well edited together. It makes fun of some stereotypes about Sicilians to be very jealous people, accustomed to solve honour troubles with a bloodshed. It’s grotesque and darkly funny.

Una sera come le altre (An evening like many others)
Carlo (Clint Eastwood) is an American living in Italy with his wife of ten years. An evening like many others, Carlo while Giovanna is complaining they never get out, falls asleep as always. His wife as talking to him, fantasize in her mind to be loved by a huge crowd of men and to strip in front of a stadium audience while her husband pitifully screams to stop. The complaints end only when even her falls asleep. The evening like many others will leave soon room to another day like many others.
Director Vittorio De Sica depicts all the bore of a middle class marriage full of complaints and daily crisis. The small vengeances are consumed only in the mind of the woman, unable to take any radical decision and drastically change her life. Marriage is the tomb of love seems to suggest the authors. The bond and the affection between the weds is overwhelmed by the daily routine and by the small tiresome things that after a whole day work appear to be insurmountable. Clint Eastwood in the role of Carlo was casted probably to give the film and International appeal, and while his performance is just fine, the whole episode suffers for the use of too many stereotypes, recycling an approach to the matter already seen before, dozens of times. De Sica follows a “Fellinisque”  visual path to film the story, using an ironic surrealism for the woman’s fantasies. Even with all its flows the piece is still enjoyable specially for the gorgeous costumes and the amazing on stage constructions.

Le streghe makes his digital debut on DVD-R part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film retains its OAR 1.85:1 and its 16X9. This US edition is the only one on the market at the moment of this writing, being the movie unavailable even in its own native countries: Italy and France (it was a co-production). Audio it’s ok, but not that much effort was put on it; the film is in Italian with optional English subtitles, but a nice touch was to include the original audio (it was shot in English and then dubbed to Italian) in Clint Eastwood’s episode, this way it’s possible to enjoy his performance listening his real voice. A disclaimer at the beginning advise the viewer the film has been sourced from the best available materials. It has been probably re mastered from an interpositive, and it’s a mixed bag from one episode to another, it very much depends from the lighting and the cinematographer’s approach to the story. I spotted  large use of DVNR, instead of a frame by frame digital restoration. The result is an image lacking definition and edge enhancement, to avoid this softness combined to the one of the original materials, has been applied as well. This creates  video noise specially in the backgrounds with visible macro blockings, not helped by the low bit rate encoding (DVD-R 5, movie RT 105 mins.); while projecting the film I had to reset the video processor to reduce both noise and edge. It’s probably going to look fine on large TV sets even when upscaled, but on large screens looks problematic (VP used: ABT DVDO 50pro THX). Still I recommend to watch it, waiting for a better edition that at the moment seems far to be released.
This is a fine movie with some outstanding episodes. It was made at a time in which short stories compilations were highly popular and acclaimed. 
Together with Boccaccio 70 and Capriccio all’Italiana, this is one of the finest examples. 



 Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar


2 commenti:

  1. Great review!

    We're linking to your article for Luchino Visconti Friday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up good work!

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    Risposte
    1. Thanks! I should write more, but I gave up recently. Too busy with my own stuff.

      Elimina