La Terra trema (1948)
aka: La terra trema: Episodio del mare
A film directed by Luchino Visconti

Genre: Drama

Film Review

La Terra trema photo
In his first film, Ossessione , director Luchino Visconti developed a style of cinema that came to be known as neo-realist. In stark contrast to the polished studio productions of the day, this approach used grim natural locations, largely non-professional actors, and accurately reflected the harsh reality of life as experienced by most people in run-down post-Mussolini Italy. Whilst Ossessione is blatantly a genre film (of the film noir thriller variety), La Terra trema is a full-bloodied piece of neo-realist drama, an inspiration for other great Italian film directors at that time, notably Roberto Rosselini and Vittorio De Sica. It effectively began the neo-realist movement, elevating Italian cinema to a position of artistic pre-eminence after World War II.

With La Terra trema, Luchino Visconti shows an extraordinary concern and sympathy with the plight of ordinary Sicilian fisher folk. Coming from a privileged aristocratic background, Visconti was so appalled by what the fascists had done to his country that he took up with left-wing politics and Marxist ideology. Whilst this political awareness does make its way into La Terra trema, what is far more striking is Visconti's genuine compassion for the people he is filming. He conveys their sense of pride and nobility, as well as their extreme hardship and inability to make a better lot for themselves. Perhaps it is the fact that Visconti came from such a totally different world that allows him to engage so forcefully with his subject, to draw out every scintilla of poignancy, not as a complacent distant voyeur, but as someone who is profoundly moved by what he is seeing around him.

And it has to be said that Visconti's technique is very effective. Whilst the camera work is unashamedly arty, with some breathtakingly beautiful location shots, it also conveys the mood of the film's protagonists with immense depth and raw simplicity. The characters we see are so engaging that it is hard not to feel their joy when things go well and then their sense of despair when it all starts to go wrong. Like much of Italian neo-realism of this period, the film is hugely effective at engaging the spectator and conveying genuine emotion. Rather like a great piece of opera, watching and hearing this film is an emotionally exhausting experience, one that will taint your waking consciousness for a long time.

Visconti originally conceived La Terra trema to be the first in a series of three films concerned with poor working class people in Italy. When this first instalment failed disastrously at the box office (probably because the film's protagonists spoke not in Italian but in a local Sicilian dialect), the director was forced to give up making the following two films, one about miners, the other about land farmers. Visconti would return to the neo-realist form with Rocco and his Brothers in 1961, a film which bears striking similarities with La Terra trema , notably in its uncompromisingly bleak portrayal of a poor Italian family struggling to stay together despite some pretty vicious circumstances. Whilst Rocco is an easier film to watch, mainly because it is a more polished work with some great professional actors, it lacks the naked truth that La Terra trema conveys so brilliantly. For its wonderfully effective portrayal of the suffering and aspirations of ordinary men and women, La Terra trema is in a class of its own, a stunning visual poem, charged with a haunting pathos and a searing humanity.
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For generations, the Valastros have worked as fishermen in the small Sicilian fishing village of Aci Trezza...
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Film Credits

Directed by Luchino Visconti
Starring: Antonio Arcidiacono, Giuseppe Arcidiacono, Venera Bonaccorso, Nicola Castorino, Rosa Catalano
[Read more...]

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