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Bitter Rice (1949) DVD

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Bitter Rice (1949)

Director: Giuseppe De Santis
Writers: Corrado Alvaro, Giuseppe De Santis (screenplay)
Stars: Vittorio Gassman, Doris Dowling, Silvana Mangano

From a 1949 review:

The full sweep of elemental passions (to use a conservative phrase) has always intrigued and attracted the makers of Italian films. So it is not in the least surprising to find the new Italian picture at the World a frank and whole-hearted surrender to this congenital urge. "Bitter Rice," which is the picture that opened there yesterday, is as earthy and elemental as any picture you are likely to see. Passion toils and tumbles through it like the wrestlers in a gas-house free-for-all, and torments of carnal hunger are boldly and rawly exposed. Towards the end, all its passion and concupiscence go swirling down the melodramatic chutes, but while they're bubbling and boiling in this picture they make quite a gamey peasant stew. For "Bitter Rice" tells a fateful story of a lusty young woman who works among the migrants in the Po Valley rice fields at the annual harvest time. And since it is closely in contact with the realms of fertility, it dwells with considerable candor upon this essential theme. It also involves much lurid violence of a criminal and physical sort, so that it makes quite a package of racy activity. Actually, Giuseppe de Santis, who directed it and helped to write the script, has not used a most picturesque environment to frame an especially cogent tale. His story of a migrant rice worker who pursues an erratic career of benevolence and resistance towards a troubled young "scab" in the group, until she falls in with the latter's hoodlum sweetheart and lets her passion for him lead to ruin, proves nothing more positive or subtle than the moral that crime does not pay and that tragedy, bitter and oppressive, is the inevitable harvest of human lust and greed. Nor have Signor de Santis and his associates organized their tale to achieve a most forceful presentation of even this elementary moral. The script is heavily crowded with minor characters and incidents of a supplementary nature that intrude on the main development. The story inclines to be too turgid, eccentric and overwrought. However, Signor De Santis is a man with a dynamic way and absolutely no inhibitions in picturing a literal scene. His candid and natural presentation of the robustness and earthiness of life in a camp full of migrant women workers is bulging with vitality, and his episodes of violence and love-making are slices of life in the raw. For instance, the ultimate seduction of the oddly perverse heroine is a wildly accelerating traffic in mayhem, sadism and reckless lust. And the final resolution of personal conflicts in a white tiled slaughter house, amid blood-dripping beef cadavers, is literalism carried close to the absurd. To perform this display of physical excess, Signor De Santis recruited a cast supremely endowed in appearance and in theatrical talent for the roles. A new girl, Silvana Mangano, who plays the tragic heroine, is nothing short of a sensation on the international film scene. Full-bodied and gracefully muscular, with a rich voice and a handsome, pliant face, she handles with vigor and authority the characterization of a tortured libertine. It is not too excessive to describe her as Anna Magnani minus fifteen years, Ingrid Bergman with a Latin disposition and Rita Hayworth plus twenty-five pounds! Alongside of her, Doris Dowling, an American actress here playing an Italian "moll," is pallid and physically unimpressive but fully adequate to the moral substance of her role. Vittorio Gassmann is unhealthily handsome and broadly arrogant as the criminal nemesis, and Raf Vallone, the spitting image of Burt Lancaster, is solid and strong as a "right guy." Hundreds of actual rice field workers appear in the beautiful and pulsing scenes of camp life and rice-field cultivation. English subtitles translate the dialogue—but not, we suspect, as frankly or as flavorsomely as it is spoken on the screen.

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