By 1949, Italian Neo-Realism was just 6 or 7 years old, but it had already taken the world by storm, stunning audiences and winning awards all over. When "Bitter Rice" was made, Neo- Realist principles (i.e. no stars, mix of professional and non-professional actors, location-only shooting, rejection of "beauty"/classicism/romanticism, stressing on "ordinary" people and "real-life" themes) were being stretched: stars were joining in (including international ones, like Ingrid Bergman, or starlets like American Doris Dowling here), productions got bigger and more expensive, crews more professional, equipment more sophisticated, "ordinary" people were being replaced by Olympic beauties (or do ordinary people EVER look like Silvana Mangano or Vittorio Gassman?), "ordinary" characters were getting very complex, and real life was being traded by elaborate, far from realistic drama.
"Bitter Rice" was one of the biggest world-wide box-office hits of Neo-Realism. The reason for its success wasn't exactly in the depiction of the lives of poor peasant women who worked under harsh conditions in rice plantations in rural Italy -- this isn't the theme of "Bitter Rice", it's just its background. The main reason for its success probably lied in the fact that the audience could enjoy a Noir story of doomed love, betrayal and crime while being politically instructed, watching the miserly, semi-literate female workers develop Marxist consciousness while parading their butts and naked thighs in industrial quantities.
Thus, "Bitter Rice" is a sort of titillating Noir with Neo-Realist scenery and Marxist subtext. The big scenes in the rice paddies, the post-war devastation. the poverty and the supporting characters are Neo-Realist all right. But the Noir elements (also prominent in Visconti's 1943 masterpiece "Ossessione", based, after all, on Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice") are strong: the indoor lighting (check out those stylized shadows in the warehouse), the complex camera-work (that amazing opening dolly shot!!), the doomed characters (Silvana is a peasant femme fatale, Gassman is a rotten crook, Raf Vallone is a jaded war veteran, Dowling is the woman born to be mistreated and abused), the perverted violence (Gassman is a sadist, Dowling is a masochist, Silvana is a sado-masochist; the deaths are stylized to the hilt), the uncontrollable sexuality and the inexorability of fate.
But "Bitter Rice" had 7 (!!) writers working on it, and the film suffers from an excess of back stories and conflicting focuses: jewel robbery, rice looting, union rights, clandestine labor, post-war trauma, political manifesto, rape, murder, betrayal, revenge, etc. And it had Dino de Laurentiis producing, who, at 30, already showed his penchant for grandeur: check out those crowd scenes of epic proportions, with hundreds of women in the paddies, on trains, on trucks. Sometimes the screen is so over- crowded you'll be gasping for air.
"Bitter Rice" is a convoluted film, but no one can say it lacks great scenes: the women's chant in the paddies builds up to such tension between the legal and illegal workers it leads to their physical confrontation (it's probably the biggest -- in numbers -- female brawl in film history); or the women going to work even under heavy rain; or the final confrontation in the slaughterhouse; or the electrifying whipping/rape scene between Gassman and Silvana; or Silvana dancing, Silvana reading in bed, Silvana smiling, Silvana crying, Silvana bathing, Silvana walking...
Silvana Mangano gives what's probably one of the 10 most stunning star-making female performances in cinema. With absolutely no training, this former beauty queen and film extra had the luck to resemble Ingrid Bergman when Bergman was Hollywood's #1 star. But that's just the start: she also had the kind of body that makes men drool and babble, a fabulous acting instinct and a stormy temper. The emotional range of her character (also named Silvana) is huge: strong and frail, simple and ambitious, healthy and neurotic, determined and insecure, jealous and indifferent, jaded and naive, compulsive and calculating. All of this while exuding sex through every pore. It's an amazing performance, especially when you consider she was 18 at the time!! Her character reunites Rita Hayworth's sex-driven and tormented Gilda (including the howling- inducing dance numbers), Lana Turner's tragic Cora (from "The Postman...") and Jennifer Jones' stubborn sado-masochist Pearl (from "Duel in the Sun") all in one. She's a mess, but we root for her anyway. In the heart-stopping finale, lucidity, insanity and shame cloud her face as she climbs to her destiny. With "Bitter Rice" (and later with "Anna"), Mangano paved the way to the new, uninhibited, earthy, irrepressible sex divas of the 50s like Sophia, Gina, Ava and Brigitte. She was the anti-Marilyn, the opposite of the fragile, sex-toy doll. Later she changed radically into a refined, slender diva and became the favorite star of Pasolini and Visconti. But here you have the chance to see the early Silvana, in all her teenage glory, talent and temper.
Next to her, the other main stars fade aside: Gassman, then the brightest young star of Italian theater, is devilishly handsome and virile, but tends to overact (but we get a glimpse of what his Stanley Kowalski must have been on stage). Raf Vallone is properly Burt-Lancasterish, but there's little he can do with his weak, inconsistent character. Doris Dowling, who had a wonderful cameo in Billy Wilder's "The Lost Weekend", has a strong, intelligent face and does her best to overcome her miscasting as an Italian ragazza.
Seen today, "Bitter Rice" is still quite an experience. The script is over-packed, but the imagery is powerful. The main couple's tragic destiny isn't accidental: what happens to the two gum- chewing, boogie-woogie-dancing, America-struck star-crossed lovers in devastated post-war Italy isn't there just for dramatic reasons. It's a political statement from anti-Capitalist artists who, contradictorily, used idiomatic tools of the very system (Hollywood-U.S.A.) they were attacking, and came up with this esthetically schizophrenic but certainly fascinating hybridism of Neo-Realism and the Hollywood B-movie. My vote: 7 out of 10.
Crime / Drama
Crime / Drama
Francesca and Walter are two-bit criminals in Northern Italy, and, in an effort to avoid the police, Francesca joins a group of women rice workers. She meets the voluptuous peasant rice worker, Silvana, and the soon-to-be-discharged soldier, Marco. Walter follows her to the rice fields, and the four characters become involved in a complex plot involving robbery, love, and murder.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
March 23, 2021 at 05:46 PM