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A Brief Vacation

As one of the founding members of the Neo-Realist movement, it's interesting to note that — unlike Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti — Vittoria Di Sica never abandoned the principles of the genre. Best known for such films as The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D., Di Sica retained his interest both in the common man and in showing things at a naturalistic pace, making his films more about characters than plotting. Even in his penultimate work, A Brief Vacation (1973), Di Sica shows that he's still interested in the small details. The story follows Clara Mataro (Florinda Balkan) as she heads off to work. Her house holds both her mother and brother-in-law, and with her husband Franco (Renato Salvatore) unemployed because of a broken foot, she is the sole breadwinner. But after a fainting-spell at work, she is sent to the doctor, who diagnoses tuberculosis. Clara is instructed to go to a remote sanatorium, which her family doesn't want her to do because of their reliance on her. While at the sanatorium, Clara gets a large room to herself and is surrounded by other patients; some are there because they are sick and poor, while others have the means to retreat to such a nice place. And while there, Clara is able to think only of herself — she gets to read, socialize with other women, and arrive at her own independent thoughts. But what nags her most is Luigi (Daniel Quenaud), a man she met before her diagnosis; both are recuperating, and are attracted to each other. Like most Neo-Realist films, there is no major plot devices in A Brief Vacation, no deus ex machina, just people struggling with their day-to-day lives. For Clara and her family, we see both the sides of the situation: They're both greedy, since the family needs support and Clara needs to get well. Sympathy is easier for Clara, since Di Sica stacks the deck by making the in-laws gargoyles. Just the same, the vacation must end, and she has children to look after, which she knows she must do. By not having arch devices, Di Sica thrusts the viewer into the story, making us care deeply about Clara and her situation; it would take a staunch viewer not to empathize. And that is Di Sica's great talent. Home Vision Entertainment presents A Brief Vacation in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with monaural audio. Supplements include 24 minutes of excerpts from Di Sica's Woman times Seven (1967), an anthology film starring Shirley MacClaine in seven different roles. The excerpts include a funny sequence with Peter Sellers, and a touching one involving Michael Caine, Anita Ekberg, and Philippe Noiret. Keep-case.

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