La Terra Trema
Following his brilliant directorial debut Ossessione (1943), Luchino Visconti's second feature film was the effort that cemented his role as one of the pioneers along with Roberto Rosselini and Vittorio De Sica of Neo-Realism. 1948's La Terra Trema was filmed not only on locations and using the documentary techniques that grounded the movement which alone would categorize this effort as Neo-Realism par excellence but Visconti took it one step further by casting actual Sicilian fishermen and their families for all the key parts. And though sometimes the acting is clumsy, the performers bring an authenticity to their roles that more than makes up for their lack of thespian training. La Terra Trema focuses on the Valastro family, who have been fishermen for generations. The life they lead is a tough one it even killed their father but they get by with their tight-knit ways and the support they provide each other. Kept under the thumb of the local fish merchants, their town of Acitrezza barely scrapes by, but proud son 'Ntoni Valastro wants to buck the system by mortgaging the family house to buy a boat of their own so they can sell the fish they catch without the hideous markdowns of the middlemen. Mocked by the merchants and the Valastros' fellow neighbors, at first their plan seems well and 'Ntoni looks to marry the girl of his dreams Nedda. Unfortunately, bad weather nearly destroys their boat. Upon their return, the entire town is unwilling to help the family that tried to become better than everyone else. And the middlemen won't offer them fair prices for the fish they have caught. A forceful tale of a family tragedy, La Terra Trema is a great film that provokes the viewer to empathize with these struggling fishermen; it's a powerful drama that shows the great claustrophobia of being poor, and how inescapable the system can feel. But it also brings to light one of the more interesting aspects of the movement it came from: Celebrated in its time for a down-to-earth style and verité approach, La Terra Trema now appears (as with most of the films in the Neo-Realist genre) operatic despite its realist trappings. The authenticity of an effort like this is readily apparent, and casting real fishermen gives the picture a gritty intensity it couldn't have achieved otherwise but what makes the film work is a deep understanding of melodrama, and the profound sadness of the piece is engaging to watch. Image Entertainment's DVD presents the film in the original academy aspect ratio (1.33:1) with the monaural audio in Italian and Sicilian with optional English subtitles. The source-print is showing some age, but it's acceptable and certainly better than the one for Ossessione although not up to restoration standards. Keep-case.