Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tonight in rep screenings: Bitter Rice (1949)

Posted By on 11.29.11 at 10:15 AM

Tonight the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago begins a series of free film screenings that will take place over the next four Tuesdays at 6 PM. With the exception of the final selection, La Dolce Vita (1960), none of these titles are especially well-known in the United States. Yet all of them are from the greatest era of Italian cinema, which began roughly with the end of World War II and lasted until the mid-1970s. As a fan of Luchino Visconti, I’m most looking forward to Bellissima (1951), which plays next week, but tonight’s selection, Bitter Rice (1949), is worth seeing as well.

The film is often classified as part of the neorealist movement—since the women surrounding one of the major characters, a rice picker, are played by actual workers—though much of it is said to play like film noir. Director Giuseppe De Santis (working, like many filmmakers of the period, with a team of seven writers) counterposes the story of a valiant farm laborer with that of a gangster’s moll, who ends up hiding out among the rice pickers after she steals an expensive necklace in Rome. Earlier this year, the solid blog Film Noir of the Week posted a thorough column on Rice that delved into the film’s varied stylistic approaches,

One scene in particular finds the [paddy worker] women carrying on a dramatic conversation through song, the only form of communication permitted while they work. The effect is at once vividly operatic and quite moving. Another, expressionistic scene shows the terrible consequences when the women are forced to weed the paddies during a rainstorm. Both scenes blend sound and image in a way that brings to mind the work of Terence Malick.

While all the other screenings in this series are free, the Cultural Institute recommends that you reserve your seat in advance by calling 312-822-9545.

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