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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Friday, January 14, 2000
The Organizer
Mario Monicelli Italy/France, 1963

(I compagni). Mastroianni's finest performance for Italian comedy maestro Mario Monicelli happened not to be a comedy per se. He plays a stubbornly idealistic schoolteacher who comes from Genoa to Turin to lead the local textile mill workers in a much-needed strike. Monicelli draws on his neorealist roots to capture the late-nineteenth-century setting in seeming documentary style: cinematographer Rotunno's grey-toned art photography etches an image of the times, when factory workers labored fourteen-hour days and a strike to demand thirteen could provoke violence. Monicelli is unyielding but never less than compassionate in this look at the beginnings of the trade union movement in northern Italy. Mastroianni's down-at-the-heels pedant turned agitator is played with shaggy restraint against Annie Girardot's Niobe, who has taken up prostitution rather than subject herself to the grueling mill work. The Organizer was nominated for an Oscar for story and screenplay, and stands the test of time as a classic of Italian cinema.

• Written by Monicelli, Age, Scarpelli. Photographed by Giuseppi Rotunno. With Marcello Mastroianni, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Bernard Blier. (126 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm)