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Days of Glory: Revisiting Italian Neorealism

Thursday, November 4, 2010
7:00 p.m. Ossessione
Luchino Visconti (Italy, 1943)

Transposing James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice to a squalid trattoria in the Po Valley, Luchino Visconti plays it for a deft mixture of dour authenticity, studied narrative suspense, and ambiguous passions. Ossessione is a work of extraordinary beauty. Character and landscape merge, as in the opening shots, looking out the front of a bus going down a dusty road seemingly to nowhere. We are introduced to Gino (Massimo Girotti), the drifter, by way of his hefty back, and we watch him from an increasingly high-angle shot, still from the back, enter the trattoria in whose kitchen he meets Giovanna (Clara Calamai). We first see his face when she does, a moment of startled passion. Calamai plays Giovanna as a portrait of female despair and desire—not the Cain variety of smoldering sexuality but a smoldering soul. She tells her story from a small chair in a corner of the room. It is the first of the lonely compositions that will entrap the lovers.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Mario Alicata, Antonio Pietrangeli, Gianni Puccini, Giuseppe De Santis, Visconti, from the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. Photographed by Aldo Tonti. With Clara Calamai, Massimo Girotti, Juan de Landa, Elia Marcuzzo. (140 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, Courtesy Cinecittà Luce S.p.A., permission Ripley's Film.)