La Terra Trema
|La Terra Trema|
Italian theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Luchino Visconti|
|Produced by||Salvo D'Angelo|
|Narrated by||Luchino Visconti|
|Music by||Willy Ferrero|
|Editing by||Mario Serandrei|
|Release dates||September 2, 1948|
|Running time||165 minutes|
La Terra Trema (Italian pronunciation: [la ˈtɛr.ra ˈtrema] "The Earth Trembles") is a 1948 Italian dramatic film directed by Luchino Visconti. The movie is adapted from Giovanni Verga's novel I Malavoglia (1881) (The House by the Medlar Tree) for the screen.
The picture features, as non-credited non-professional actors, Antonio Arcidiacono, Giuseppe Arcidiacono, and many others. It is a docufiction.
It tells about the exploitation of working-class fishermen, specifically that of the eldest son of a very traditional village family, the Valastros.
'Ntoni convinces his family to mortgage their house in order to catch and sell fish themselves and make more money than they were already receiving from the wholesalers who had controlled the market with their low prices for a long time.
Everything goes well until a storm ruins the family's boat, leaving them with nothing to keep the new business going. Following this disaster, the family experiences several awful events such as having to leave the house, the death of the grandfather, and 'Ntoni and his brothers being obliged to return to fish for the wholesalers.
The film can be divided by its prologue, three main phases and an epilogue.
Its first part tells us about the fishermens' attempt to improve their economic circumstances. They demand a better price for their fish, and it is symbolized by 'Ntoni, the eldest son of Valastros family, throwing a pair of scales into the ocean, and the fishermen end up in prison. The wholesalers realize it is more profitable to have him and his friends fishing and release them. 'Ntoni, who has lived on the mainland, had brought some new open minded ideas with him and he tries to form a cooperative, but no one joins him. In deciding to do it on his own, he convinces his family to mortgage their house to buy a boat and starts his new life. A festive mood is present in this sequence, with all the village joining Valastro's family salting the fish in laughter and joy.
The second part, is dedicated to show Valastro's vulnerability. They realize that the price for being owners is high; they not only have to buy the salt but also work hard and not stop even in the hardest storm, risking their lives to be able to feed so many mouths at home. When they go out in a particularly bad storm, their new boat is severely damaged, and the Valastros have no money to get it repaired. At this point in the film, we see the other fishermen and the wholesalers mocking them already, convinced of the immutability of the prevailing social order.
The third phase of the film just affirms this already noticed vulnerability. The social and psychological consequences of the Valastros' attempt to change things are gradually revealed. They go out of work, no one wants to give them any opportunities, and the wholesalers are able to set the price for their fish. In the scene showing the wholesalers increasing the prices yet again, we can see the face of the children registering amazement at the cruelty of the adults. This was quite a common feature in neorealist films, and one almost sees this as an awakening of consciousness.
The family unit, so strong in the beginning of the film, breaks down. Now they have no family, no house, the grandfather dies, 'Ntoni's brother Cola leaves for the mainland to seek new opportunities, their sister Lucia loses her reputation, yielding to the temptations of Marshal Don Salvatore, and 'Ntoni starts drinking. Only the elder sister Mara remains strong, although she loses all hope of ever getting married because of not being rich.
In the epilogue, 'Ntoni finally overcomes his pride, recognizing the true cause of the problems of his kind and his class, and sees the need for collective action by going back with his two young brothers, Vanni and Alessio, to work for the wholesalers as a day laborer, who have bought new boats.
The entire mood of the film becomes oppressive since the camera never leaves Aci Trezza, except in the scenes at sea at the beginning and end of the film. The outside world appears only indirectly when 'Ntoni goes to prison, when the family goes to sign a contract with the bank, when a stranger offering American cigarettes appears to tempt the youngsters to move to the mainland, and when the old baroness honors the inauguration of the new wholesaler's boats with her presence. Some allusions to modern Italian history are also there. On the wall of the restaurant we can see an image of a hammer and sickle. One of the wholesalers suddenly says: "The country is full of communism!", and his colleague answers: "Raimondo is always right," in a parody of the Fascist slogan, "Il Duce is always right." At the end of the film, a faded text can be seen behind Raimondo:
- Go with determination toward people. ~ Benito Mussolini.
- Antonio Arcidiacono as 'Ntoni
- Giuseppe Arcidiacono as Cola
- Venera Bonaccorso as La vecchia che ride
- Nicola Castorino as Nicola
- Rosa Catalano as Rosa
- Rosa Costanzo as Nedda
- Alfio Fichera as Michele
- Carmela Fichera as La baronessa
During the Second World War, Luchino Visconti felt the need to express his feelings about it by means of fiction in creating an illusion of the fictional world by combining a firm narrative structure with deep humanism. He wrote novels and plays, but ended up deciding to channel his creative energies into theatrical productions. In the middle of this experience with the stage, the Communist Party commissioned him to make a documentary about fishermen that was to be used as propaganda in the 1948 election campaign. Visconti took this opportunity to accomplish an old desire: adapting Giovanni Verga's I Malavoglia (the 1881 The house by the Medlar Tree) for the screen since he had acquired the film rights in 1941.
He travelled to Aci Trezza in Sicily, where Verga's novel takes place and found that it had hardly changed since the 1880s. Considering this, Visconti in neorealist fashion, decided to shoot the film in actual Sicilian locations and also to use local people as actors. By taking these "ordinary people," Visconti believed they could portray the truth about themselves as opposed to assuming roles.
The film ended up far beyond either the idea of a documentary about fishermen or the adaptation of the novel I Malavoglia. Actually, Visconti planned to shoot a trilogy, where the first part would tell about the fishermen and would have ended in defeat. The second part would tell about peasants and would have ended in a stalemate between exploiters and the exploited. Finally, the third part would be about the miners ending up in a triumph of solidarity of the oppressed. The decision to shoot only the first part came about as the importance of the so-called "episode of the sea" increased in its association with Verga. Having realized this, Visconti decided to conclude it on a note of resigned defeat and not in a miraculous victory.
A large chapter of the book by Silvia Iannello Le immagini e le parole dei Malavoglia (Sovera, Roma, 2008) is devoted to the origins, comments, and some images taken from the immortal movie of Luchino Visconti.
The use of fades and dissolves creates an almost solemn effect of time passing while people are engaged in their various tasks. The everyday theme, even the love, is shown by long takes. The sunrise and the boats coming back from fishing, the first scene at the market where the city is still quiet and peaceful, everything is working like it should be. On the other hand, fight scenes, are shot in medium short takes. We can easily notice this difference by comparing the first and the second scene at the market. While at first the camera is close inside of the market, later shots show at a distance the fights and crowds that were forming in the middle of the fishermen and sellers. The length of the takes help to convey the feeling of tranquility. It is present until the family's economic downfall. From then on, long takes are used to reveal lonely figures in desolate environments or people in confrontation with one another. Visconti keeps the spectator at a slight distance from the characters and events, and it is both an aesthetic and ethical choice, a gesture of respect for the life of the people of Aci Trezza.
Since 1941, Visconti already knew that the most important aspect of his Verga adaptation would be his ideal of "internal and musical rhythm". With Willy Ferrero's help, he used some of Sicilian folk music, but music is quite sparse in the film, until we move towards the ending where it does increase, emphasizing the fate of the Valastros. Don Salvatore whistling tunes from operas, the poignant melodies played by uncle Nunzio, the sounds of the wind and the sea, of ships returning to the harbor, cries from the streets, and the musicality of the Sicilian dialect create their own archaic atmosphere.
After the film was completed, a voice-over commentary written by Antonio Pietrangeli had to be added, since no Italian was spoken by the participants. At the beginning of the film he states that "...Italian is not a language of the poor." Also, the commentary takes an important narrative and thematic function. The poetic quality of the voice and the words are a part of the classical unity of the film, being a crucial part of its structure. Some examples include:
- ...It is just a matter of time, as the worm said to the stone, I'll bore a hole through you yet.
- One by one, the tree's branches wither and fall.
- If there's any relief, a moment's happiness, it's the thought of one's girl. And for her, one can do without sleep. Because a man's made to be caught by a girl, just as the fishes of the sea are made for those who catch them.
Reactions at the Venice Film Festival
Although he had won a major prize, Visconti was very poorly received when the film was given its premiere at 9th Venice International Film Festival in 1948. Some protesters called it an artistic failure, and opposition came from many quarters.
- 9th Venice International Film Festival: Golden Lion, Luchino Visconti; 1948.
- Iannello, Silvia, "I Malavoglia e La terra trema", in Le immagini e le parole dei Malavoglia, Sovera, Roma, 2008, pag. 30-36.
- Almond, Mark, The Revolution's Golden Book Ediouro Press, Brazil, 2003.
- Bacon, Henry, Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford University Press, 1996.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to La Terra Trema.|
- La Terra Trema at the Internet Movie Database
- La Terra Trema at Rotten Tomatoes
- La Terra Trema titles and beginning of film at YouTube