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Bitter Rice

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Bitter Rice
Original theatrical poster
ItalianRiso amaro
Directed byGiuseppe De Santis
Screenplay by
Story byGiuseppe De Santis
Carlo Lizzani
Gianni Puccini
Produced byDino De Laurentiis
StarringVittorio Gassman
Doris Dowling
Silvana Mangano
Raf Vallone
Checco Rissone
Carlo Mazzarella
CinematographyOtello Martelli
Edited byGabriele Varriale
Music byGoffredo Petrassi
Lux Film
Distributed byLux Film
Release date
  • 7 September 1949 (1949-09-07)
Running time
108 minutes

Bitter Rice (Italian: Riso amaro [ˈriːso aˈmaːro, ˈriːzo -]) is a 1949 Italian neorealist crime drama film directed and co-written by Giuseppe De Santis, produced by Dino De Laurentiis, and starring Vittorio Gassman, Doris Dowling, Silvana Mangano, and Raf Vallone. The story follows a pair of fugitives, who hide among the rice fields of northern Italy. The Italian title of the film is based on a pun; since the Italian word riso can mean either "rice" or "laughter", riso amaro can be taken to mean either "bitter laughter" or "bitter rice".

Released by Lux Film, Bitter Rice was a commercial success in Europe and the United States. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for the 1950 Academy Award for Best Story.

In 2008, the film was included on the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s 100 Italian films to be saved, a list of 100 films that "have changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978."[1]



In an effort to escape the law, two small-time thieves, Francesca and Walter, hide among the crowds of female workers heading to the rice paddies in the Province of Vercelli in the upper reaches of Piedmont in the Po Valley. While attempting to board the train for the fields, the pair runs into Silvana, a peasant rice worker. Francesca boards the train with Silvana, who introduces her to the planters' way of life. Francesca does not have a work permit, and struggles with the other "illegals" to find a place on the rice fields. After initial resistance from documented workers and bosses, the illegals are allowed a place in the fields. At work in the fields, Silvana and Francesca meet a soon-to-be-discharged soldier, Marco, who unsuccessfully tries to attract Silvana's interest.

Toward the end of the working season, Walter arrives at the rice farm and becomes involved in a plot to steal a large quantity of rice. Excited by his criminal lifestyle, Silvana becomes attracted to Walter. She causes a diversion to help him carry out the heist, but Francesca and Marco manage to stop Walter and his accomplices. Francesca and Silvana face each other, armed with hand-guns. Francesca confronts Silvana and explains that she has been heartlessly manipulated by Walter. In response, Silvana turns her gun on Walter and kills him. Soon afterwards, her guilt leads her to commit suicide. As the other rice workers depart, they pay tribute to her by sprinkling rice upon her body.





In the film, the character Silvana represents the allure of behavior modeled in American films, such as chewing gum and boogie-woogie dancing. Her downfall illustrates director Giuseppe De Santis's condemnation of these products of American capitalism.[2] In addition, Silvana was considered by many audiences to be overly sexualized. This sexualization and the melodramatic presence of death and suicide in the film cause it to diverge from typical Italian neorealism.[3]



Bitter Rice was the first credited role of actress Silvana Mangano. Prior to this, she had only appeared in a handful of uncredited parts. Director Giuseppe De Santis had sought an "Italian Rita Hayworth" for the role, and his first choice was Lucia Bosè. It was also the debut for Raf Vallone, who at the time was a writer for L'Unità. Mangano voice was dubbed by Lydia Simoneschi, though she still uses her own singing voice.

The film was shot on location in the countryside of Vercellese. The main locations are Cascina Selve in Salasco and Tenuta Veneria in Lignana. The film's sets were designed by the art director Carlo Egidi.

Mario Monicelli worked on the film as an uncredited script doctor.[4]


U.S theatrical advertisement, 9 February 1951

The film premiered at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, where it was a finalist for the Palme d'Or.[5] It was theatrically released in Italy on September 30, 1949.

Awards and honors


The film was nominated for Best Story in the 1950 Academy Awards.

The film was also selected as one of 100 Italian films to be saved, a collection of films that "changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978".[6] The collection was established by the Venice Film Festival in collaboration with Cinecittà and curated by Fabio Ferzetti, with input from Gianni Amelio and other Italian film critics. Many of the films selected represent the "Golden Age" of Italian cinema, which was manifested in the neorealist movement.[7]


  1. ^ "Ecco i cento film italiani da salvare Corriere della Sera". www.corriere.it. Retrieved 2021-03-11.
  2. ^ Gundle 2007, p. 143
  3. ^ Marcus 1986, p. 79
  4. ^ "Mario Monicelli: Director and screenwriter whose comedies exposed". The Independent. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2023-12-27.
  5. ^ "Riso Amaro". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  6. ^ "Ecco i cento film italiani da salvare". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). February 28, 2008. Retrieved September 24, 2014.
  7. ^ Borriello, Massimo (March 4, 2008). "Cento film e un'Italia da non dimenticare" (in Italian). MoviePlayer. Retrieved September 25, 2014.


  • Gundle, Stephen (September 18, 2007). Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300123876.
  • Marcus, Millicent (1986). Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691102085.