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With: Yves Montand, Alida Valli, Francisco Rabal, Peter Carsten, Federica Ranchi
Written by: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas
Directed by: Gillo Pontecorvo
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 99
Date: 03/18/2013

The Wide Blue Road (1957)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Not the Only Fish in the Sea

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Wide Blue Road seems to come right out of nowhere. Here's this lovely 1957 Technicolor gem about life in a remote fishing village plopped square in-between the rest of Italian film history and not fitting in anywhere. It comes after the wane of Neo-Realism (Visconti and De Sica) and just before the rise of arthouse gods like Fellini and Antonioni and genre kings like Sergio Leone and Mario Bava.

Then there's The Wide Blue Road director Gillo Pontecorvo, who is best known for his later, more political films like The Battle of Algiers (1965) and Burn! (1968).

Or maybe this feeling of displacement comes from the very isolation of the movie's village. Or maybe it's just because I viewed The Wide Blue Road at the Roxie just hours after the September 11 attack on New York City -- the only press screening that day that wasn't cancelled.

In any case, it was a good movie to see. The characters (led by stars Yves Montand and Alida Valli) and their problems seemed a long way away from the grim reality in America. Montand stars as Squarciò, a village fisherman who fishes with dynamite (the underwater explosion sends the dead fish floating to the top) even though it's illegal and frowned upon by his colleagues.

He hopes to improve his haul by buying a new and faster motor, one that can outrun his constant nemesis, the Coast Guard. His two young sons (Ronaldino Bonacchi and Giancarlo Soblone) accompany him through thick and thin, especially when the Coast Guard traps them in a cove and they're forced to sink their boat in order to avoid jail.

Meanwhile, wife and mother Valli (The Third Man) waits and home and worries. Their older daughter (Federica Ranchi) has fallen in love with a rival fisherman, and her situation gets complicated when she loses her virginity to him and he dies in a dynamite accident.

Pontecorvo's story (co-authored with his frequent writer Franco Solinas) is really nothing exceptional, but he makes it great by giving it two things -- a sense of routine and a sense of politics. Through the fishing scenes, we get an idea of the life of a fisherman. We watch long shots of Squarciò preparing the dynamite, and doing all the little routine things that fishermen do in order to go fishing. These supposedly "boring" sequences lend an inexorable time and place to the film.

In addition, Pontecorvo lends his political passion to the film by making his characters interested in the events around them. A fat fishmonger has a monopoly on the entire town by owning the only freezer and is therefore the only one who buys fish. But the fishermen form a collective and buy their own freezer, freeing them from the power of the fatcat (a political message without being a political message). Pontecorvo handles these matters without grandstanding or speeches. He treats them like everyday events.

Had Pontecorvo eliminated this sense of place, The Wide Blue Road simply would have been a Hollywood-wannabe melodrama and not worthy of revival. Strangely, his choice to film it in lush Technicolor takes it away from the Neo-Realism films of the time and does in fact bring it closer to Hollywood, giving it an odd, timeless unreality. It puts the emphasis on artistry rather than gimmickry.

It's a strange anomaly, but nevertheless The Wide Blue Road is a truly lovely film.

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