Combustible Celluloid
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With: Antonio Cifariello, Livia Venturini, Lia Natali, Cristina Grado, Caterina Rigoglioso, Marco Ferreri, Valeria Moriconi, Giovanna Ralli, Patrizia Lari
Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Aldo Buzzi, Luigi Chiarini, Federico Fellini, Marco Ferreri, Alberto Lattuada, Luigi Malerba, Tullio Pinelli, Dino Risi, Vittorio Veltroni, Cesare Zavattini
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, Carlo Lizzani, Francesco Maselli, Dino Risi, Cesare Zavattini
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 110
Date: 07/22/2014

Love in the City (1953)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Love Stinks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Love in the City may be the most depressing movie ever made, but after watching it I was too depressed to consider any other movies that might also qualify for the title. It's a "message movie" of the worst sort, a movie that claims to be a new and aware kind of cinema, but that in reality adopts a holier-than-thou attitude and preaches down to its audience, "isn't life horrible and why aren't you doing something about it?"

The film was made at the tail end of the Italian Neo-Realist movement wherein directors attempted to capture life as it really was, though usually through powerful stories and characters or at least interesting settings. By 1953, most of those directors had begun to move in new directions, making more elaborate or ornate films. But I guess some folks decided to take one last shot at Neo-Realism.

Love in the City is an anthology film that, incidentally, has absolutely not the first thing to do with love. It claims to use real people, rather than actors, which is usually a bad idea, given that actors can act and real people generally can't. The first segment, Carlo Lizzani's "Love for Money," is about the grim details of prostitution, i.e. that most of the women have been abandoned, have children, and have no other choice.

Michelangelo Antonioni's "Attempted Suicide," begins interestingly, assembling a collection of suicide survivors against a huge, starkly-lit wall, but then it turns to flashbacks about how dismal these people's lives were and how they tried to kill themselves. In many cases, they're not glad to have survived.

Dino Risi's "Paradise for Three Hours" starts to look like a high point. It's set at a dance club where people happily shake their booties to some hot music. But after a few minutes, once again, grim reality shows its ugly head, and we begin to see annoying and irritating aspects of human behavior, ugliness, rudeness, and eventually the whole thing becomes futile.

Federico Fellini's "Marriage Agency" also starts well, with a reporter lost in a labyrinthian building, looking for the marriage agency of the title. He finds it, and at first, it almost seems supernatural, a little office that seems capable of matching up any two lonely souls in Italy. But then the reporter meets one woman whose story is sad and terrible, and the segment ends.

Francesco Maselli and Cesare Zavattini co-directed "The Story of Caterina," which features the real Caterina, an unemployed maid who was seduced and abandoned and is forced to pay a nanny to watch her child while she looks for work. Unfortunately, she's in Rome illegally and can't find any. The film boasts the presence of the real-life Caterina, which prompts the question: couldn't the filmmakers help her out, or are they just interested in filming her misery and then moving on to the premiere party?

Finally, we get Alberto Lattuada's "Italians Stare" or "Italians Turn Their Heads," depending on which way you translate. "Stare" is the better title. The whole thing shows beautiful women walking down the street (the only high point of this entire thing), followed by creepy, leering men staring at them. In the best sequence a fat man follows a woman up a long staircase only to be thwarted when she meets her boyfriend at the top. One man follows a woman on a bus, and she barely escapes by ducking into a building. If you're a man, it makes you want to just stay inside and never leave.

I had seen the Fellini and Antonioni segments on two previous Raro DVDs, The Clowns and I Vinti, respectively, and they seemed fine disconnected from this package. But as a whole, I can only urge you not to bother. If you're a fan of these two directors, or any of the others, and are curious about seeing some early work, stick with what you know. You don't want to go here.

Raro released this feature on Blu-ray, and it comes with different commentary tracks for each segment, interviews, a trailer, and a liner notes booklet.

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