Combustible Celluloid
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With: Massimo Girotti, Clara Calamai, Elio Marcuzzo
Written by: Luchino Visconti, Antonio Pietrangeli, Giuseppe de Santis, Gianni Puccini, Mario Alicata, based on a novel by James M. Cain
Directed by: Luchino Visconti
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 135
Date: 05/16/1943

Ossessione (1943)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Postman Still Rings Twice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The only thing that Fassbinder had in common with Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti (1906-76) is that both filmmakers were gay and that Fassbinder cultivated a great appreciation for Visconti's work.

Visconti is often lumped in with Italian Neo-Realist filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, but in truth, his work stands apart, landing somewhere in-between realism and operatic indulgence.

He was born independently wealthy and developed a passion for various art forms, including opera and theater. But he learned to love cinema after working as an assistant for Jean Renoir, and even developed a liberal worldview and an interest in the common people.

Visconti's first film, Ossessione (1943), was made two years before the Neo-Realist movement really started. Based unofficially on James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, it was not released in America until years later because of copyright infringement, and even then it was heavily censored. Ossessione follows Cain's plot very closely, but immerses the story in the reality of life in an Italian village, using simplicity and poverty as driving forces. (Visconti was not allowed to explore his homosexuality on film the way Fassbinder was, but look carefully in Ossessione for two men dancing together in the cafe.)

Visconti earned far greater acclaim for La Terra Trema (1948), a lengthy portrait of a Sicilian fishing village, starring real-life fishermen -- and not one trained actor. The young fishermen grow weary of working so hard for so little and attempt to start their own business, which promptly fails and eventually tears the family apart. Visconti's touching affection for the characters comes through clearly, and though it can get a bit slow (Pauline Kael called it the most boring great film ever made), it's a remarkable social document.

DVD Details: Neither Image's Visconti DVDs boast very high quality image or sound, but both films come highly recommended anyway.

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