June 20, 2011

Una vita difficile (Italy 1961)

Reading the synopsis of "Una vita difficile" (translated to "A difficult life") one suspects a tragic, rather sad film. And while the story of a Communist resistance fighter returning home after the war has its roots in Neorealism, the approach of director Dini Risi is different to this previous generation of filmmakers. He keeps it light and entertaining all the way even when his character goes from one lowpoint to another. This ability to tackle serious problems with humour is certainly a particular Italian quality.

And while the film does break with neorealism, there is an underlying truth and sincerity beneath the surface. It's the kind of film that both a mass audience and more cinephile viewers can enjoy. Everyone who has ever faced the choice between his ideals or dreams and the prospect of financial security will be able to identify with the good-natured but unlucky main character. And Alberto Sordi does a wonderful job in this role.

The film also provides a good picture of the boom years after the war and the differences in mentality between Italy's rich North and poor South that led to the Mezzogiorno problem. Suddenly there were opportunities for those willing to play with the rules. Many were embracing them in the hopes of gaining wealth while those who refused to go along with the masses were simply left out. In a country that is now - 50 years later - in serious trouble because of the leadership of an egomaniacal capitalist, the film now feels like a cautionary tale.


Stoking up: Lea Massari and Alberto Sordi

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