La Terra Trema directed by Luchino Visconti and based on I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga
A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:
- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEVa4_CsRStSBBDo4uJWT8BSWtTTn0N1E and http://realini.blogspot.ro/
This is an impressive, wonderful dramatic film.
It was mentioned by Martin Scorsese in an episode of the exceptional documentary American Cinema.
Since he praised this work, I looked it up and when I could finally see it, it became evident that this is a fabulous achievement.
It is called docufiction and part of the reason for that is explained at the start where the public is told that there are no actors on screen.
More information I have received from an Italian professor that I meet downtown at the…sauna, where we both go regularly.
He told me that Giovanni Verga is the representative of naturalism, even if in Italy this movement did not reach the importance it had in France for instance.
The audience is overwhelmed by the struggle of the fishermen who are at the center of this narrative and who have to live in poverty.
Their work is dangerous and many of them die at sea.
They sail under any circumstances- almost- and yet there is little to show for their ordeal and constant toil.
The main reason appears to be the greed of the wholesalers, the men who take all the fish and pass it on.
In a normal economy or market, the middle men have a major and honest role to play, taking products from makers to consumers.
That notwithstanding, in this small village called Aci Trezza, on the coast of Sicily, wholesalers have a monopoly.
Therefore, the prices are fixed and instead of a free market, we have a rigged commerce with all the profit going to a handful of men.
‘Ntoni, from a well-established family of fishermen is the Rebel With A Cause who tries to end this injustice.
He faces individuals who have a much bigger financial power and are united in what is in effect a small cartel.
‘Ntoni or Antonio is right in figuring out that once the cartel would be broken or avoided, fishermen could have a profit.
Like it is, they can only sell what they catch to the profiteers who abuse their power and the fact that the poor have no option.
The family of Antonio is convinced to mortgage the house and invest in preserving the fish with large quantities of salt.
Mind you, the film was made in 1948, so the narrative depicts what happened in a period when this is all they could afford…
Indeed, even under the new circumstances, the situation does not improve for the Valastro family and the outlook is worse.
The girls of the family approach or are at a “romantic age” but conditions are not favorable, because of the same financial problems and the social norms of the day.
And a nadir is reached during a particularly bad storm, which caught the Valastro fishermen at sea and damaged their new boat.
They had to risk disaster and even worse, death, seeing as the pressure of the mortgage and the many mouths to feed was too great.
It looked for a while that they are lost, but they are ultimately found, even if the despair is not ended with a temporary salvation.
Because they face not just humiliation, with their enemies taking a revolting revenge, but outright starvation.
One silver lining in all this may be a discovery referring to the Great Depression during which people had to eat little in large parts of America.
Studies have shown that they lived longer as a result of reducing dramatically the calorie intake during the Depression.
And this proves again that research in Okinawa and other places is correct in emphasizing that eating less prolongs life.
Still, the drama of the Valastros and the other protagonists fighting hunger and their human adversaries makes for a masterpiece.