Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Quiet Italian Films Probe Ordinary Lives

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Quiet Italian Films Probe Ordinary Lives

Article excerpt

ONCE upon a time, Italy had one of the world's most vital and creative film industries. Its greatest period was in the decade after World War II, when the style called "neo-realism" set an international standard for telling simple, human stories in vivid, everyday settings. Classic films like "Open City" and "The Bicycle Thief" became even more popular with American audiences than with the Italians themselves.

Neorealism faded as its greatest artists found new interests and drifted in different directions - Vittorio De Sica toward comedy and romance, Roberto Rossellini toward dramatic projects with Ingrid Bergman, and so forth. But the neorealist spirit has never quite vanished, and this season two new movies are demonstrating its continuing vitality.

"Mediterraneo" is not only a hit, it's an award winner, earning this year's Oscar for best foreign-language film. It's a quiet and unpretentious picture, and its success is probably coming as a surprise to its own producers. But audiences have taken to it with unmistakable enthusiasm, and it's likely to be showing on American screens for a quite a while.

Set in 1941, the story centers on eight Italian soldiers who've been shipped to a Greek island, which they are supposed to liberate and safeguard for the fascist cause. Most of them, however, are in their current situation - and in the military, for that matter - through no particular choice of their own. One of them thinks less about his present duty than about his pregnant wife back home, while another is concerned mostly with the welfare of his pet donkey, who's also on the expedition.

Partly because the soldiers are distracted and partly because they're not very competent to begin with, casualties mount up quickly: first the donkey, then their radio, then the ship that brought them to the island. Cut off from their commanders, and from the war itself, they soon start thinking for themselves. Soon each has begun to go "native" in one way or another.

What links "Mediterraneo" with the neorealist tradition is its keen interest in the most ordinary people, and its willingness to spin an uncomplicated yarn that stresses character over action. …

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