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"Terra Trema" tells the
story of the Valastro family, who live in the
The film was shot in the actual
"Terra Trema" was intended to be the first in a documentary trilogy produced by the Italian Communist Party. Visconti felt constrained by this format and elected to use Verga's novel as the basis for a more theatrical production. However, in his voice-over narration, Visconti made sure that viewer got the message. In perhaps an overly obtrusive fashion--the result of his own youth and his Communist commitment--Visconti continually reminds us of how unjust class society is.
While the film was shaped by Marxist politics, there is little in the way of facile propaganda about what workers can do when they unite. 'Ntonio is a tragic victim of his own overconfidence in the possibility of class solidarity. The fishermen of Trezza do not own their own boats, but work for pittance wages advanced by the local wholesalers. He decides that the answer is to bypass them and sell directly to the retail markets. After taking out a mortgage on his house to buy his own boat, he is ruined after a storm batters the boat beyond repair. The final hour of the film tells the grim downfall of the Valastros, as they are reduced to crime, drunkenness and physical collapse brought on by the loss of their livelihood.
Although he was always a leftist, there is a sense of fatalism mixed with nostalgia for the past that exists in other of his films dealing with class society. In "The Leopard," his 1963 masterpiece, we feel a kind of pity for the fallen aristocrat Prince Salina (played by Burt Lancaster) despite the clear message that the feudal class deserved to be overthrown. Since Visconti himself came from the landed gentry, he was probably more keenly aware of how social change impacted his class.
Visconti died in 1976. A 2003 retrospective of his films in
"Count Don Luchino Visconti di Modrone was born in
"The Arena documentary shows us some of the houses - and the ways they were used in subsequent films - and leaves us in no doubt about the emotional importance to Visconti of distinction, property and command. He was a man who needed fine things, who kept many servants (and kept them in their place), who believed passionately in money, property and the poignant situation of an upper class inevitably seeming more archaic or stranded. All of these conservative attitudes were bound up with the life of a homosexual who was not initially comfortable about revealing himself.
"As a young man, Visconti dabbled in painting and collecting, but his greatest enthusiasm lay in the breeding and racing of fine horses. His life had been sheltered; he moved and travelled with the ease of great wealth. But then in 1936, a trip to
"La Terra Trema" is available in DVD. If one has patience for its length (160 minutes) and its grim narrative, you will be rewarded by ravishing cinematography and compelling performances by an amateur cast.