Riso Amaro [1949)

Robert Bresson said, “I believe in cinema.”

In English?  Like that?  I don’t know.

But it is truly the thought which counts here.

Because I believe in cinema.


Maybe it’s my favorite word.

My religion.

The great omnist hymn of all lands.

Of all the hands which have pitched in to turn the wheels of the mind.

And so this film, Bitter Rice, is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Not because it is flowery and seductive. [It’s not flowery.]

Not because there are perfumed stars in diamonds. [There’s no perfume.]

But because it is real.

As real as cinema gets.

Not the hyperreal of Harmony Korine’s Gummo.

Not even the transparent real of documentary footage.

But a real which is uniquely Italian.

To say neorealism is to cheapen the whole creation.

This is a masterpiece by director Giuseppe De Santis.

You must live through the rain to understand it.

You must have had no hope to fathom the slop.

You must wade in de water.

Because you are seeing Italian opera.

There’s no speech in the field.

No talking.

Workers are in the prison of labor.

Same kinds of rules.

But if you sing, that’s tolerated.

And so it all must be sung.  In the fields.

Puccini famously bragged about his facility.

Give him a grocery list, he said.

And Willie Sutton had his hygiene and motivators covered.

Even if he never uttered the famous phrase.

He ENJOYED robbing banks.

And, yes, that was where the money was.

And so the field workers not only display humanism.

Not only embody feminism.

But engage in a little triage worthy of Sutton’s law.

Taking the poor girl to the embankment.

[They’re all poor.  This is 1949 Italy.]

It’s not psychotic fugue, but psychogenic fugue.

Fugue state.


The Axis Powers played a very bad game of chess.

Stretto was the shit hitting the fan.

“Ride of the Valkyries” mixed with heavy artillery mixed with vocalizations of agony.

Ristretto is what you get at Starbucks.

But, dear friends, don’t stop after the first half.

Let it finish.

Let it bleed.

Shine a light.

For Silvana Mangano.

Sylvania.  Someone has etched the word “hope” into the light bulb’s socket.

In the Schwarzwald.

The deep eerie mystery of the woods.  And Hitler’s aerie.

[Godwin golden mean]

34 21 13 8

almost Fibonacci but ending

aND nothing more Italian that an actress named Doris Dowling.

But that’s the way it went.

Direct descendent of opera verismo.

Our old favorites Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

But Netflix hasn’t gotten at the heart of what this means.

“Strong female lead” or some such rubbish.

Nice try…

But Riso Amaro blows all those venal pigeonholing strategies out of the water.

Cinema is not my God.

Cinema is my religion.



Roma città aperta [1945)

When I was younger I could take the easy way.

But as I have grown older I have found that increasingly impossible.

In moments of weakness I think of money.  A job.  Adventure.

But none of that really matters.

What matters is our fellow human beings.

Dear friends, this film (Rome, Open City) is an extremely moving experience.

What I try to bring to you as an amateur film critic are the words of a man immersed in the film…baptized…in the experience of each film.

Most pieces of cinema are not worth this effort, but occasionally a film is worth every minute…every second…every tear shed.

Roma città aperta is a masterpiece from director Roberto Rossellini.  This is a very famous film because of the milieu in which it was made.

WWII was not even over.  You can imagine how hard it must have been to get film stock (film for the camera) while Europe was in flames and Italy was a defeated country occupied by the Allies.

But this film tells of Italy occupied by the Nazis (and, indeed, Rome was occupied by the Nazis prior to American occupation).

But all of these descriptions I’m giving you…they mean nothing.

What you must understand about this film is that it did something which no film before it had done.

This film was infused with the sorrow of the World Wars, but was presented as one would present a documentary.

Hence the name neorealism.

Anna Magnani is so beautiful, but not glamorous.  She is beautiful because she is believable.  It takes a philosophical film director to deliver such a performance.  It also takes a hell of an actress!

Roma città aperta is like an opera by Mascagni or Leoncavallo.  Verismo!

Act I ends with Magnani running after her fiancé.  The SS have literally come to take him away.  And her weaving, desperate run became an iconic film moment which wouldn’t be adequately interpolated back into the cinematic discussion till Jean-Paul Belmondo took the entire Rue Campagne-Première to die in À Bout de souffle. 

Godard was young.  À Bout de souffle was his first film.

Godard took the easy way.  Postmodernism.

A bit from here and a bit from there.  Voila!

But later Godard grew a conscience.  And his conscience helped him find himself kicked to the curb of the film industry.

In our film, Aldo Fabrizi is the voice of conscience.

He plays the priest don Pietro.

He’s not your average priest.

This is a guy who stands against the Nazis.

Don Pietro helps the resistance.

Don Pietro gives and gives and gives and asks nothing.

He is a true man of God…a true humanitarian.

He helps anyone in need…atheists, communists, it doesn’t matter.

But one thing is important.

Don Pietro has made a value judgment concerning the Nazis.

He has discerned who the enemy is.

That is a large step.

Today, we are told every day who our enemy is supposed to be.

The worst offender is Fox News, but the other networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC) are all equally devoid of journalistic merit.

As for the print media, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post are completely worthless.

If you lived in Nazi Germany, you would have been bombarded with propaganda about how the Jews were the enemy and how the Jews were responsible for every conceivable ill in society.

That was, of course, untrue.

In America today, we are told (particularly by the infantile Fox News) that Islam and Muslims are the enemy and that every conceivable problem in the world today relates back to this group.

This is, obviously, untrue.

The other three/five networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC) are more eager to push gun control (something which Hitler would no doubt have applauded).

And so, I propose to you, dear readers that what we are seeing in the world today is an array of psychological operations which mirror something about which Italy knows only too well:  Operation Gladio.

But I propose to you that what we are seeing nowadays are multiple Gladios run by gently-warring factions of the New World Order.

The biggest Gladio in operation (a series of false-flag attacks accompanied by fake wars) is the one being run by the neoconservative faction of the New World Order (including several prominent Zionists who, despite holding high U.S. government offices [and Top Secret clearances], held dual citizenship during their terms of service to the U.S. with Israel and the U.S.).  This Gladio brought you the Paris attacks.  This Gladio is responsible for the War “on” Terror (including the synthetic Arab army/marketing confection known as ISIS).  And finally, this Gladio almost certainly brought you the San Bernardino shooting as well.

The main goal of the neoconservative Gladio is endless war.  It is a macro operation.  It operates on the level of geopolitics.  War profiteering, oil, drugs…  The neoconservative Gladio brought you the mother of all false-flags:  9/11.

On the other hand is the liberal Gladio.  The liberal Gladio brought you Sandy Hook (their masterpiece).  Their other suspected jobs are Aurora (the Batman shooter) and Umpqua.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to also include the OKC bombing and the Waco massacre of the Branch Davidians.  But focusing on the first three cases alone (Sandy Hook, Aurora, Umpqua), it is very clear that the liberal Gladio has as its main goal gun control.

The liberal Gladio is operating on a micro (or domestic) level.  The San Bernardino shooting was meant to make Obama look soft on crime.  The neocon gang which engineered the shooting exhibited perfect timing as Obama had recently announced an initiative to reclaim MRAPs from local law enforcement across the country (in response to police abuse of power).  The neocons took a page out of the liberal false-flags-for-gun-control playbook on this one, but the main goal was endless war.  [This, of course, didn’t prevent Obama from trying to leverage the event to prop up HIS faction’s agenda.]

The unfortunate equation is that neither side can expose the deeds of the opposing side because they are both dealing in untruths.  Obama has, up until now, squandered his opportunity to bring the neocons of the Bush administration to task for 9/11 and the fraudulent War “on” Terror.  Indeed, Obama has only proven that he himself is a fraud down to his very core.

The layers-upon-layers of lies in the United States cannot hold.  Snowden pierced the veil.  Only those with a conscience can save us now.




Umberto D. [1952)

Unglamorous stories.

That is what Italy brought us in the post-war years.

And every “new wave” which has followed owes a debt to the masters like De Sica.

Perhaps you know Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves).

Don’t stop there, dear friend.

Because here we have the precursor to Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Sure.  There is some humor in Umberto D.  A very, very dark humor.

As with Moartea domnului Lăzărescu.

But mostly there is beauty.




There is the little dog Flike.  Not Flicka, but Flike (rhymes with psych).  Or bike.

Flike.  Like Céline’s cat Bebert.

And then there is the stunning (STUNNING) acting of Carlo Battisti as Umberto.

There are few performances which can equal it.

Ioan Fiscuteanu did it as Lazarescu.

And that’s about it.

Rarefied air…these two actors.

Let me put it another way.  Umberto D. was Ingmar Bergman’s favorite film.  Do you know what I mean?

The director of Smultronstället and Sommaren med Monika.

Picked one film.  And this was it.

Appropriately, this was Carlo Battisti’s only film role ever.

As the star of Umberto D.

He wasn’t an actor.  He was a linguist.

God damn…

It’s just unreal how good this film is!

But we must also give credit to the indispensable Maria-Pia Casilio.

It is through her eyes that we see the ants…formica in Italian.

In English, we think of a hard composite material.  Formica.  A table top.

But a sort of false cognate brings us back to the archetype which Dalí and Buñuel so evocatively exploited in Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  A film.  The famous eyeball which gets “edited”.  And then the ants were back in La persistència de la memòria.  A painting.  Soft clocks.  You know the one.  And the only differences between Spanish and Catalan in this case are the diacritical marks.

But she burns paper.  To chase the ants.  And the stray cat prowls the roof at night soft as a snowflake.  And the grated skylight is her canvas to dream stretched out in her bed.  And nothing is more morose than a contemplative face at the window looking out on a dingy world.

We sense it did not go easily for Italy.  After the war.  Because when you choose the wrong side you will be punished.

And though Germany was divided and Berlin was the most surreal example of this (being wholly within East Germany…like a Teutonic Swaziland–a Lesotho leitmotiv), Italy still suffered.  We see it in Rossellini.  And we see it here.

Neorealism.  A update on the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  A continuation of Zola.  A nod to Dostoyevsky.


The star is an old man.  He is not really a hero.  He doesn’t save the world.  There aren’t explosions.

But (BUT)

he does something most extraordinary.  He survives…for a time.  What a miracle!

Ah!  The miracle of everyday life.  We have survived another year.  Another day!

Do you think there will be a war?

[Shame.  The shame of having to ask for help.  Begging for the first time.]

When your bed is a joke.  Newspapers and dust.  And there is a goddamned hole in your wall.  Perhaps.

A missile.  Or The Landlord’s Game (which became Monopoly).

When you are cold with a fever.  As an elderly person.  All your glamorous days have passed.

And you need your coat just to provide a little more warmth.  On top of the blanket.  To make it through the night.

As long.

As long as this film survives, humanity has a chance.



They Drive by Night [1940)

When most of us think about truck drivers we probably picture a redneck chewing Red Man and listening to Merle Haggard (or, to keep the motif going, Red Sovine).  Our truck drivers do an unenviable job which requires great intestinal fortitude (figuratively and literally).  It’s a hell of a thing to have a profession where the transport of goods (or people) requires driving at all hours of the day and night.  If you’ve never slapped yourself or blasted the A/C to try and stay awake–never searched desperately on the dial for some music to spur you on, then you may not understand this cautionary film noir from Raoul Walsh.

It’s cautionary in at least two ways.  Early in the film we see a couple of drivers go over a cliff and burn alive in their rig.  Even our hero Bogart loses an arm in a particularly nasty crash.  But the other half of the moral tale involves a theme common to film noir:  crimes of passion.  In this case, it is the jealous love of Ida Lupino which causes her to murder her husband in hopes of clearing the way for a romance with the straight-laced George Raft.

Raft can’t be tempted because, along with that intestinal fortitude of which I spoke, he has a salt-of-the-earth righteousness which keeps him from betraying his friend (the soon to be murdered husband of Lupino’s character).  That and he’s in love with Ann Sheridan.

Laced throughout this gritty struggle is the thread of capitalism.  We see Raft and Bogart appreciate the first fruits (pun intended) of their labor when they sell a truckload of lemons and are able to pay off the accrued debt on their truck.  Just when it’s paid off, tragedy strikes in the form of a wreck and they are back to square one.

Raft is excellent if stiff as Joe Fabrini.  Bogart plays his brother Paul.  Though Bogie is not really the featured player here, he delivers his lines with such wry languor and cool that we recognize the true star on set.  Sheridan looks lovely throughout as Cassie Hartley, but it is the overwrought Lupino who takes center stage as Lana Carlsen by throwing a wrench into Raft’s acquisition of the American Dream.

For me, the most beautiful aspect of this film is in its beginning sequences…when we see the brothers work and sweat and dream.  They have nothing but debt, yet they persevere and put their street smarts to work.  Film noir may have given us a heroic dose of scandals, but it also brought us the verismo of such as the Fabrini brothers.  It’s nice to see this slice of life on the silver screen.  As Alfredo instructs Toto in Cinema Paradiso (1988), “Life isn’t like in the movies.  Life…is much harder.”  Sometimes directors like Walsh bring life into our living rooms.  We can thank Raoul…and Rossellini…even Leoncavallo and Mascagni.  Throw in Zola too.  It’s only natural!