La Commare secca (1962)

19 07 2008

Overall, a pretty impressive start for Bertolucci, but he would go on to much, much better things. In fact his next film, Before the Revolution, is definitely the highest point in his career, at least so in my eyes. A lot of the things he does in this film would eventually lead him to some of the greatest moments in his greatest film, but for the most part, his debut represents a technically intriguing area in his career. The Conformist could also be said to be merely an extremely well-accomplished genre film, which is what La Commare secca ultimately is, but the former is a bit emotionally mature. On the other hand, this does have that certain vibe present in all Italian films of the early sixties that puts it about on the same level as The Conformist.

A Roman prostitute is found dead in a park located near the Tiber river. The police rounds-up a collection of characters who were all present at the scene of the crime and asks them to explain why they were there. Each character’s story is presented as a vignette, all of which lead up to a burst of rain and a cut to the prostitute getting ready for her final day on earth. One of these characters really is the killer, but all of them are ready to place a blame on someone else.

A la Rashomon, each character represents a different point of view of life leading up to the crime. Unlike Kurosawa’s film, though, Bertolucci gives all of his characters, of which there are many, plenty of opportunities to be given some depths. This isn’t the same story told in a different manner with minor differences, but instead, a few slices of life that all conclude in a protagonist being in the location of the crime. Thus, all the stories represent different dramatic focuses as well as different moods. There’s a half-decent “complicated relationship” story with the guy whose girlfriend’s mother wants to kill him. There’s a neat and extremely well photographed segment about a sleazy soldier wandering around the city.

The bit with the four teenagers is probably the best of the bunch and sort of anticipates the first twenty minutes of Bertolucci’s own La Luna. All the segments are quite fine, in and of themselves, but when stitched together to make a complete film, they feel slightly less fascinating. Perhaps it is indeed because the film ultimately becomes just a well-constructed murder mystery, but more because the sequences seem to lack any particularly substantial emotional weight. In other words, this is a great vision of things to come, but not a fully realized film in its own right.

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