Review

  • Warning: Spoilers
    One of Visconti's early neo-realist classics, La Terra Trema was shot on location in the eastern Sicilian town of Aci Trezza completely with non-professional actors.

    The focus is on a family of fishermen headed by elder son Antonio (aka "'Ntoni") Valastro who gets it in his head to challenge the establishment and strike out on his own in the fishing business.

    The wholesalers exploit the poor workers by offering them paltry wages. He's arrested early on for participating in a violent protest but released once his bosses realize he's needed as a skilled worker.

    'Ntoni takes out a mortgage on his house and is supported by the rest of the family including an elderly grandfather, aging mother, Cola, a brother who is only a little younger than him, sisters Lucia and Mara and a few younger children.

    By obtaining a mortgage, 'Ntoni hopes to use the capital to bypass the wholesalers and distribute the product himself (along with his family).

    It all falls apart when their boat is ruined in a storm. The rest of the film chronicles the disintegration of the family.

    Cola takes off to parts unknown in the big city, the grandfather passes away, the Valastro home is repossessed by the bank, Lucia's reputation is ruined when she takes up with the village police chief, Mara gives up on her plans to marry, 'Ntoni's girl Nedda leaves him, and he takes to drink.

    It's all very hard to watch and events in the second half of the film certainly could have been cut to move things along much more quickly. Eventually 'Ntoni must eat crow and reapply for a job with the bosses who give him back his job but relentlessly mock him.

    Perhaps the hardest thing to watch is where the family ends up-in a shell of a house in a decaying neighborhood. If you ever wanted to know what poverty is all about, watch this film.

    It's also dispiriting to view the indifference of the townspeople when 'Ntoni attempts to convince them to strike out on their own and challenge the existing order.

    Are there no good people in this town from hell or is everybody just out to make a buck? As an inveterate Communist, Visconti was devoted to exposing the base underside of the capitalist system. Obviously, there's some truth to his presentation here but I'm not sure I buy the idea that there are no good people around to help our beleaguered protagonist.

    On the other hand, maybe things were as bad as depicted in the film. After all, the action takes place only two years after the end of World War II.

    Despite the use of non-professional actors, I found the acting to be realistic and convincing. La Terra Trema has some great cinematography and despite the downbeat denouement, I would describe it as tragically gripping.