The first time I had encountered the director Luchino Visconti was when I was more and more into the Italian Neorealism, the movement that can probably be considered one of the most genuine waves in European cinema. Having seen Visconti's most popular movies, including IL GATTOPARDO, L'OSSESSIONE, LA CADUTA DEGLI DEI or MORTE A VENEZIA as well as his earlier productions, I started to understand his conception of art in movie and it gradually appealed to me more. However, I realized that Visconti was the aristocrat who became a member of the Communist party representing the left wing of Italian artists. Even this film made way for the Italian socialists, which, for me, is not a very privileged information. But that is not the gist of my analysis. The most important aspect for me is the artistic side of the whole work, something in terms of which we evaluate LA TERRA TREMA nowadays.
LA TERRA TREMA, though not a top notch Neorealist work, is a film that resembles almost all the principles of Neorealism retained by the great directors: Rossellini, DeSica, Pasolini. At the same time, all of these aspects are still much appreciated and searched by many today's authors.
First, the cast consist of all non-professionals: simple fishermen of Sicily where, naturally, everyone has the role he/she knows how to perform in real life. And how they do in the movie: perfectly, the whole story is very authentic thanks to them. Sometimes, the performances are so well managed that you, as an experienced 21st century viewer, do not feel it's all acting. Moreover, they feel comfortable in the locations they know: so magical places of the Sicilian coast.
Second, the movie refers to the very realistic situations that were obvious in the Italy of that time. It was 1948 and the country was suffering the horrific consequences of WWII and the regime of "Il Duce" Mussolini. The tragic story of the Valastro family is something many people could empathize with at the time and, moreover, can still empathize nowadays. Ntonio, though formerly respected member of the community (Sicilian village of Acci Trezza) starts to lose everything. There comes a day when he has no job, is taken advantage of any time being no more respected. His brother Cola is on the verge of despair leaving the family to find a better future. Two sisters experience hardship as young women. The grandpa gets ill. The whole family is on the verge of total tragedy when they are forced to leave the house, their only property. The monotonous life gets even worse, turns into the life of poverty, helplessness and suffering. Is there a way to live a normal life in such circumstances?
Third, the whole movie is a profound development of characters within these very personal stories. Ntonio is an idealist who tells his brother that his love to his hometown has kept him there and will keep him till his death ("We were born here and we will die here"). At the same time, he is easily brought to despair (starts to spend the nights drinking in taverns). Cola is a youngster who respects his family but desires a better life. I'll never forget the scene he says "Farewell" to the picture of his family when sorrow is combined with fear and helplessness with desire. Mara is a very religious young woman who accepts sorrows and hardship claiming this all is the Will of God. The other sister, Lucia, is a normal girl, like every other; yet the tragic situation leads her to the cold acceptance of "male use." The little shining necklace seems to steal her heart.
Similarly to the top Neorealist movies, like GERMANIA ANNO ZERO or ROMA CITTA APERTA, LA TERRA TREMA focuses on individuals in the society, in the community at hard times. On the one hand, there are so many praying women at Valastro's house when the grandfather is being taken to Catania, to hospital; on the other hand, the Valastro family hear very bitter words "God has punished you for your pride!" from the same people. It is not the ostentation but solidarity of people that leads to better future, better life; it is the lack of solidarity that leads to hell on earth. That is beautifully executed in Ntonio's conversation with a simple girl on the shore at his past boat: "I'd gladly help you"... Politically and historically speaking, that was the point which gave way to socialist ideas.
But so far, I have not touched the most significant aspect why the film is so much worth seeing. Although it is pretty long, it is black and white, it has the narrator that may distract some of the modern viewers, LA TERRA TREMA is "like a loaf of bread to the poor", a wonderful gift for today's viewers who may see what a film may be like, how many messages it can convey, not from the political perspective only but from a simple empathy with humanity, which was most precious thing about Neorealism calling for change. Although these times are gone forever and some islands of poverty turned into isles of prosperity, this change is still so desirable...
See this! You'll not regret and don't be discouraged by its length and documentary like style. It's worth your search! By the way, one of the assistant directors of the movie was Maestro Franco Zeffirelli