(1953, Italia, 113')
La provinciale, a 1953 film directed by Mario Soldati, was included by critics in 2008 among the one hundred Italian films “that altered the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978.” The skill of the actors becomes evident to all, from Gabriele Ferzetti to the then twenty-six-year-old Gina Lollobrigida. Most viewers will be moved by the story of Gemma, a commoner in love with an aristocrat who discovers she cannot marry him due to a revelation that occurs at 47’30” into the film. The film’s French noir narrative structure demands this revelation to be kept a secret.
However, there are numerous other aspects of the film worth noting. Firstly, the plot, inspired by the story of the same name by Alberto Moravia, which in turn drew from a personal story, carefully capturing the post-war social contradictions of its time. The screenplay is authored by another great writer, Giorgio Bassani, who narrates a very similar story in Lidia Mantovani, a short story found within Storie Ferraresi.
Soldati’s direction is highly innovative for its era and remains remarkable today. It features intelligent use of flashbacks, an unusual technique for that period, along with off-screen voiceovers that allow the protagonist to express his inner thoughts with the character often filmed from behind, and the use of zoom effectively capturing the intensity of Lollobrigida’s gaze, often described as “speaking eyes.” The film employs the very modern technique of dissolves and revisits scenes from different perspectives to enhance storytelling, as seen for example in the stairway escape sequence.
Furthermore, the film’s rich use of scenic elements vividly depicts the era, including scenes of young women playing the piano at home, a symbol of their aspirations for emancipation. It also portrays the common practice of landlords, a coffee grinder, a doorstep adorned with a bleeding heart Jesus figure, the ubiquitous presence of rosemary in gardens, polka dot dresses, and false Slavic aristocrats. The opening shots effectively highlight the social contrast and the changing times, transitioning from a horse-drawn cart along the street to bicycles, buses, and finally, the luxurious convertibles of the wealthy.
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