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DVD SAVANT

Violent Summer
&
Girl with a Suitcase
The Valerio Zurlini Box Set


Violent Summer
&
Girl with a Suitcase

NoShame

directed by
Valerio Zurlini

B&W
Street Date
May 30, 2006
29.95

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


NoShame devotes this DVD double bill to a pair of artful dramas from Valerio Zurlini, an accomplished Italian director who made popular films but never a breakthrough international success. At the same time that media attention was focused on the French New Wave, Zurlini made these two absorbing character studies that share the theme of an older woman falling in love with a younger man, but beyond that are quite different. Zurlini seems to have been passed over in the adulation handed out to his contemporaries, probably because his films do not invite intellectual analysis.


Violent Summer
1959 / 103 min. / 1:37 flat full frame / Estate violenta
Starring Eleonora Rossi Drago, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jacqueline Sassard, Lilla Brignone, Enrico Maria Salerno, Federica Ranchi
Cinematography Tino Santoni
Production design Massimiliano Capriccioli, Dario Cecchi
Film Editor Mario Serandrei
Original Music Mario Nascimbene
Written by Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Giorgio Prosperi, Valerio Zurlini
Produced by Silvio Clementelli
Directed by Valerio Zurlini

Synopsis:

Riccione, Italy, 1943. A group of affluent young people waits out the war by partying on the beach. Among them is Carlo Caremoli (Jean-Louis Tringtignant), who has so far evaded the draft through the influence of his father (Enrico Maria Salerno) is a fascist appointee. Carlo is first attracted to lovely Rosanna (Jacqueline Sassard of Accident) but finds himself drawn to Roberta (Eleonora Rossi Drago), a war widow ten years older than he, who has a young daughter. Roberta resists but is unable to stop a relationship from forming. The fascists fall and the war still goes on. With his father now absent Carlo's draft deferment expires and his relationship with Roberta is in doubt ... although she's now willing, if need be, to leave her family to be with him.

Violent Summer is an intense romance with a war background. The allies have already landed in the south and much of the country is in turmoil, but Carlo's friends have time for parties and even boating jaunts, provided they stay out of the way of the coast guard. We see some captured Englishmen brought ashore in the beginning, but for the next hour the war is only felt through worried relatives and a few displaced persons. Nobody discusses politics, only inconvenience. We wonder if Carlo's young friends are also being shielded from the war by a corrupt parent. But the script by Suso Cecchi d'Amico and Giorgio Prosperi refuses to judge Carlo for trying to avoid the army.

Instead Zurlini concentrates on Carlo's careful courting of the young war widow. Roberta's mother (Lilla Brignone) expects her to act like a proper wife with a child. The presence of Maddelena (Frederica Franchi), the sister of Roberta's dead husband, is a constant reminder of her obligations. Roberta secretly wants to break free, and Carlo is more than enough temptation. She can't maintain her distance when Maddalena involves her in the group activities. Young Rosanna isn't happy when Carlo's attentions shift to the older woman. In a particularly effective scene, Carlo takes his friends to his house to listen to the black-market American records he claims to have bought in Switzerland. A slow dance to the song Temptation changes Roberta's mind for her.

Valerio's film isn't perfect -- the women's hairstyles and dresses look too modern -- but every scene generates an intense you-are-there atmosphere. We track the characters' movements and expressions, looking for emotional clues not carried in the dialogue. It's very effective filmmaking and a steamy romance under unusual conditions.

Carlo suddenly becomes homeless when the new government requisitions all of the properties belonging to his father, a bully who shaves his head to better resemble Il Duce. His secure life overturned, Carlo is drawn even more passionately to Roberta.

The story is nearly over before we see Germans in uniform, a reminder that the seaside enclave of Riccione is an anomaly of a country turned upside-down by war. Roberta and Carlo are suddenly on a train to Bologna, unsure whether he will re-register for the draft, or if they will try to run away together. Roberta has left her child behind and told no one where she's going. The lovers are exchanging passionate oaths when their train enters a switchyard just as an allied air raid begins. The war that has been so distant has suddenly arrived.

Zurlini's handling of his drama is masterful. The first third is a subdued Beach Party picture and the second an emotionally charged love affair. The B&W photography expresses a wide selection of moods, as when Carlo turns his darkened house into a moonlit dance floor by slowly opening several garden doors. The lovers embrace on a pre-dawn beach, where they can indulge the illusion that the outside world can't touch them. When the air raid scene comes, it's large-scale and frighteningly realistic -- Zurlini's effects men definitely knew what the real thing was like. Eleanora Rossi Drago and Jean-Louis Trintignant are compelling romantic leads -- Trintignant is actually a lot more appealing here than he is in his later international hitA Man and a Woman.


NoShame's disc of Violent Summer is a beautiful transfer of this flat B&W film from 1959. Both pictures were mastered in Hi-Def. Mario Nascimbene's symphonic score is free of distortion.

The NoShame label presents a number of featurettes, unbroken monologues by notables who worked on the film or knew Valerio Zurlini. Violent Summer has pieces with assistant director Florestano Vancini, lyricist Riccardo Pazzaglia, actress Eleonora Giorgi and director Giuliano Montaldo. The first-person reminiscences and endorsements vary in length but are wordy and unfocused. One speaker tells us about Zurlini's career and proceeds to read from a list of movie titles.



Girl with a Suitcase
1960 / B&W / 1:85 enhanced widescreen / 121, 111 min. / La Ragazza con la valigia
Starring Claudia Cardinale, Jacques Perrin, Romolo Valli, Gian Maria Volonté
Cinematography Tino Santoni
Production Designer Flavio Mogherini
Film Editor Mario Serandrei
Original Music Mario Nascimbene
Written by Leo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi and Valerio Zurlini
Directed by Valerio Zurlini

Valerio Zurlini's next film leaps to widescreen and scores a casting coup with the knockout beauty Claudia Cardinale near the beginning of her career. It's a provocative but dignified Italian drama co-starring Jacques Perrin, noted actor ("Z") and later producer (Winged Migration).

Synopsis:

Young cad Marcello Mainardi (Corrado Pani) callously ditches his latest girlfriend, singer Aida (Claudia Cardinale), and then instructs his younger brother Lorenzo (Jacques Perrin) to brush her off when she comes looking for him at their parents' house. Encouraged by his priest-tutor (Romolo Valli) to be virtuous, the sincere 16 year-old helps the beautiful young woman, eventually stealing his mother's money to get Aida a hotel room. Lorenzo tags along and discovers that businessmen at the hotel consider Aida an easy pickup. He suffers as he watches an old boyfriend (Gian Maria Volanté) bully and abuse her at a café. Aida too is saddened -- Lorenzo is simply too young for her, but his gentlemanly valor is impossible not to love.

Someday the world should try to do without "coming of age" movies about young boys initiated into the world of sex by hot young women. It didn't work in the "sensitive" Summer of '42 any better than it works in the trashy subgenre that began with Jacqueline Bisset in The First Time in 1969. Beautiful young models don't habitually seek out adolescent boys to deflower; either that or this reviewer missed out on something. Girl With a Suitcase offers plenty of opportunities for exploitative or trashy scenes but Zurlini chooses to build a relationship instead.

Girl With a Suitcase is a serious film about good people in an impossible situation. Young Lorenzo is smitten by Aida, but the match is not a good one ... if they were caught together she'd probably be arrested. She's a decent girl having a rough time in a cabaret world where too many men expect too much for a meal and some empty promises. When she's without funds, all she need do is appear in a hotel lobby and someone will invite her to dinner. Lorenzo's selfish brother has more likely than not seduced her with a pack of romantic lies. He's such a cad that he introduced himself with a false name in preparation for leaving her flat. The other men in her life are older boyfriends with harsh demands, or new candidates with big ideas and fast tongues.

Because Lorenzo is so young the situation is more delicate than the romance in Violent Summer. Lorenzo and Aida quickly earn our sympathy. His mother normally keeps him on a short leash, and he's so lovesick that he forgets all of his responsibilities. Lorenzo is acutely aware of a need to do the right thing, which makes him into a prince in Aida's eyes. They share just one kiss and an embrace, and we feel their desperate hopelessness.

Watching Claudia Cardinale bloom on-screen is a visual pleasure in itself. She's possibly the most arresting new Italian actress of the 60s, and there are moments in which she dominates a scene with just a smile or a look. Zurlini makes her a part of the atmosphere of train stations, hotels and other ordinary settings in Lorenzo's beach town.

Future Sergio Leone star Gian Maria Volonté is good as the previous boyfriend. We don't hear his cruel demands but from Aida's reaction they must be terrible. Lorenzo challenges yet another would-be one-night stand twice as big as himself, with the expected result that he earns a beating and more sympathy from Aida. A surprisingly good scene involves Lorenzo's tutor, a priest played by Romolo Valli (Duck, You Sucker): He calls Aida aside to ask her to leave Lorenzo alone, and instead ends up offering her sincere advice.

Zurlini and his writers do not place the blame for Aida and Lorenzo's problems on adults or society in general. They're presented as responsible individuals and not generic victims, and accept the consequences of their actions. Girl With a Suitcase is an emotionally satisfying experience.


NoShame's DVD of Girl with a Suitcase presents Zurlini's film in a beautiful enhanced transfer from the original elements. The B&W image is sharp and well defined. The lively soundtrack makes occasionally uses pop tunes as an aural backdrop, in a style we associate with the later films of Sergio Leone. Lorenzo agonizes as he watches Aida with other men, while a novelty song is fore-grounded on the soundtrack: "Mai Mai Mai Più" -- "Never never never again."

The extras are more of the same unedited interview testimony. Assistant director Piero Schivazappa, screenwriter Piero De Bernard, Bruno Torri and producer Mario Gallo talk at length. The Restoration of Girl With A Suitcase compares the opening scene with a poor transfer from an earlier disc release. A poster and still gallery finish off the set. The case contains a fat booklet with liner notes and talent bios written by NoShame regular Richard Harland Smith with an assist from Chris D. As with all of NoShame's quality releases, both of these presentations have removable Italian subtitles.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Violent Summer rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Introduction by assistant director Florestano Vancini, How Do You Light the Night? - Interview with assistant director Florestano Vancini; I Dreamed of Valerio - Interview with lyricist Riccardo Pazzaglia; He Was A Friend of Mine - Interview with actress Eleonora Giorgi; A Director With the Eyes of A Child - Interview with director Giuliano Montaldo; Poster and Still Gallery
The Girl with a Suitcase rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Introduction by assistant director Piero Schivazappa; Visconti Came to Visit Us on the Set - Interview with assistant director Piero Schivazappa; Valerio Was Always in Love with Some Girl! - Interview with screenwriter Piero De Bernardi; Zurlini the Outsider - Interview with Bruno Torri; When We Were Young - Interview with producer Mario Gallo; The Restoration of Girl With A Suitcase; Poster and Still Gallery; Booklet with liner notes and talent bios

Packaging: two discs in keep case
Reviewed: May 24, 2006

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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