Winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982 and five David di Donatello Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, The Night of the Shooting Stars is undoubtedly Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's most accomplished work. Replacing the discontinued disc by MGM this new presentation by Koch Lorber Films attempts to get right what previous releases couldn't.
Before I get to talking about The Night of the Shooting Stars I would like to tell you a bit about the Taviani Brothers. One of the few remaining transitional directors whose work never succumbed to the fashionable trends that ravaged through Italian cinema from the mid 70s to the mid-late 80s, resulting in a number of questionable productions leaving the industry lingering well-behind France and Spain, Paolo and Vittorio managed to preserve their style and continue to shoot in a way no one dared imitate. Even after the commercial success Padre Padrone (1977) enjoyed at Cannes the two directors remained true to their intimate style of depicting life in rural Italy. Which by all means is quite an impressive achievement given their continuous involvement with RAI, the Italian public service broadcaster. Simply put, the work of the Taviani brothers is where Italian postwar neo-realism meets tradition and folklore.
Inspired by Roberto Rossellini's Paisan (1946) The Night of the Shooting Stars transports its viewers back to WW2 in the eve of the Night of San Lorenzo, the night when dreams come true. In San Martino, a small Tuscan village, the locals are faced with a difficult dilemma - to follow the orders of their Nazi occupiers or look for the American liberators who apparently are getting closer and closer.
Told as one long, continuous, flashback The Night of the Shooting Stars isn't necessarily a film bursting with realism. Even though death, pain, and sorrow appear to be imbedded into the story more or less this is film feels like a fairytale. It is beautiful to behold, incredibly colorful, full of poetic sequences.
It is also quite difficult to pinpoint the main characters here. Even though the entire story is told through the eyes of a little girl the manner in which the film is composed makes it impossible for the viewer to remain emotionally attached to a single character. From the local fascists to those seeking to greet the Americans to the few who will eventually make it back to the village war and its devastating power is everywhere.
The distinctively poetic style of filmmaking the Tavianis favor here isn't something to be surprised by. Even in Padre Padrone (1977), a film with a notably stronger neo-realistic flavor, the vistas their camera reveals are uncharacteristically beautiful. They even tend to intentionally soften the cruelty of war by adding humor and folklore references other directors would deem incomputable with the subject matter of their works. Not surprisingly The Night of the Shooting Stars feels like a poem, a beautiful tale of courage and love.
The evocative soundtrack by Nicola Piovani blends perfectly with the film's dreamy visuals. It effectively lullabies the viewer into the sweet yet deceiving world of Tuscany where the fascists' hegemony is slowly eroding.
How Does the DVD Look?
Films shot in 1.66:1 continue to be problematic for US distributors. Cropped to 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs Koch Lorber Films and their release of The Night of the Shooting Stars is a notable improvement over the old, now out of print, disc by MGM. Even though the initial release was in the proper 1.66:1 ratio it was not enhanced for widescreen TVs and the quick comparison I did after I received this new disc indicated that there are some obvious discrepancies with the color scheme as well. The main advantage this new release has, aside from the anamorphic enhancement, is in the actual quality of the print. The Koch Lorber Films print is cleaner, with better contrast, and in my opinion less visible artifacts. Where the print disappoints is the presence of macro-blocking which quite often becomes distracting to a degree where it is impossible not to be bothered by it. Occasional dirt spots are still visible here and there but in the larger scheme of things tolerable. To sum it all up, I am unsure whether or not this film will receive a better treatment on SDVD any time soon (with all of the above mentioned flaws taken into consideration) given that the original print for it is also more than likely quite soft-looking and not in the best of conditions. My advise: if you value the work of the Taviani Brothers as much as I do this release of The Night of the Shooting Stars is your ticket. For now.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an Italian DD track and optional English and Spanish subtitles the audio treatment is on par with the video presentation. The dialog is easy to follow, there aren't any disturbing imperfections to report, and the translation is very well done. The haunting soundtrack comes off the speakers quite nicely - it is crisp, and devoid of any hissing/pop-ups.
First of all I would like to urge you to read the excellent essay by Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington Peter Bondanella. It is offered as part of a lovely booklet added to this release by Koch Lorber Films. The essay offers an excellent summation of the history behind this film, its relation to Roberto Rosellinni's Paisan, as well as a concise summary of the Taviani's style. On the actual disc you will find a long and extremely engaging interview (84 min) with the two directors conducted by Italian director Carlo Lizzani. The two directors talk not only about The Night of the Shooting Stars but also about their entire career as filmmakers, what and who were their inspirations.
The Night of the Shooting Stars is one of three Taviani Bros films Koch Lorber Films offer this month. And I am incredibly grateful that these are finally being brought to us with acceptable transfers. To sum it all up: if you were unimpressed with the MGM presentation of this film this new release, even though slightly cropped, is an excellent opportunity to reacquaint yourself with the Taviani's masterpiece. Recommended.