The 1953 anthology movie Love in the City (L'amore in citta') was intended as the first issue in an ongoing cinematic magazine, like a twice-yearly edition of "60 Minutes" shown in movie theaters, each time exploring a different topic from several different angles.
In this case, the subject is as the title suggests: love in its many forms and how it manifests in Rome. Though, it's love in the broadest sense, with a more precise focus being what it's like to be an Italian woman trying to get by in the modern world. Romance is not in great evidence.
Put together by pioneering director and film theorist Cesare Zavattini, who also directs Love in the City's longest sequence, Love in the City is Neorealism in practice, blurring the lines between documentary and fiction. Amongst its many young filmmakers are future luminaries Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini. The faces on the screen are unfamiliar, many of them real people giving it a go as a different character or, for the most part, acting as themselves. Subjects of the six shorts range from attempted suicide and arranged marriages to dancing and the consequences of doing something more than just the two-step. The lightest segment is the last, and to modern eyes, perhaps the most bizarre. Using state-of-the-art hidden camera technology to follow pretty young women down the street and onto the bus and recording how men react to them, Alberto Lattuada constructs "The Italian Stare" so that it goes from light-hearted and harmless to ending Love in the City on a creepy (and possibly staged) incident. The stalking male animal in the last shot contrasts eerily to the women we see in the opening of the movie, in Carlo Lizzani's piece, "Love for Money," a study of street prostitution. Like I said, not a lot of "love" necessarily.
Antonioni tackles the suicide topic, interviewing survivors about their failed attempts to kill themselves and asking why. Fellini's "Marriage Agency" is the most obvious in its fiction, creating a believable lie about a journalist creating a believable lie. Zavattini's "Story of Caterina" puts the aesthetic manifesto to best use, hiring a single mother to perform in a re-enactment of the lowest point in her life, when the system offered her no alternative but to give up her child.
The cumulative result is an intriguing time capsule of a particular time and place. A failure in its own time, Love in the City has aged into a fascinating document, highlighting Italy's tremendous talent pool while also offering a backward glimpse into history.
Raro brings out Love in the City as a high-def 1.36:1 black-and-white transfer. While the basic look of the image is fine, it is not up to standards many will expect for a Blu-ray overhaul. The tonal qualities are somewhat flat, and close inspection of the image reveals it is splotchy and at times hazy. There are also intermittent marks on the print and shaky sequences. It's watchable, but not overtly impressive.
Audio specs are a two-channel mono mix, and overall, the soundtrack comes off fine. I didn't find any distracting elements, though you will hear some occasional pops and other extraneous noise.
The English subtitles are fine, but are a little small for my tastes.
Each section of the movie has an audio commentary featuring critics and experts, as well as director Carlo Lizzani on his "Love for Money" short.
There are also three short interviews with film critics Paolo Mereghettig and Luca Bandirali, as well as screenwriter Angelo Pasquini, who talks about the writing in Love in the City. The other folks talk about the movie's style and the music. In total, there is about 50 minutes of material here.
The original theatrical trailer is also included.
Recommended. Love in the City was a neat idea: the beginning of a regular anthology series where Italian Neorealist filmmakers applied their cinematic skills to filming documentary-style journalistic pieces, mostly true, some imagined, working with untrained actors, all focusing on a theme. Though it never made it to a second installment, this 1953 collection of six shorts focusing on how women get along in Rome when in search of romance and stability can be heartbreaking and illuminating, preserving a time and a place we might otherwise not have seen. That it counts Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni amongst its contributors shows just how much potential Cesare Zavattini's project had were it to have gone on to more. The Blu-ray presentation could use a little help, but the movie is excellent.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.