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Valerio Zurlini Box Set: The Early Masterpieces, The
When 16-year old Lorenzo (Jacques Perrin, Z) sees beautiful cabaret-singer Aida (Claudia Cardinale) who has been scorned by his flamboyant brother Marcello (Corado Pani, Secrets of a Call Girl) he immediately falls for her beauty. Lorenzo offers Aida a room at a nearby hotel, lends her money, and takes her to one of the city's hottest spots. But Aida is a woman every man desires, with the new dress Lorenzo has bought her she is irresistible. Can a boy who still must do his daily homework have a woman of such sinful beauty?
Valerio Zurlini's La Ragazza con la Valigia a.k.a The Girl With The Suitcase (1961) is not only one uncharacteristically beautiful film to behold it is by all means quite provocative as well. Or so it was perceived to be when it was first released in the summer of 1961. The doomed affair between young Lorenzo and the older Aida unveils a web of stereotypes that strangely enough do not seem that outdated to me: Is it morally right for a 16-year old boy to become involved with an older woman? What is the woman's true interest in such an affair? Should age be used as foundation for a successful relationship?
The story becomes even more complicated when young Lorenzo offers Aida plenty of money so that she could take care of her debts. At first it seems like Aida is unwilling to accept Lorenzo's "gift" but as the boy convinces her that all he wants to do is help she quickly puts the large banknotes in her bag. Lorenzo is convinced that his "gift" would earn him Aida's respect as every real man must take care of his woman.
As The Girl With The Suitcase progresses Lorenzo also finds himself in the middle of a heated debate with one of Aida's passionate admirers whose persistence provides the young boy with a black eye and a few bruises. Of course the "cause" is well worth it and Lorenzo is happy to have defended Aida's honor.
Aside from the beautiful romantic story The Girl With The Suitcase offers this is also a film with a soundtrack to die for. In fact it was the music from Valerio Zurlini's film that for years after I saw it remained the most vivid memory in my mind (the scene where Lorenzo and Aida go dancing under the stars of a beautiful summer night). And then of course the gorgeous Claudia Cardinalle whose captivating looks in The Girl With The Suitcase have been a subject for so many heated debates.
A classic story about doomed love The Girl With The Suitcase is most certainly not without a few noticeable flaws. Claudia Carinalle's acting is at times quite static, the plot has too many of the favorite for Italian directors at the time melodramatic overtones, and some of the moralistic (safe) statements in The Girl With The Suitcase have definitely been added to please the more conservative of viewers. But the sheer beauty of this film, the humor, and Valerio Zurlini's striking camera place The Girl With The Suitcase amongst some of the most moving romantic stories you would ever see.
Violent Summer (1959):
The second film in this lovely boxset by NoShame is no other than Valerio Zurlini's famous Estate Violenta a.k.a Violent Summer. Set in pre-Mussolini Italy the story evolves around the son of a powerful fascist who with the assistance of his father has been successfully avoiding the draft. While spending most of his days on the beach Carlo Caremoli (Jean-Louis Trintignant) meets the beautiful and significantly older widow Roberta (gorgeous Eleonora Rossi Drago) and practically loses his mind over her. The young man is so moved by Roberta's beauty that he could barely even sleep.
But Roberta is from an upper-class Italian family where manners and more importantly decency have always been required - her involvement with Carlo is looked upon with a great deal of disapproval. As Roberta struggles to subdue what her heart desires Carlo becomes more and more persistent begging her to share his feelings. Roberta is torn between acting as every thirty-something widow must and placing her future into the hands of a significantly younger man.
There are very few words in the English language that could properly describe how enormously beautiful Violent Summer is. Exploring a theme Valerio Zurlini touched upon in The Girl With The Suitcase – the love yearnings between a younger man and an older woman – Violent Summer relies on the acting of two actors who seem destined to play their roles. The soon-to-be-famous Jean-Louis Trintignant (Kieslowski's Rouge) and the sophisticated Eleonora Rossi Drago are so convincing as the doomed couple whose future is in jeopardy that soon after they are introduced to each other it becomes almost impossible not to feel for their troubles. From the heavy looks Roberta receives from her mother to Carlo's deep eyes begging Roberta to succumb to his initiations this film is a classic amongst classics.
Similar to The Girl With The Suitcase the soundtrack to Violent Summer is also spectacular (it seems like Valerio Zurlini knew exactly how to perfectly mix beautiful imagery with catchy tunes and this film is an excellent example). The music not only compliments the romance between Roberta and Carlo but especially during the second part of the film becomes an integral part of it. The finale of the film where we see the first bombs falling is particularly effective as the sense of tragedy is immaculately enhanced by Mario Nascimbene's excellent score.
Unlike Il Deserto dei Tartari a.k.a The Desert of the Tartars (1976), the film that brought Valerio Zurlini a well-deserved commercial success, Violent Summer was always somewhat of a hidden-gem, a film that many Italian cinema aficionados would hold in high regard yet less enthusiastic film lovers would neglect. I hope it is all going to change now as this is without a doubt one of Valerio Zurlini's most poignant films and the story is amongst the most beautiful ones ever told.
How Does the DVD Look?
The Girl With The Suitcase is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TV's. The film has undergone thorough restoration and the results are simply breathtaking (quite frankly this print is as good as the RHV's presentation of Bertolucci's Before The Revolution). Detail is of exceptionally high quality, blacks are deep and well saturated, whites are piercing and bright, and I could not spot even a tiny speck of damage in this newly restored print. Needless to say there is no dirt on the print either. Furthermore NoShame have performed proper conversion and there is none of the terrible "ghosting" so many R1 releases of European films are plagued with. In addition The Girl With The Suitcase looks incredibly stable when projected on large screen and the image never breaks down! Now, the only very minor concern I have with this presentation is: a very small "color-banding" issue which appears in the first part of the film when Lorenzo speaks on the phone (he wears a robe and the colors "overflow" creating a very strange effect). However, I believe that most viewers won't even notice the color "overflowing" as it is so negligible. With this said the rest of the presentation by No Shame is absolutely flawless!!!
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 Violent Summer looks absolutely fabulous! There is so much detail, vibrancy, and excellent degree of contrast that I would go on record stating that this presentation easily is amongst one of the most impressive restoration works I have seen this year (the great Criterion releases from last month considered). The Italian team in charge with the restoration of Violent Summer must have spent a great deal of time cleaning every single frame of this print as I could not spot even the tiniest speck, what a remarkable effort. In addition just like The Girl With The Suitcase the print for Violent Summer remains tight and stable when blown out through a digital projector. Furthermore, once again No Shame have properly converted their master of this film and the image on the DVD does not suffer from any of the terrible "ghosting" we typically discuss in this section. With other words if you had any concerns whether or not this was a poor PAL-NTSC port…breathe easier…No Shame have done their homework!! Film buffs with more sensitive home set-ups will also be delighted to know that this particular print offers an exceptional degree of contrast: during the night scenes (especially the night party where Lorenzo kisses Roberta) the blacks are unnaturally good: they switch from saturated deep blacks to lighter grey and finally very light black. With other words there is a great variety of sub-colors which truly transforms this film into quite a spectacle. To sum it all up I am very, very happy with the presentation!!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
The Girl With The Suitcase is presented with two different options: an Italian Mono mix and an English Mono dub (narration). Both of those sound very well but to be honest I don't see why you would prefer to use the English dub when the Italian audio is in such a pristine condition. Crisp and crystal clear quality is what No Shame have provided and there really isn't much that I have to criticize here: this is a solid job! (I did notice a few minor lip-synch issues but these were/are common for so many classic Italian features you should not be concerned at all). Finally, The Girl With The Suitcase is being offered with some rather unusual English subtitles as they are neither yellow nor white. If I have to be precise to me they look as "bleached" yellow subtitles…very, very light yellow almost "dirty" white. I suppose No Shame are trying to see how customers will respond to these but as far as I am concerned white-only subtitles should be the norm.
Violent Summer is also presented with its original Italian Mono track (no English dub for this release) and as already noted above the Italian team working on the restoration of this feature has not left much for me to criticize. Once again we have a perfect audio treatment which presents the film in a manner I dare say is impeccable! The English subtitles for this feature are (pure) white, in decent font, and the English translation is very well done. To sum it all up there is nothing that you as a consumer will be disappointed with.
Before we dip into the excellent extras provided by No Shame let's talk about the spectacular booklets the company is consistently providing. I would like to specifically point out the fact that No Shame are not only offering quality extras but they also put much care into their classy booklets. Folks, these are not cheap and fluffy inserts that some of the so-called majors are playing with. These are high-quality glossy booklets that more often than not match and surpass the collector's booklets Criterion provides. Furthermore, these booklets offer plenty of original poster art, photos, archive footage, and just about all sorts of goodies that we should all be thankful for. As far as I am concerned the booklets No Shame provides are just as important as the actual presentation!!
With this said what we have in this double set is a massive 12-page booklet with the original poster art (Italian reproduction) of La Ragazza Con la Valigia and Estate Violenta, one on the front and one on the back. Furthermore, there are linear notes from Video WatchDog staff writer Richard Harland Smith highlighting Valerio Zurlini's masterpieces. Next, there are two pages filled with the Italian director's biography as well as a detailed filmography. What follows up is an equally impressive biography of Mario Serandrei, also by Richard Harlan Smith, followed by similarly impressive, detailed biographies for Mario Nascimbene, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Claudia Cardinalle, and Jacques Perrin.
Now, let's switch to the actual extras provided on each of the two DVDs in this spectacular set. What you will find on The Girl With The Suitcase in terms of extras is:
An interview with assistant director Piero Schivazappa (20 min.) titled "Visconti Came To Visit Us On The Set" in which the gentleman recalls how he first met Valerio Zurlini in 1959 and consequently his involvement with the Italian director in two of his films (the second one being "Family Affair").
Next, there is an interview with screenwriter Piero De Barnardi (17 min.) titled "Valerio Was Always In Love With Some Girl" in which we learn a tiny bit about Zurlini's personal life (which should give you a good idea how this film came to exist).
Next, is interview with Bruno Torri (President of SNCCI Italian Film Critics Guild) (17 min.) in which the gentleman describes Zurlini's persona, his reputation amongst other Italian directors, and how his work was looked upon.
Next, there is a very interesting albeit short interview (17 min.) with producer Mario Gallo titled "When We Were Young" in which we learn about a lifelong friendship which started when Mr. Gallo was with the "L'Avanti newspaper. Once again Valerio Zurlini and his work are discussed with much admiration and a sense of appreciation.
Next, there is a very short restoration demonstration (3 min.) in which we see footage from the unrestored print followed by No Shame's new sparkling presentation. Last but not least we get the original Italian theatrical trailer for the film.
What you will find on Violent Summer in terms of extras is:
An interview with assistant director Florestano Vancini (35min.) titled "How Do You Light The Night" in which he recalls his first meeting with Valerio Zurlini more than 50 years ago, how he got involved with Violent Summer, plenty of facts surrounding the materialization of this film as well plenty of his own career.
Next, there is an interview with lyricist Ricardo Pazzaglia (21min.) titled "I Dreamt Of Valerio" in which he is asked to describe how he got involved with Valerio Zurlini as well as to describe his contribution to the film (Mr. Pazzaglia also recalls his youthful years in Napoli).
Next, there is conversation with film director Giuliano Monatldo (20 min.) titled "A Director With The Eyes of a Child" in which he discusses different qualities of Valerio Zurlini's creative persona. I found this interview/conversation to be the most entertaining one!
Next, there is a short interview with actress Eleonora Giorgi (6 min.) titled "He Was a Friend Of Mine" in which she briefly speaks about her relationship with Valerio Zurlini. Last but not least we have the original Italian theatrical trailer for the film as well as a gallery of stills and poster art.
What a truly spectacular set!! I could not wait to take a look at this 2DVD boxset and now that I have all that I could say is: it was well worth the wait!! My favorite No Shame have truly evolved into one of the classiest North American distributors and I just hope that fans of Italian cinema reward their efforts by purchasing this collector's set immediately. Let's be honest here, put Criterion aside and if you could come up with one R1 distrib that is as dedicated to please as No Shame are feel free to contact me, I would love to find out their name!!
I am especially pleased to see the stylish covers (yes, it does make A LOT of difference when distribs use the original poster art as their cover work), the superb collector's booklets (excellent work No Shame keep it up), and the wealth of extras!! With this said I look forward to an announcement regarding No Shame's commitment to the HD-DVD format! Until then…more, more, and more classic Italian cinema from the 50s and 60s, we want it!! DVDTALK Collector's Series.