“Bitter Rice”, made in 1949, is the sort of fascinating artifact you don’t come across every day, though perhaps such a concoction is more common today. It daringly combines the ethos of Italian neo-realism and the tensions of a noir thriller—exemplifying the former with bold, amazing footage of a great annual rice harvest in northern Italy’s Po valley in which hundreds of women work together and defy the heat, the rain and the nearby army base to make money for their families; and by the latter in the story of a thief and his girlfriend on the run with stolen jewels, mixing and interacting with the women (and a few men) of the rice harvest crew to hide from the law. This encounter inevitably leads to tension and violence, with the beautiful rice harvester Silvana—who is not a thief, but has a weakness for dashing men– as the love interest of both the thief and a soldier. “Bitter Rice” is a movie then, that can almost be watched as a documentary—one of its early shots is a breathtaking 360-degree shot of the opening day of the harvest—and as an exciting, tragic tale of crime and criminality. Do these two elements mesh? I would say yes, for the most part. For while the end may be considered over-the-top by some, it still comes with a hearty recommendation, as the Criterion Collection once again proves its abundant talent at re-introducing the treasures of film history.
(Not rated; some violence)
Posted by: David