La Commare Secca (Bernardo Bertolucci / Italy, 1962):

Bernardo Bertolucci the poet, declaring a change of medium: Papers are tossed off a bridge, the camera follows their fluttering on the edge of the Tiber River until it finds the body of a woman. Suspects are rounded up, each provides his own itinerary of the fateful day, with the anecdotes linked by abstruse poesy (the abrupt afternoon shower, the stroll through the park, the doomed prostitute in her room getting ready for the night). A young scalawag (Francesco Ruiu) filches from necking lovers a purse containing only a couple of pears, he tries the same with a radio and gets smacked for his trouble; teens dote on records, gnocchi, and marmalade, a young soldier (Allen Midgette) tours the Coliseum, chases women, nods off on a bench while all the characters come together, almost. Another, a former thief (Alfredo Leggi), has eased into middle-class gigolohood with a slum madam -- he enjoys the show as knife and iron are wielded in a kitchen showdown, then escorts the missus as she collects her dues from working girls ("From the factory to the consumer," he notes). Pasolini's turf, from his own story, though Bertolucci in his debut is hardly asking "What would Pier Paolo do?" Characters spin fragments of the narrative, but the truth is found by searching beyond the words, by looking at the world where they converge. Bertolucci looks, and finds Renoir's woods in squalid Roman suburbs; a reverse tracking shot fashions a cavern out of a tunnel, the ceiling of a battered flat can suddenly seem like a cathedral's. A work about "the passage of time," according to its maker, the Reaper that engulfs everything yet can be captured with a camera and molded into art. With Giancarlo De Rosa, Gabriella Giorgelli, Ada Peragostini, Silvio Laurenzi, Alvaro D'Ercole, and Wanda Rocci. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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