The "machine that kills bad people" turns out to be Cocteauís death camera, freeze-frame and all, to Roberto Rossellini itís "a comedy, my friends." The distance between neorealism and surrealism is a short one, the seaside village displays wartime scars but not before it is erected as a cutout diorama by the big hand in the sky (cf. Lubitschís The Doll). The wizened wanderer whoís run over on the road is later seen at the religious procession, grinning at the fireworks; the shabby photographer (Gennaro Pisano) welcomes him into his shop and is rewarded with the power to petrify anyone to death with the click of a shutter. (The first to go is the bully, buried with his arm frozen in fascist salute.) Human venality has made saints stingy with miracles, says the stranger, and yet soon there are extra fish in the ocean and millions of lire from Rome. The bishop wants the money for a new Byzantine cupola, grasping relatives circle a catatonic matriarch, Yankee tourists plan to turn cemeteries into vacation resorts, even the protesting proletariat is more interested in wolf-whistling at Miss America. "Iíll show them," sputters the stooge wielding the "evil eye" instrument, the exasperated artist now a disgruntled executioner. A sardonic parable, a laboratory experiment unlike anything in the director's canon, the hidden horns of a devious medium. The images that illuminate life can also snuff it out, a wry cinephile view completed a decade later with the denunciation of Illibatezza in RoGoPaG. The toy set is put away at the close, Rosselliniís advice being to "listen and laugh with an open heart." With Giovanni Amato, Marilyn Buferd, Pietro Carloni, Joseph Falletta, William Tubbs, and Helen Tubbs. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce