The Organizer (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mario Monicelli
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 130 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Review Date: April 18, 2012
In a Turin village in the late 1800s, working conditions in the town’s largest business, a textile factory, couldn’t be worse: low pay, a hazardous working environment, and fourteen hour/six days-a-week work schedules (with only a half hour lunch break per day) which leave the workers exhausted and less productive than they might be. A tentative attempt at a strike by the dissatisfied work force is quickly abandoned, but when Professor Singaglia (Marcello Mastroianni) arrives on the lam from Genoa, he helps the workers organize a successful strike. Naturally, the directors of the factory can’t afford to let this outsider continue to keep their factory shut down, so they take measures to render him ineffectual.
For all of the seriousness of the focal story, director Monicelli and his co-writers Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli (who shared an Oscar nomination for their script) have written a very balanced account of the thirty-one day strike complete with funny and heartfelt moments that spring from the resultant strike story. There’s a wonderfully bracing sequence where the needy villagers rob the coal car of a stationary train, tossing coal over a fence at their unseen recipients, and the tension really ratchets up when a trainload of scabs from a neighboring village arrive to take the jobs the locals have abandoned (a sequence stunningly shot and ending in tragedy). In fact, the tragic element is never far from view as tiny victories often give way to inglorious defeats. Yet, the director focuses on the villagers’ warmth and generosity (despite their own empty bellies and barren pocketbooks, they’ll pass the hat for those truly in need), and despite a climactic death that’s truly heartbreaking, there are also small triumphs the viewer can savor.
For most of the film, Marcello Mastroianni plays against type as a down-on-his-luck agitator who must beg for his bread and a place to stay like any other stranger. The director does allow him one moment of lady killing vanity when a beautiful prostitute (Annie Girardot) buys him dinner and allows him to share her bed, a sequence that doesn’t quite fit with what comes before or after, but otherwise, Mastroianni plays both the humor and the pathos for all it is worth. As the town lovebirds (with a very feisty relationship) Renato Salvatori and Gabriella Giorgelli are very appealing while Folco Lulli as Giorgelli’s father has some excellent moments as one of the central forces behind the strike. Bernard Blier who becomes one of the pawns of the factory officials and Francois Périer as the local schoolmaster also offer affecting performances of men caught in a struggle bigger than they can handle. Franco Ciolli opens and closes the film as the illiterate teenager Omero leaving a haunting final impression in the process.
The transfer is framed at the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is mostly superb in the transfer with lots of details to be seen in clothes and even in the pits and gouges of the stucco walls of the buildings. The generally outstanding grayscale offers very pure whites and good black levels which do tend to vary a bit in depth and sometimes offer relatively poor shadow delineation. Contrast is usually crisply applied, but there are occasional scenes where it has been cranked up too high. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 26 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 sound mix is very typical of its era. The film was completely post synched, so sound effects and dialogue often have that hollow, artificial ring that makes the audio track occasionally a tad unsatisfying. Carlo Rustichelli’s lovely, poignant music gets a decent aural treatment though, of course, there is very little low end in the mix. Hiss and other aural artifacts from films of this age have been handled astutely.
Director Mario Monicelli offers a brief discussion of his film’s themes in a 10 ½-minute featurette that’s labeled an “introduction” to the movie but which should definitely be watched afterward for first-time viewers (he gives away the ending and many climactic occurrences). It’s in 1080i and was filmed in 2006.
The film’s theatrical trailer is in 1080p and runs 1 ½ minutes.
The enclosed pamphlet includes a cast and crew list and an overview of the film and the director’s career by movie critic J. Hoberman.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
A bittersweet look at the early beginnings of the labor movement in Italy, The Organizer is a funny and heartrending movie. Excellent performances and a near-reference video encode recommend this latest Criterion release to those interested in Italian cinema with a director they may not be as familiar with as they should be.