DVD Review HTF REVIEW: La Commare Secca - The Criterion Collection (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Feb 2, 2005.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    La Commare Secca
    The Criterion Collection

    Studio: Criterion Collection
    Year: 1962
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 93 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $29.95
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase

    The Feature:
    On February 1st, Criterion is set to release three dark titles including two 20th Century Fox films from the French director, Jules Dassin (Rififi (1955), Brute Force (1947), The Naked City - 1948); Thieves’ Highway (1949) and Night And The City (1950) as well as the featured Italian film, La Commare Secca (1962) directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (Il Conformista - 1970), marking his directorial debut.

    On a blustery afternoon, the body of a young woman is discovered along the bank of the Tiber River in Rome. Turns out, the woman who’s been abandoned and left for dead is a prostitute (played by Wanda Rocci). Though the police have very few clues to work with, they have compiled a list of suspects, men who have identified each other as citizens who were seen in “Parco Pasolino”, the park where the street walker was last seen alive.

    Although we never meet him, the detective in charge of the case interrogates each of the suspects on an individual basis, where it becomes apparent that each of the men has crossed paths over the course of the night in question. As each of them are interviewed, it becomes clear that none of these men are innocent – that is, all of them have their crosses to bear and none of which are very forthcoming. As each of the men are identified and questioned, their account is told by way of a series of flashbacks whereby, we learn what really happened on that fateful night.

    The first person questioned is a young man who claims he was out seeking employment, although he seems to ply his trade by thieving from unsuspecting lovers, caught up in the heat of passion. The next suspect is also no stranger to the police as he is identified as having seventeen priors totaling three years worth of prison time. He tries to convince the police that his new female acquaintance has helped in on the straight and narrow. Our reformed friend however, is a pimp who earns his money from muscling in on streetwalkers who haven’t yet paid.

    The next interrogation involves a young Italian soldier who desperately seeks the affection of another young Italian woman – any young Italian woman. The young man roams the streets chatting up any woman he can find – even groping some of them. The next series of questions are posed to a strange young man, an arcade worker who dresses rather bizarrely and walks the streets alone at night.

    The final series of interrogations and perhaps the most interesting involve two teenagers who are keenly interested in two of the neighborhood girls. Although the boys are shy, they agree to a date that has been planned for the next day as the girls have promised to cook for them. Trouble is, they’ll need money to cover the cost of the food. After being approached by another man in the park who’s also on the prowl, they decide to steal his jacket and cigarette lighter hoping it will fetch them enough money to cover the planned meal.

    At the end of every series of interrogations, we are taken back in time to a rainstorm when the focus then becomes the victim. We watch from afar as she readies herself with each suspect sequence taking us further into her preparation, unaware of the danger that awaits her.

    As the series of events become increasingly clear, one of the involved parties steps forward as an eye-witness to the murder who is able to identify the person responsible for the prostitute’s death.

    La Commare Secca (The Grim Reaper) marks the directorial debut of Bernardo Bertolucci, now an icon within Italian motion pictures. The film is based on the story by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Bertolucci caries a common theme utilized throughout many of Pasolini‘s films; the sordid underbelly of Rome. He captures perfectly, the back-lots filled with construction debris, the thugs who roam from park to park looking for items to steal and the prostitutes and pimps who come alive at night to serve the indispensable sex trade.

    The film bears a striking resemblance to the Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, Rashômon (1950), in that each of the interviewees reflect on their so-called alibi, as they offer an accounting of their whereabouts, the night before. Bertolucci claims to have never seen it prior to crafting his Italian film some twelve years later. Although the storyline is rather simple in nature, Bertolucci has done a masterful job at intertwining the pieces like a terrific jigsaw puzzle, allowing the feature to remain suspenseful and interesting as the film unfolds. The actors turn in respectable performances albeit they appear rather amateurish at times.

    The Feature: 4/5

    This is another solid effort by the folks at Criterion, not perfect by any means but a terrific effort, nonetheless.

    Image detail was very nice. Not what I’d describe as razor sharp but generally is quite pleasing. There was a fair amount of moderate film grain present and the level of depth and dimension was certainly satisfactory. The film has a rather coarse look to it.

    Presented in its OAR of 1.66:1, this appropriately pillarboxed transfer shows off some excellent black levels - deep and lush, while whites were usually stark and crisp. The level of grayscale had significant range. While shadow detail was nice, contrast seemed to be somewhat of a mixed bag. Many of the outdoor scenes are a tad on the bright side, almost contrasty looking and blown out.

    The print appeared to be basically clean and free of any marks or blemishes and the overall image was rock solid and free of any shimmer or jitter. The authoring appears to have been handled appropriately as the image is free of any sort of artifacts nor were there any signs of edge enhancement present.

    Overall, this is a very pleasing image. There are a few scenes and sequences which appear to be spottier than others, but overall fans of the film should be pleased.

    Video: 4/5

    Not much to say in the audio department. The track is DD Mono encoded and for the most part is more than adequate.

    The track has only the slightest amount of hiss and is free of any popping of crackling. There was some “rumble” present during some of the dialogue, which was infrequent, but noticeable at times.

    Worth mentioning is the perfect and haunting score which was used to great effect which does a superb job at eliciting just the right emotions of the film and raising the tension level just a notch or two. Without giving too much away, The rumba music at the end of the film is used perfectly and is key.

    The overall fidelity of the track is quite natural. Dialogue was always intelligible and bold, never becoming strained or edgy. The overall dynamics of the track are rather limited but are on par with what we would expect from a 40+ year old film.

    Very little to complain about as this track accomplishes what it needs to do quite effectively.

    Audio: 3.5/5

    Special Features:
    Only two special features are included on this disc starting with:
    [*] An Interview with Bernardo Bertolucci. The 2003 interview was taped in Rome exclusively for the Criterion Collection. Throughout the course of the interview, he discusses the relationship between himself and his mentor, Pier Paolo Pasolini as well as the development of the film including its debut at the Venice Film Festival. He emphasizes his need to “lean on his literary side”. He also spends a fair amount of time discussing the problems he encountered during his youth. Interesting little interview but falls on the brief side. Duration: 16:36 minutes.
    [*] And finally, an Insert is included. An eight page folded booklet is included which lists the chapter stops, a complete list cast & crew members, technical credits and finally, a four page essay on the film by David Thompson, a producer of documentaries on filmmakers including Renoir, Tarantino, Verhoeven, Forman and Altman.

    Special Features: 2/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    “Not bad for his first film” …nothing! La Commare Secca is often described as Bernardo Bertolucci’s finest film. He was capable of taking a rather pedestrian storyline with a number of amateur actors and created a very stylishly told and cleverly crafted film. He does so expressing perfectly, the gritty and sordid atmosphere of Rome’s underbelly without the need for cheap plot devices or twisty turns. This was my first experience with La Commare Secca and it won’t be my last.

    Though the disc is a little light on special features, Criterion has done a terrific job with this film as the transfer is first rate. Fans of Italian cinema or those with a penchant for films portraying the darker side, should give this one a look.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)


    Release Date: February 1st, 2005
  2. Jay E

    Jay E Cinematographer

    May 30, 2000
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    I've been deciding if I should buy this or not as I've never seen the film. Your review has pushed me to go ahead and get it. Thanks for the review!
  3. Armin Jager

    Armin Jager Stunt Coordinator

    Dec 21, 2004
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    By whom?
    I had a seminar in university about Bertolucci, saw almost all his films and read some books, but that's new to me. La Comare Secca is seen as an early etitude very much influenced by Pasolini which it is though it thankfully lacks Pasolini's obsure philosophy. But it's not much more than a couple of moody episodes if you ignore the complicated narration.
    The film most people consider as Bertolucci's best is The Conformist or The Last Emperor.
  4. Rob Tomlin

    Rob Tomlin Producer

    Jan 8, 2000
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    I will definitely give this one a rental via Netflix since I haven't seen it and I like Burtolucci....as well as the fact it apparently has some similarities to Rashomon!
  5. Joe Cortez

    Joe Cortez Stunt Coordinator

    May 29, 2002
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    Although I would agree with you describing either "The Conformist" or "The Last Emperor" as Bertolucci's best, web critic Harry Knowles did make a similar comment on his website, so I assume the sentiment is shared by atleast a few people:

    "LA COMMARE SECCA - Criterion Collection
    aka THE GRIM REAPER. Ever see Bernardo Bertolucci's first directed feature film? This is one of those debuts that just really makes you pause before directing something yourself. This film plays with storytelling, murder, death, realities. There's some that feel this was the top of the mountain for Bertolucci - to me, it is just one of many of his great works. Once again Criterion has captured one of the great lessor known titles that will be absolutely electric for those discovering it for the first time!"

    In any case, I'm picking this one up ASAP.

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