For many of us, Luchino Visconti is the lush, almost operatic director of masterpieces like "Death in Venice" and "The Leopard". Yet, at the beginning of his career, he was an important figure in the Italian neo-realist movement. "La Terra Trema" is one of the best examples of this school. In a fascinating book about Italian cinema, the academic Stefania Parigi has written an insightful essay about the film's use of language. Visconti, with the aid of a young Franco Zeffirelli, mixed voice-over narration in Italian with the dialogue of his nonprofessional cast, who spoke in Sicilian dialect. There was a good reason for this; as the film's opening caption says, "Italian is not the language of the poor" (I quote, or misquote, this from memory). The result is a powerful and bleak film, which manages not to be depressing, perhaps because its political commitment and its admiration of its subjects is so intense and alive. In political terms, Visconti was something of a paradox; he was a fervent Marxist was also a very rich aristocrat. Perhaps this tension gives an added energy to "La Terra Trema". Whatever the case, it is a remarkable piece of work, a poem to the hardship of life and to human endurance.