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5 Great Films on 4 Great DVDs...
on 2 April 2011
Having been fortunate enough to find this when the asking price had temporarily dropped below £10, I was very pleased to acquire a boxset containing five films, each of which has received significant amounts of praise from one quarter or another.
Vittorio De Sica dominates this set, with three of the five films and, indeed, it is a necessity that any prospective cinephile should become acquainted with his work. Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. are perhaps most representative of the Italian neorealistic movement with their use of non-professional actors, natural lighting and stories based very heavily on real life in 1940s/50s Italy. Both are top class. The third of his films here, Miracle in Milan, is somewhat different as it meshes harsh reality with fantastic elements, to create what has been called a "neorealist fable". Personally, I enjoyed it less, but it did receive the Grand Prix at Cannes in its day and is probably worth watching for the iconic final scene alone. De Sica was a master and these are three of his most feted works, the two major others being Shoeshine (available from Masters of Cinema) and the Garden of the Finzi-Continis (yet to find a good copy).
Fellini's I Vitelloni was cited by Kubrick as one of his favourite films and it is easy to see why. A relatively simple tale of the dynamics of a group of friends growing up in post-war Italy, with various trials and tribulations, is nonetheless enthralling and a good introduction to the director, whose later films (8 1/2, La Dolce Vita etc.) can be less accessible.
Finally, there is the ultimate classical neorealist film - Rome, Open City. This is to Italian neorealism what Breathless is to the French new-wave or Nosferatu is to German expressionism. It is, as such, a shame that the greatness of this movie is obscured by a poor DVD transfer (the American, censored version) with subtitles definitely lacking, making the film more difficult to follow than it should be. I found this despite having a basic knowledge of Italian which allowed me to understand some of what the subtitles were omitting... Despite these flaws, it is still clearly a well-made film and the great scenes in particular do not lose much of their power.
All things considered, I would recommend this as these are five worthwhile cinematic experiences which are a rarity in that they are both critically acclaimed, well-made films and very easy to watch. A good introduction to a very important phase of film history, particularly whilst so many of the Rosselini films (Paisan, Europa '51 etc.) are so scarcely/expensively available in the UK.