Thursday, May 7, 2009

Olde Review: A Brief Vacation

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This is a companion piece to the review of "The Earrings of Madame De..."

"A Brief Vacation" aka "Una breve vacanza" (Vittorio De Sica, 1973) The late Vittorio DeSica was not only a fine actor, as he displayed in "The Earrings of Madame De..." He was also one of the foremost directors forging a name for himself by helping to pioneer the post-war neo-realist school of Italian Cinema—a type of film that found poetry, not in the cloistered fabrications of the film studio, but out in the streets, favoring location shooting and the light of the sun to tell its simple, human stories.

Fortunately, DeSica never changed his style too much throughout his career, and his last film, in 1973, "A Brief Vacation" has all the strengths of the neo-realist style. Clara (
Florinda Bolkan) is a working class house-wife with a senile mother-in-law, a sick husband, a crud for a brother-in-law, three kids, a machine-like job...and a routine. She's getting old before her time and the pressures of her family, job, and time are causing her to lose her grip and her health. She is sent to Sondolo, a resort up in the mountain, in order to gain back her health. She leaves her utterly useless family behind to spend time away from the city and the pressures. It is a simpler, less rigid life in recuperation, but she finds that she is still needed—by the people of the resort, her fellow in-patients, by her new family.

DeSica excells at showing little details of life, that make his films that much more easier to live in. There is a sequence at a concert that is superb in its content and its sheer choreography.

In a film like this, with one central character, the person who plays that character has a difficult task. But
Florinda Bolkan has the sheer screen presence to carry it off. You can watch her for two hours; she commands the attention. The western films that she has been in ("Royal Flash" and "The Last Valley") both bombed in the U.S. and dragged her superb performances down with them. And so this may be your first chance to see Bolkan and see what acting power she contains.

The last scene in the film—Clara on the train returning to the city in a too-brief cinematic journey, much like a stylized version of a trip from Heaven to a limbo-tunnel (in which she is the only illumination) to a city-hell—is a superb moment of film, the last in a long line of superb moments in the films of Vittorio DeSica. He died soon after making this film, and he could not have foreseen how appropriate the last shot of the film—a city wall fading into blackness—could be such a perfect end to an illustrious career.

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on February 5th-6th, 1976

Some pretty torturous writing there. Also, since I haven't seen all of DeSica's films, I'm wondering how my younger self could make the claim that DeSica never changed his style. That seems unlikely. And I don't remember much about "A Brief Vacation," as it has turned into a faint memory. But, reading this, I'd like to see it again. I'd like to know if the character of Clara, considering she becomes indispensible in both the home and the resort, brings it upon herself, rather merely being taken advantage of. It's an interesting thought, as we very often make our own hells. And it would make her character arc that much more interesting, rather than her being stuck in a situation, then going to Paradise and finding love and happiness that she must forsake to go back. Suppose she's just the type of person who insists on doing things and people fall back into taking a back-seat to her wishes.

I also notice that it's tough to find "A Brief Vacation" (I had to settle for a "Review" poster for the film rather than a theatrical poster that might better illustrate the movie, and I found that one on Ebay!) in a search on the Internet. It might be that it's an Allied Artists release, and AA had some financial problems later on (although it's much easier to find their film, "The Man Who Would Be King").

It goes on the list of "To Be Re-encountered."

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