Our quest to watch (and comment upon) the 1001 movies we’re supposed to see before we die continues apace, and this time we are presenting an Italian film from 1943, entitled Ossessione. This film, directed by Luchino Visconti is one of those hugely influential films that was seen by nearly no one when it was released.
The reasons for this lack of exposure lie mainly with the fact that the film was based on James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Within the context of Italy’s fascist regime, the adulterous relationship portrayed in the film was simply unacceptable to some sectors, causing it to be banned within Italy. It then subsequently encountered legal problems in international distribution: due to the ongoing World War, no one had thought to negotiate the rights to the novel, which meant that when the war ended, the film couldn’t be distributed outside of italy.
Despite these setbacks, the movie managed to earn itself a spot on the list, and a deserved one, at that. The film is brilliantly conceived and filmed, with the plot moving forward swiftly except in those cases where Visconti allows it to slow down in order to heighten an emotion or – even more telling – a philosophical point about society. The emotional breaks are jagged and raw, without falling into melodrama, which is something that could so easily have happened to this particular story.
More than that, Ossessione foreshadows the Italian Neorealist movement which gave us such great films as Roma Citta Aperta, and characterized directors such as Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini. You can see the seeds of the movement everywhere, but most especially in small pauses where Visconti lets us catch a glimpse of how things really are – even when they have no bearing on the plot. Of course, the movement’s working class ethic is represented by the character of Gino the tramp – even though he is an outsider to the true life of the worker.
Worth watching, even if you already know the plot – and we believe the comparison to the newer US version of the film will be interesting, once we reach that point in the list.
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