Sunday, October 01, 2017


L'emigrante (IT 1915). D: Febo Mari. Antonio (Ermete Zacconi) is surprised to discover his daughter Maria (Valentina Frascaroli) as a "piccola mondana" at the Count's mansion. Photo: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino. Please click to enlarge the image.

IT 1915, dir, story, scen: Febo Mari, photog: [Natale Chiusano, Segundo de Chomón], cast: Ermete Zacconi (Antonio, the emigrant), Valentina Frascaroli (Maria, his daughter), Enrica Sabbatini (his wife), Felice Minotti (a workmate), Amerigo Manzini (the Count), Lucia Cisello (the procuress), prod: Itala Film, Torino. dist: Lombardo. censor date: 16.8.1915 (n. 10276).
    Copy: incomp., 35 mm, 486 m (orig. 1182 m), 24 min (18 fps); titles: ITA.
    Source: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Antonio Coppola.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English, 1 Oct 2017

Claudia Gianetto (GCM 2017): "A fragment of film, as is the case with L’emigrante, can contain traces of the many stories behind a movie, starting from how it was made. Adapting one of his short novels for the screen, Febo Mari directed the great stage actor Ermete Zacconi as the lead in a drama not devoid of clichés but set in a historical context of vibrant realism: the emigration of poor Italian peasants to South America. A later film of his, the celebrated Cenere (1916), in which Mari matched up against the divine Eleonora Duse, once again featured humble protagonists."

"A study of the sources (nitrate fragments, censorship certificates, Itala Film production records, photographs, and intertitle plates) reveals that this copy, probably the only one to survive, is a synthesis put together after the film’s initial release. In this version the attention focuses almost completely on the old emigrant – the departure from his miserable home and separation from his wife and daughter, leaving his village and crossing the ocean, and the harsh reality awaiting him in Latin America, up to the discovery of the fraud to which he falls victim after an accident. Antonio learns in a letter that his family is in serious trouble; declared unfit and unable to find work, in the last scenes the emigrant is shown as a defeated man on board a ship taking him back to Italy."

"Documents of the time, however, testify that the complete version of the film devoted more space – paralleling events in South America – to life in the village, in particular a decidedly squalid intrigue involving a love affair, which can be partly pieced together from sources outside the film itself. Antonio’s wife falls ill and his daughter cannot earn enough to pay for the treatment her mother needs. Their predicament is exploited by a vulgar procuress who inveigles the girl – played by the charming Valentina Frascaroli – into leaving her fiancé, an honest young workman, to become the lover of a Count who has had designs on her for some time. Having returned to Italy, Antonio is working in the city as a porter; making a delivery by chance to a rich man’s house he comes across his daughter, transformed into a “piccola mondana” – which in modern-day terminology would be a high-class prostitute. In defiance of the Count and all those present, the old father orders his daughter to leave the house, offering his forgiveness. As she returns to his tender embrace the stage is set for the family’s reunion and a happy ending."

"As documented in the two 1915 censorship certificates and the different versions in the Itala Film titles register, L’emigrante was also seen by its maker as ground for experimentation. Mari initially conceived the film without any intertitles, in the conviction that – thanks to the power and eloquence of the images alone – this innovation could represent an evolution in the art of silent film. But after a few months distribution problems compelled Mari and Itala Film to add the customary intertitles and re-release L’emigrante, renouncing their bold initiative.
" Claudia Gianetto

AA: Febo Mari's L'emigrante was screened together with Il fauno, in a coup of programming that displayed in sharp contrast two completely different sides of the master director. The screening even brought to mind Count Visconti's movement from neorealism to Dannunzian excess.

Il fauno is a Symbolist visual poem with explicit affinities with Stéphane Mallarmé's poem and Claude Debussy's composition, also well-known as the basis for ballets.

L'emigrante is a stark realistic account of poverty, eviction, unemployment, and emigration. In South America the ageing Antonio faces a ruthless labour market. He even has to pay bribes to receive a humble job at a construction site, carrying heavy loads. Part of the pay is paid in food consumed on site. After lunch break, a scaffolding collapses on Antonio in what looks like a lethal accident. At the hospital the illiterate Antonio is asked to sign a document in which he refrains from compensation. He is declared healed but unfit for work. With every door shut, Antonio faces a humiliating return home. Extremely depressed at first, he finds happiness ahead.

There is stark simplicity, lively realism and almost documentary authenticity in scenes of family life, thieves at the market (the technique of the two thieves is the same as in Ladri di biciclette and Pickpocket), Antonio's miserable luggage, telling looks of sorrow, the huge passenger ship plowing the sea, the bustle of the deck passengers (qf. Chaplin's The immigrant), a family's dinner time, and the common lodgings of the poor.

The visual eloquence is evident although the print is not very good. Febo Mari has a fine sense of mise-en-scène, blocking, and composition.

Less than half of the film survives. A watchable print with a soft image quality has been produced from sources with stability issues, high contrast, and splices, cuts, and jumps.

1 comment:

Donald Sosin said...

Thank you for this superb commentary on the many extraordinary films from last week. I always enjoy your incisive writing and depth of knowledge about film, history and culture. Great to see you, even in passing. Next time a real conversation!