Thursday, April 11, 2013

Il Bidone (1955) or is Fellini able to do a bad movie?

It's always an issue when it comes to film criticism: do we value the whole or the parts? Can we give our opinion separately on the actors, on the scenarist, on the director and all the rest involved. In the end, can we value a film for its sentimental impact to us as empathetic individuals rather than for its compliance to the rules of film making?

I couldn't tell about you, but I can. I've learnt that films are more that a set of rules put together, films are life if they succeed to and plain dull if they don't. That's why it made me mad to see that Il Bidone or The Swindle or even The Swindlers (1955) left reviewers aghast; they didn't know what to make of it, apparently. They called it a morality tale and a cynical comedy together; I will only agree with the second. The influential back then Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote it was "a cheap crime thriller", only to complete his harsh statement with some buts, so as to still acknowledge the film's virtue.

Truffaut admitted the film was long, yes, it was, but we are not in a hurry when sitting in front of a screen playing Federico Fellini, are we? Apparently Truffaut liked Il Bidone, mainly for the mini-Odyssey that his main lead had to endure; he was almost there, he almost arrived home, met his estranged daughter, took her to dinner, then to the cinema, he imagined being a proper giving father to her, but it was not meant to be. His past could not leave him alone so easily. He had to be humiliated in front of his daughter, he had to go back behind bars; still, the choice was made. Alone he stood till the end, because nothing could make sense for him. Only having money made sense to a certain extent.

Broderick Crawford is excellent; he treated his role with a solemn anticipation, a certain sadness, as if he knew from the beginning there's no way back. He sympathizes with his victims, he sure does, but he goes on with his cheap swindles out of routine, I would say, the same way a butcher would go on slaughtering animals, even after the day he felt pity for them. What is a job becomes something like a second skin sometimes; it's hard to invent another job for oneself. In this case, being a swindler and playing even with the naive peasants' amazing religiousness, letting them kiss his hand -dressed as a Cardinal was part of the foul plan- and all that was not exactly what one calls a job, but was one nevertheless.

Numerous moving scenes, not only between Broderick and his victims, or his daughter, but also between Giulietta Massina and her husband, one of the small time crooks himself. Her suspicions were killing her, and when her husband finally admitted, after the New Year's Eve uneasy scene, she implored him to stop, because she could not live with the fear of him being imprisoned. Moral values are good, but practicalities of love and family are better, it seems. A better reason for somebody to stay in the safe side of the law.

The film is part of the neorealist tradition, seasoned with early extravaganza and daunting humour to which Fellini later became clearly devoted. It follows the slow rhythm of life itself, ends up abruptly and makes us (at least me) miss happy endings a little bit. And, whoever said after "The End" appeared on the screen "the guy got what he deserved", may go to hell right now.

And, to answer the title question, no, Fellini could not possibly do a bad film. But he could do a film that respected less the expectations of others, but these others had better think twice.

* Il Bidone was nominated for a Golden Lion in Venice, even if it was nobody's favourite. Definitely a worthy film; a gloomy one.

No comments: