I have had something like a thirty year desire to see this, director Luchino Visconti's second film. To my knowledge, it has never enjoyed wide theatrical distribution, which given its content and tone, is hardly surprising. A relentlessly downbeat view of the lives of Sicilian fishermen, it's also a tad on the long side. Still, to have it available on video is a wonderful treat. I can't imagine myself watchiing it frequently, but it has a compositional integrity that more than compensates for the depressing subject matter.
Never having seen the film projected, I cannot gauge the effectiveness of the video transfer. My guess is that it is so-so: good enough to give a sense of what the film looks like but not produced with enough care to bring out all the richness of detail and contrast. The opening credits, for example, superimposed over images of dawn in the fishing village, are barely intelligible. With a little more effort, the disc producers could probably have found a way to make the sequence work on video. As it is, we more or less have to imagine what it would look like.
"La Terra Trema" is Italian Neorealism at its most epic. Unlike De Sica's "Bicycle Thief," for example, which reveals the tragedy of one man's decline, "Terra" self-consciously uses the Valastro family as an example of a larger phenomenon. Visconti makes no effort to conceal his political prejudices, at one point clearly identifying the corrupt, exploitive wholesalers with the recently deposed Mussolini regime while relentlessly identifying the central characters' problems with social and economic forces.
The hopelessness of the situation is relieved only by the internal cohesion of the family which, nonetheless, undergoes severe tests.