The Law (La loi) (Version française)
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THE LAW (previously released in the US as Where the Hot Wind Blows) stars Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Yves Montand, Melina Mercouri, and Pierre Brasseur. Lollobrigida plays Marietta, the gorgeous housekeeper to Don Cesare (Brasseur), the patriarch of a small Mediterranean coastal town. Lusted after by many men, including Francesco (Montand), the son of a local crime boss, Marietta has her own desires, consisting of the poor Enrico (Mastroianni). Determined to secure the dowry that will enable her to marry Enrico, Marietta connives the men of the town by turning the tables on them using their own vicious drinking game which they call "The Law." Haden Guest, Director of the Harvard Film Archive called the film "a totally underrated and underappreciated gem."Les pigeons et les vagabonds remplissent la place de la ville de Porto Manacore, le pauvre village de pêcheurs italiens perché au-dessus de l'Adriatique où la passion et la puissance sont aussi corrompues. Surplombant l'immoralité du haut de son appartement baroque vit le riche patriarche de la ville Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur, anticipant le Vito Corleone de Marlon Brando). Convoitée par les hommes de la ville sa superbe gouvernante, Mariette (Lollobrigida), vit sous le joug du Don comme d'autres femmes. Lorsque le beau mais pauvre ingénieur Milanais Enrico Tosso (Mastroianni) arrive en ville, Mariette concocte un projet audacieux pour l'épouser. Mais le diabolique Matteo Brigante (Montand), brute locale et admirateur de Mariette, tente d'empêcher Enrico grâce a son arme de choix : "La Loi"", un jeu à boire vicieux sur fonds d'humiliations."
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I absolutely loved the movie and was highly entertained! I'm so glad that it's finally being distributed for a wide release in the US! There's love, sex, power, drama, and death! with the occasional hilarity and musical number. What more could you ask for in a movie?
Perhaps someday they'll redo the subtitles so we can watch it in its entirety.
Jules Dassin made a number of films which are now considered among the best ever shot—Rififi, Never on Sunday, Topkapi, etc. The Law is not one of them—it's more low-rent soap opera/rural Peyton Place ripoff than it is classic cinema—but it's stupidly enjoyable and contains Gina Lollobrigida wearing a number of tight outfits. Put those two things together and is it worth killing an hour and a half with? Of course it is.
Lollobrigida plays Marietta, a small-time thief (it is never stated, but implied once or twice, she's also a hooker) in a small, impoverished seaside town in Italy. Half the town is in love with her, including her boss Don Cesare (Children of Paradise's Pierre Brasseur), a bedridden old lech who's actually the power behind the town, and the local crime boss (The Wages of Fear's Yves Montand) AND his brother (Violent Summer's Raf Mattioli), the public faces of the power behind the town, but Marietta only has eyes for Enrico (La Dolce Vita's Marcello Mastroianni). Problem is that Enrico is too poor to get married and Marietta is too poor to have a dowry. So she decides to use her skills to rectify that situation...
The name of the film comes from a drinking game the town's men play every night, something so bleak and hope-crushing that it may as well have come out of a Béla Tarr movie. The men gather at the local tavern to play The Law. They draw lots; the winner is selected as boss, and may treat the others as his lackeys for the rest of the night. (One must be careful not to go overboard, for the chances you won't be in the box the next night are pretty slim.) While it's mostly set decoration here—one assumes it plays more prominence in the book, which I haven't read—it certainly sets the proper tone for this noirish romance. I mean, look back at that synopsis and see if you can count the number of things that could possibly go wrong here. (Or just say “all of them” and you're in the right ballpark.) Ultimately, that's the problem with The Law; Dassin sets the scene and then does everything with it as predictably as he can. The comparison in the first paragraph to Peyton Place, the movie version of which was released three years previous to this, is not casual. Still, it's a soap-opera good time with a lot of very pretty people doing very unpretty things, and it was made during the golden age of cinema by one of said golden age's favorite sons, so what have you got to lose? ** ½
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