by Allan Fish
(Italy 1949 77m) DVD2 (Italy only, no English subs)
Aka. Il Lupo della Sila: The Wolf of the Sila
A tale of two crosses
p Dino de Laurentiis d Duilio Coletti w Duilio Coletti, Steno, Mario Monicelli, Carlo Musso, Ivo Perilli, Vincenzo Talarico ph Aldo Tonti ed Adriana Novelli m Enzo Masetti, Osvaldo Minervini art Ivo Perilli
Silvana Mangano (Rosaria Campolo), Amedeo Nazzari (Rocco Barra), Jacques Sernas (Salvatore Barra), Luisa Rossi (Orsolo Barra), Vittorio Gassman (Pietro Campolo), Olga Solbelli (Signora Campolo), Dante Maggio (Gennaro), Laura Cortese (little Rosaria), Michele Cappezzuoli (little Salvatore),
One hesitates to call director Duilio Coletti forgotten because it’s unlikely he was even known in the English speaking world in the first place. More surprising is that The Lure of the Sila isn’t better known; or at least, until recently. For too long, perceptions of post-war Italian cinema were that there was nothing but neo-realism and, indeed, little but Visconti, de Sica, Fellini and Rossellini. There were other neo-realist directors and films, of course, and it was one of these, Giuseppe de Santis’ Riso Amaro, that gave neo-realism its poster girl, Silvana Mangano.
What has until recently been overlooked is that Italian film c.1945-1955 was also home to many historical spectaculars and melodramas. The Lure of the Sila is one of these, and yet it seems to owe its ancestry not to Italy at all. It rather recalls the great Scandinavian melodramas of the silent era which Mauritz Stiller, Victor Sjöstrom used to turn out in Sweden and which were still then being made by Teuvo Tulio in Finland and other directors in Denmark and Norway.
What they hold in common is scenery. No fjords, but plenty of mountains and lakes, in Calabria, the northernmost outpost close to the Italian Alps. It’s essentially a blood drama, told over two generations. In the prologue, shepherd Pietro Campolo is shown making love to his beloved, Orsolo. But Orsolo is terrified of her brother, Rocco, and knows they won’t be allowed to marry. Pietro returns home to find that the police are waiting for him. A man has been murdered who he was not only the last to be seen with, but also argued with. He’s taken away and his mother goes to Orsolo knowing she must vouch for where he was the night before, but she’s bullied by her brother into silence. Pietro escapes but is tracked down and shot at his house, while another bullet hits his mother. His younger sister Rosaria is left orphaned.
The story then pushes forward ten years or so. Rosaria has now grown up but keeps her identity secret, so when she’s rescued in the snow by Rocco and his Alsatian Wolf and taken back to his house, she in time becomes part of the furniture. She plans revenge by making Rocco marry her, but the return of Rocco’s son Salvatore, who she has an obvious attraction to, throws a spanner in the works.
These melodramas are never about surprise and tension so much as they’re about the depiction of a simple way of life where legends are taken as gospel. The Nordic silents may be the biggest artistic influence, but there are essences of the German mountain films, too, as well as Wuthering Heights, with Orsolo equating quite well to poor Isabella Linton, turned ashen grey before her time due to having her heart turned to limestone. The photography dominates all, with Aldo Tonti’s work here quite possibly his greatest, full of shadowy interiors and painterly outdoor compositions. Amongst the cast, Gassman has to make do with the prologue, Nazzari is effective as the brutish brother with the misguided sense of family honour and Rossi is superb as the embittered Orsolo. All, though, bow to la Mangano, still only 18, pure sex on her formidable legs, equal parts temptress and saint, with those incredible dark brown eyes sparkling like jet. Note, too, to the dog, who seems invested by the spirit of Rin Tin Tin. It may not be subtle, it may not be a masterpiece, but as fatalistic Italian melodramas of the period go, this is pretty much as good as it gets.