The time Judge Daryl Loomis spent in the factory was pretty miserable, but not this miserable.
You've got to say, "I love you and I can't live without you."
It's always a treat when an old movie I've never heard of takes me by surprise and really grips me, especially when it doesn't sound like my cup of tea. That's exactly what happened with Crime of Love. It isn't the second-rate sex thriller the title suggests, but it is a nicely done melodrama with a solidly relevant political message that I really like.
Facts of the Case
Nullo (Giuliano Gemma, When Women Had Tails) is employed by a Naples factory union as a worker advocate and Carmela (Stefania Sadrelli, Jamon Jamon) is one of those workers. One day, Nullo sees Carmela getting off her shift and crying, so follows her home trying to get at what happened. This meeting begins their gradual courtship, but their love cannot be. Nullo was born and raised in Naples, but Carmela has moved there from Sicily into the destitute immigrant section of town. The hatred between the two groups is extremely powerful but, despite that, they try for it anyway. Sadly, though, the conditions at the factory are so poor that Carmela's health starts to fail as a result of the fumes she breathes all day long. Still, they try to give their love life, even as Carmela's starts to slip away.
Written and directed by Luigi Comencini (Bread, Love, and Dreams), Crime of Love isn't very subtle in its story or its message, but that doesn't bother me because it all works so well. Comencini weaves his politics smartly into the romance; one does not work without the other. The love story, while sweet, would be quite melodramatic and not very interesting on its own, but the roadblocks that Comencini throws in front of the lovers give the story a lot more heft. The hatred of the Sicilians by the Neapolitans (and vice versa) adds a nice Romeo and Juliet vibe, but it's the worker and environmental issues that really get me going.
In the interviews that accompany the film, Comencini downplays the politics in the film, but he places them so strongly in the story that I have a hard time believing him. The whole tragedy of the thing lies in the factory's treatment of the workers and the environment. The workforce knows fully well that the air is lousy with fumes, but the factory's response isn't to eliminate the toxins. Instead, they force the workers to drink milk. Yes, milk. Why they think that would help is beyond me and it definitely does not work. Once Carmela gets sick, the factory changes its policy and forces them to start wearing gasmasks, but they are suffocating in the heat, so the workers elect to not wear them, sacrificing their future health to alleviate the extreme discomfort. Indeed, Carmela, after her initial bout with sickness, must sacrifice her clearly deteriorating health after she is offered a job in a different location. The genesis of the romance is in the factory, and in the factory she must stay.
Outside the factory, their love is a secret that must be kept away from their respective families, especially Carmela's, as she knows her brother would beat her savagely for dating anyone other than a Sicilian. In hiding their love, they spend much of their time outdoors in the places where Nullo grew up, places that have drastically changed between then and now. In one of the film's saddest scenes, he shows Carmela the lake where he used to swim. The pollution has made the water look extremely soapy and, as Carmela digs a hole to bury all the dead birds that are strewn along the shoreline, the doomed romance and the doomed environment become one thing.
Comencini directs the film with a harsh, realistic tone. The sweetness of the first half is contrasted sharply with the extreme somberness of the second, which cuts through the melodrama a little bit and works very well. Naples is represented as a drab, rough place that is especially hard on immigrants. I don't know if Comencini exaggerated this at all, but the rest of the film is realistic enough for me to believe it is, or was, how he shows it. Though some might find them a little overly dramatic, I found the performances very good; then again, I like a melodrama in my life, so I certainly didn't mind. Crime of Love is a solid production in every facet, and I'm very glad to have seen it.
Raro Video, a label I'm falling increasingly in love with, has delivered another excellent DVD in Crime of Love. The image looks much better than I could have hoped for and, really, looks almost like a current film. The grain structure is perfect and the colors, intentionally somewhat dingy, look great. There are a couple of instances of print damage, which brings it down a little bit, but that's minor next to all the positives here. The sound is a fairly standard mono mix, but the music and dialog are very clear with only a little bit of residual noise. The nice technical aspects are supplemented by two very good extras. Aside from the trailer for the film, the only one of these on the disc is a very good interview with Italian film historian Adrian Apra, who discusses the historical aspects of the film, as well as the director's role in Italian cinema. The other is the booklet that comes with the disc. Raro has started resembling the Criterion Collection in their valuable essays and archival interviews in these pages and, for this, we get a couple of printed interviews and a bunch of original press clippings about the film. This is one of the most informative that they've ever done and I thank them for it.
I had never heard of Crime of Love before this disc arrived in my mailbox and I'm extremely happy to know of it now and to have it in my collection. At once a sad love story and a commentary on worker conditions, environmental degradation due to industry, and bigotry, Comencini's film is tragically beautiful and a disc I'll absolutely hand to people I know to watch as well.
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Studio: Raro Video
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