Judge Mark Van Hook takes Koch Vision to task for dragging Claudia Cardinale down a dirt road. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Our review of The Valerio Zurlini Box Set: The Early Masterpieces, published October 19th, 2006, is also available.
Claudia Cardinale steams up the screen as only she can.
The name Claudia Cardinale probably doesn't mean much to the average moviegoer. To many male cineastes, it conjures up the kind of images only envisioned in the dreams of 13-year-old boys. Like Sophia Loren before her, Cardinale (8 ½, Once Upon a Time in the West) had the uncanny ability to combine soft-spoken vulnerability with an earthy sensuality. This helped make her a star of Italian cinema as well as a minor crossover star in such American fare as The Pink Panther.
Girl With a Suitcase is an excellent and emotionally textured early Cardinale vehicle that allows the actress to play to many of her strengths. Aida is a young girl who is jilted by her lover, Marcello. When she traces him back to his home, Marcello is able to convince his brother Lorenzo to tell Aida that he doesn't live there (made easier because he has given her a false surname).
The situation becomes complicated when the much younger Lorenzo becomes enamored with Aida. Sensing her plight, he offers her money that doesn't belong to him and with it the opportunity to get back on her feet. When the newly rejuvenated Aida begins to take interest in other men, Lorenzo's jealousy enrages him, leading to a confrontation that takes both of them to the emotional and psychological edge. Neither participant leaves unscathed.
This is the kind of role that Cardinale can really sink her teeth into, as it lets her be both sympathetic and seductive. In many ways, Aida uses her sexuality to elicit aid from Lorenzo, who is young and impulsive and doesn't quite understand what it is he's feeling. Yet we get the sense that this woman has been kicked around before, so much so that this sexuality is all that she has left. It is her only weapon against a world that has beaten her down for too long. We feel that she is sorry for her treatment of Lorenzo, but doesn't feel that she has any other choice.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, is not nearly as innocent as the premise would make it seem. Sure, he's manipulated by Aida, but he never sees her as anything other than a possession. Like many men who make the mistake of idealizing strong women, his love stems from his desire not to be loved by her, but to take care of her. He may be young and impulsive, but he still makes the mistake of seeing her not as a human being, but more as a lost puppy.
The film's ending neatly ties together these threads while leaving the final resolution open to interpretation. Both of these characters manage to do some growing up, with Lorenzo especially learning an important lesson about what it means to love. For Aida, the resolution is less dramatic and, as a result, less optimistic in the long term. We sense that despite the acts of kindness she has received, this woman is most likely doomed to repeat her mistakes, and may never achieve the kind of happiness that many people find.
The cinematic quality of Girl With a Suitcase begs the question—why, oh why, has Koch Vision given us such an anemic DVD of such a good film? Though I'm not sure exactly what materials they had to work with, the black-and-white source print appears to have been dragged down a dirt road, with horrible contrast and dirt and grain apparent in every shot. To make things worse, it has been panned and scanned, destroying the visual composition that director Valerio Zurlini strived so hard to achieve. In many shots, actors are blocked at a great distance from each other, probably to symbolize the emotional distance they feel. Because of the cropping, entire characters are excised from these shots, cutting out the emotional resonance Zurlini has tried to create. At best, the transfer is bad. At worst, it's unwatchable.
Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, the audio is only available in an English dub, taking away the film's Italian flavor. To be fair, it's a solid dub, with the voice actors at least giving careful pronunciation of the Italian names and acting with considerable emotional range. But it's still a dub, and because it's the only audio option available on the disc, there's simply no excuse for not providing the original Italian language track and subtitles.
Because of the overall lack of quality of the DVD presentation, I can't recommend a purchase of Girl with a Suitcase. It's a beautifully composed film in every respect, and my wish for the future is that someone like Criterion will pick up the rights to the title and give it the treatment it deserves. As for Koch Vision's disc—don't bother.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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