La terra trema
La terra trema is a 1948
1948 in film
The year 1948 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* Laurence Olivier's Hamlet becomes the first British film to win the American Academy Award for Best Picture.-Top grossing films : After theatrical re-issue- Awards :...

Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

Drama film
A drama film is a film genre that depends mostly on in-depth development of realistic characters dealing with emotional themes. Dramatic themes such as alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, moral dilemmas, racial prejudice, religious intolerance, poverty, class divisions, violence against women...

Feature film
In the film industry, a feature film is a film production made for initial distribution in theaters and being the main attraction of the screening, rather than a short film screened before it; a full length movie...

 directed by Luchino Visconti
Luchino Visconti
Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo was an Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, as well as a screenwriter. He is best known for his films The Leopard and Death in Venice .-Life:...

. The movie is adapted from Giovanni Verga
Giovanni Verga
Giovanni Carmelo Verga was an Italian realist writer, best known for his depictions of life in Sicily, and especially for the short story "Cavalleria Rusticana" and the novel I Malavoglia .-Life and career:The first son of Giovanni Battista Catalano Verga and Caterina Di Mauro,...

's novel I Malavoglia
I Malavoglia
I Malavoglia is the best known novel by Giovanni Verga. It was first printed in 1881. An English translation, The house by the medlar-tree by Mary A...

1881 in literature
The year 1881 in literature involved some significant new books.-Events:* March 4 - A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story, begins.* The first of the three-volume History of Woman Suffrage, was published by Susan B...

) (The House by the Medlar Tree) for the screen.

The picture features, as non-credited non-professional actors, Antonio Arcidiacono, Giuseppe Arcidiacono, and many others. It is a docufiction
Docufiction is a neologism which refers to the cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction. More precisely, it is a documentary contaminated with fictional elements, in real time, filmed when the events take place, and in which someone - the character - plays his own role in real life...



The story takes place in Aci Trezza
Aci Trezza
Aci Trezza is a town in Sicily, southern Italy, a frazione of the comune of Aci Castello, c. 10 km north of Catania, with a population of around 5,000 people....

, a small fishing village on the east coast of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...


It tells about the exploitation of working-class fishermen, specifically that of the eldest son of a very traditional village family, the Valastros.

'Ntoni convinces his family to mortgage their house in order to catch and sell fish themselves and make more money than they were already receiving from the wholesalers who had controlled the market with their low prices for a long time.

Everything goes well until a storm ruins the family's boat, leaving them with nothing to keep the new business going. Following this disaster, the family experiences several awful events such as having to leave the house, the death of the grandfather, and 'Ntoni and his brothers being obliged to return to fish for the wholesalers.


The film can be divided by its prologue, three main phases and an epilogue.

Its first part tells us about the fishermens' attempt to improve their economic circumstances.
They demand a better price for their fish, and it is symbolized by 'Ntoni, the eldest son of Valastros family, throwing a pair of scales into the ocean, and the fishermen end up in prison. The wholesalers realize it is more profitable to have him and his friends fishing and release them. 'Ntoni, who has lived on the mainland, had brought some new open minded ideas with him and he tries to form a cooperative, but no one joins him. In deciding to do it on his own, he convinces his family to mortgage their house to buy a boat and starts his new life. A festive mood is present in this sequence, with all the village joining Valastro's family salting the fish in laughter and joy.

The second part, is dedicated to show Valastro's vulnerability. They realize that the price for being owners is high; they not only have to buy the salt but also work hard and not stop even in the hardest storm, risking their lives to be able to feed so many mouths at home. When they go out in a particularly bad storm, their new boat is severely damaged, and the Valastros have no money to get it repaired. At this point in the film, we see the other fishermen and the wholesalers mocking them already, convinced of the immutability of the prevailing social order.

The third phase of the film just affirms this already noticed vulnerability. The social and psychological consequences of the Valastros' attempt to change things are gradually revealed. They go out of work, no one wants to give them any opportunities, and the wholesalers are able to set the price for their fish. In the scene showing the wholesalers increasing the prices yet again, we can see the face of the children registering amazement at the cruelty of the adults. This was quite a common feature in neorealist films, and one almost sees this as an awakening of consciousness.

The family unit, so strong in the beginning of the film, breaks down. Now they have no family, no house, the grandfather dies, 'Ntoni's brother Cola leaves for the mainland to seek new opportunities, their sister Lucia loses her reputation, yielding to the temptations of Marshal Don Salvatore, and 'Ntoni starts drinking. Only the elder sister Mara remains strong, although she loses all hope of ever getting married because of not being rich.

In the epilogue
An epilogue, epilog or afterword is a piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama, usually used to bring closure to the work...

, 'Ntoni finally overcomes his pride, recognizing the true cause of the problems of his kind and his class, and sees the need for collective action by going back with his two young brothers, Vanni and Alessio, to work for the wholesalers as a day laborer, who have bought new boats.

The entire mood of the film becomes oppressive since the camera never leaves Aci Trezza, except in the scenes at sea at the beginning and end of the film. The outside world appears only indirectly when 'Ntoni goes to prison, when the family goes to sign a contract with the bank, when a stranger offering American cigarettes appears to tempt the youngsters to move to the mainland, and when the old baroness honors the inauguration of the new wholesaler's boats with her presence. Some allusions to modern Italian history are also there. On the wall of the restaurant we can see an image of a hammer and sickle. One of the wholesalers suddenly says: "The country is full of communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

!", and his colleague answers: "Raimondo is always right," in a parody of the Fascist slogan, "Il Duce is always right." At the end of the film, a faded text can be seen behind Raimondo:
Go with determination toward people. ~ Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....



Non-professional actors
  • Antonio Arcidiacono as 'Ntoni
  • Giuseppe Arcidiacono as Cola
  • Venera Bonaccorso as La vecchia che ride
  • Nicola Castorino as Nicola
  • Rosa Catalano as Rosa
  • Rosa Costanzo as Nedda
  • Alfio Fichera as Michele
  • Carmela Fichera as La baronessa


During the Second World War, Luchino Visconti felt the need to express his feelings about it by means of fiction in creating an illusion of the fictional world by combining a firm narrative structure with deep humanism. He wrote novels and plays, but ended up deciding to channel his creative energies into theatrical productions. In the middle of this experience with the stage, the Communist Party
Italian Communist Party
The Italian Communist Party was a communist political party in Italy.The PCI was founded as Communist Party of Italy on 21 January 1921 in Livorno, by seceding from the Italian Socialist Party . Amadeo Bordiga and Antonio Gramsci led the split. Outlawed during the Fascist regime, the party played...

 commissioned him to make a documentary about fishermen that was to be used as propaganda in the 1948 election campaign. Visconti took this opportunity to accomplish an old desire: adapting Giovanni Verga's I Malavoglia (the 1881 The house by the Medlar Tree) for the screen since he had acquired the film rights in 1941.

He travelled to Aci Trezza in Sicily, where Verga's novel takes place and found that it had hardly changed since the 1880s. Considering this, Visconti in neorealist
Neorealism (art)
In art, neorealism was established by the ex-Camden Town Group painters Charles Ginner and Harold Gilman at the beginning of World War I. They set out to explore the spirit of their age through the shapes and colours of daily life...

 fashion, decided to shoot the film in actual Sicilian locations and also to use local people as actors. By taking these "ordinary people," Visconti believed they could portray the truth about themselves as opposed to assuming roles.

The film ended up far beyond either the idea of a documentary about fishermen or the adaptation of the novel I Malavoglia. Actually, Visconti planned to shoot a trilogy, where the first part would tell about the fishermen and would have ended in defeat. The second part would tell about peasants and would have ended in a stalemate between exploiters and the exploited. Finally, the third part would be about the miners ending up in a triumph of solidarity of the oppressed. The decision to shoot only the first part came about as the importance of the so-called "episode of the sea" increased in its association with Verga. Having realized this, Visconti decided to conclude it on a note of resigned defeat and not in a miraculous victory.

A large chapter of the book by Silvia Iannello Le immagini e le parole dei Malavoglia (Sovera, Roma, 2008) is devoted to the origins, comments, and some images taken from the immortal movie of Luchino Visconti.

Film style

The use of fades and dissolves creates an almost solemn effect of time passing while people are engaged in their various tasks. The everyday theme, even the love, is shown by long takes. The sunrise and the boats coming back from fishing, the first scene at the market where the city is still quiet and peaceful, everything is working like it should be. On the other hand, fight scenes, are shot in medium short takes. We can easily notice this difference by comparing the first and the second scene at the market. While at first the camera is close inside of the market, later shots show at a distance the fights and crowds that were forming in the middle of the fishermen and sellers. The length of the takes help to convey the feeling of tranquility. It is present until the family's economic downfall. From then on, long takes are used to reveal lonely figures in desolate environments or people in confrontation with one another. Visconti keeps the spectator at a slight distance from the characters and events, and it is both an aesthetic and ethical choice, a gesture of respect for the life of the people of Aci Trezza
Aci Trezza
Aci Trezza is a town in Sicily, southern Italy, a frazione of the comune of Aci Castello, c. 10 km north of Catania, with a population of around 5,000 people....



Since 1941, Visconti already knew that the most important aspect of his Verga adaptation would be his ideal of "internal and musical rhythm". With Willy Ferrero's help, he used some of Sicilian folk music, but music is quite sparse in the film, until we move towards the ending where it does increase, emphasizing the fate of the Valastros. Don Salvatore whistling tunes from operas, the poignant melodies played by uncle Nunzio, the sounds of the wind and the sea, of ships returning to the harbor, cries from the streets, and the musicality of the Sicilian dialect create their own archaic atmosphere.


After the film was completed, a voice-over commentary written by Antonio Pietrangeli had to be added, since no Italian was spoken by the participants. At the beginning of the film he states that "...Italian is not a language of the poor." Also, the commentary takes an important narrative and thematic function. The poetic quality of the voice and the words are a part of the classical unity of the film, being a crucial part of its structure. Some examples include:
...It is just a matter of time, as the worm said to the stone, I'll bore a hole through you yet.

One by one, the tree's branches wither and fall.

If there's any relief, a moment's happiness, it's the thought of one's girl. And for her, one can do without sleep. Because a man's made to be caught by a girl, just as the fishes of the sea are made for those who catch them.

Reactions at the Venice Film Festival

Although he had won a major prize, Visconti was very poorly received when the film was given its premiere at Venice Film Festival
Venice Film Festival
The Venice International Film Festival is the oldest international film festival in the world. Founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi in 1932 as the "Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica", the festival has since taken place every year in late August or early September on the island of the...

 in 1948. Some protesters called it an artistic failure, and opposition came from many quarters.

Some other critics of the Left accused Visconti of formalism and of indulging in aestheticism. The film only began to be appreciated after the premieres in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...


External links

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