The Comrades

Posted: 22 September 2012 in Uncategorized
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Folks can add The Organizer (the incorrect translation of I Compagni), the 1963 film by Italian writer-director Mario Monicelli, to their list of economic representations of class and class struggle.

I didn’t know of this film until last night, when I discovered it in a local video store. It was a quick read of the description on the case that made me curious: it was made in 1963, and therefore 3 years before The Battle of Algiers); it’s about working-class struggles in Turin during the late-nineteenth century, and it stars Marcello Mastroianni; and it is described both as neo-realist and an example of commedia all’italiana. What’s not to like?

Most important, it’s quite good. So is the essay by J. Hoberman.

While the movie’s American title puts the emphasis on the star, the original Italian title stresses a sense of solidarity. So does the movie itself, which is essentially an ensemble piece. “Monicelli has integrated the star into the drama, counterpointing him against the others instead of reducing them to background music,” [Dwight] Macdonald noted. “For considerable periods, we don’t see the organizer at all, and when he does reappear—often materializing with a magical yet quite logical opportuneness—[he is] first among equals, rather than the usual star-dictator.” Recurring deflationary bits of business throughout suggest the futility of individual action: one irate worker confronts his boss, pulls out his knife, and can’t open the clasp; another makes a fiery speech in a dialect that his comrades don’t understand.

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