Friday, June 25, 2010

Dassin's under-seen, under-valued THE LAW gets a week's run at BAMcinématek

Juicy is one word for THE LAW.  Rich, thick and ripe are a few more, should you need them.  Jules Dassin's melodrama-cum-comedy-of-manners takes place in a small Italian village located amongst some drop-dead gorgeous scenery that includes hills, architecture, art and ocean. (The grand, black-and-white cinematography is by Otello Martelli, whose work for Fellini is legendary.)  From the cooing pigeon that opens the film, waking up an Italian villager and then walking into the hands of the writer/director's son Joe -- who would later become a pop sensation in France, and whose voice and song you can hear on the wonderful soundtrack of Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited -- the camera then climbs up and into the windows of a building that houses many of the characters we'll soon know.  Dassin, shown below (in a scene from Brute Force), doesn't miss a beat.  Though his movie is two hours long, there's not a moment that doesn't delight and fascinate.

It is difficult to imagine what this film must have looked like to staid, middle-class America when it was first released back in 1959 (and dubbed, under the title Where the Hot Wind Blows): I would  guess it seemed pretty much the epitome of shocking, sexual, sensuous, passionate European cinema.  Among its cast, which now looks like a veritable who's who -- Gina Lollobrigida (on poster, top, and two photos down), Marcello Mastroianni (at bottom), Yves Montand (below, left), Melina Mercouri (below, right), Pierre Brasseur and Paolo Stoppa --  only Lollobrigida was well known in the states at that time.  Montand had done The Wages of Fear six years previous, but his best-known work would begin the following year (starting with Let's Make Love, opposite Monroe) -- as would Mercouri's (Never on Sunday) and Mastroianni's (La Dolce Vita).  In retrospect, Dassin appears utterly prescient in this casting coup.

Really, though, it's the content that counts. Within the movie's first 20 minutes everything from power to religion, the police to the male prerogative -- and especially propriety -- takes a licking.  Most of this is done via Ms Lollobrigida, who has never been sexier or smarter on film.  Under-appreicated (except for her cleavage) in her own time, the actress seems pretty remarkable, a fine example of women's lib before the term even existed.

The film's title refers to a nasty game of derision and shaming played by the men of the village, although law and power, as seen via love and sex, is everywhere in the village and the movie. Probably the most wonderful thing about the film is how simultaneously funny and sexy it is, particularly in the scenes between Lollobrigida and Mastroianni.  What a pair!  And I'm not talking about that cleavage.

The Law, restored and re-released via Oscilloscope Laborator-
ies opened this past Wednesday for a week's run at the BAM
cinématek. You can find upcoming playdates for other cities here.

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