La ragazza in vetrina was supposed to be a turning point in Emmer’s cinema but it went on to become a cursed film. In accordance with the evolution of Italian cinema, the director chose a story by Rodolfo Sonego which combines a tough theme, Italian migrants working in Dutch and Belgian mines (the tragedy in Marcinelle, near Charleroi, which left 262 dead, half of which were Italian, took place only four years earlier), with a raunchy one, about the red light district in Amsterdam. It combines his love of wandering and the sketch with a harsh new gaze, bolstered by the black-and-white cinematography of Otello Martelli, fresh from La dolce vita. The first half-hour of the film depicts the difficult lives of the miners; then it concentrates on two characters, one timid, the other self-confident, but both lonely and unhappy, as they meet two prostitutes. The unity of time and the idea of the voyage involving impossible encounters (Domenica d’agosto, Parigi è sempre Parigi) now takes on a documentary flavour and a deep bitterness. However, the film was blocked by the Italian censor, who held it up for months before finally issuing a 16 rating, after eliminating one scene considered too raunchy. Nevertheless, many felt that the censor’s real target was actually the description of the working conditions faced by Italian emigrants. Embittered by the experience, Emmer dedicated himself to Tv advertising until 1990. The full-length Italian version was only restored forty years after its release.
Given that there were no hotels in the region [of Marcinelle], I slept on a camp bed, a guest in a miners’ hut. One day, a handsome young man from the province of Padova, a sort of young Vincenzoni, arrived at the hut and began telling me about the girls in the windows in Amsterdam. He was going out with one of these prostitutes, who had Sundays off. He would go to collect her on Saturday evening and they would spend the weekend going around the little hotels along the canals that fed into the ocean, celebrating with caviar and champagne.
Naturally I asked him how on earth he had so much money and he told me that there were certain mine shafts that, statistically, were prone to explode every ten-twelve years […] and the teams that accepted to work in them were paid as much as five times the usual rate. So, every Saturday this Italian minor, who didn’t have a wife in Padova to whom he could send a money order, found himself with all this money to spend with his woman in the window.
Following this meeting, I naturally decided to base the film entirely around this character. I drew up a story outline about twenty-five pages in length, which Pasolini came across in the producer’s office. Fascinated by the idea of the contrast between these Mediterranean lads and these porcelain dolls all made up under the lights of the shop windows, he called me. He wanted at all costs to write the screenplay, and that is what he did. “It’s beautiful. I don’t care if they don’t pay us anything for it.”
Rodolfo Sonego in Il cervello di Alberto Sordi. Rodolfo Sonego e il suo cinema, edited by Tatti Sanguineti, Adelphi, Milano 2015
This film brought me back to arthouse productions, which I had always preferred. It shows the hardship of immigrants of all origins working the mines, the slavish existence of girls for hire displayed like consumer goods, and the improbable dream of a young miner who wants to save a girl from the strange double life she admits to leading. The locations are stunning: a shoreline, a tiny house, a landscape that seems larger than life in the eye of Martelli’s camera. The performances were perfect: Lino Ventura, who shows with this part, at last, his humanity; Magali Noël, sparkling with life and wit; Bernard Fresson, astonishingly right for a first-time part. My own character’s inner violence allowed me to show an equivocal and unsettling aspect of my being that had been ignored and ill-used for years.
Marina Vlady, 24 images/seconde, Fayard, Paris 2005
Cast and Credits
Sog.: Rodolfo Sonego. Scen.: Luciano Emmer, Vinicio Marinucci, Luciano Martino, Pier Paolo Pasolini. F.: Otello Martelli. M.: Jolanda Benvenuti, Emma Le Chanois. Scgf.: Alexandre Hinkis. Mus.: Roman Vlad. Int.: Lino Ventura (Federico), Marina Vlady (Else), Magalì Noël (Chanel), Bernard Fresson (Vincenzo). Prod.: Nepi Film, Sofitedip, Zodiaque Productions. DCP. D.: 92’. Bn.
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