1860 (Alessandro Blasetti, 1933)

Risorgimento: the period, 1848-1870, when partitioned Italy was unified, provides the basis for Alessandro Blasetti’s patriotic 1860, which culminates in the Battle of Calatafimi. A Sicilian village, under oppressive Bourbon occupation, rebels. Carmine, a young shepherd, travels to Genoa to solicit support for the local cause from the movement’s leader, Italy’s liberator, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The location shooting, the nonprofessional cast, the focus on an ordinary villager rather than, say, Garibaldi, and the national portrait that Blasetti achieves through Carmine all look ahead to neorealismo and, specifically, Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà (1946). But the artful finish Blasetti applies to his film and its grand historical sweep also look ahead to Luchino Visconti’s two treatments of Risorgimento: Senso (1954) and Il Gattopardo (1963).
     The opening is indeed worthy of Visconti: a bare tree, its branches knotted and twisted, symbolizes Italy in foreign hands before unification; soldiers on horseback imperiously gallop, the camera low and tilted upward, with martial music soft, insistent on the soundtrack; one soldier pokes with a pole a dead peasant on the ground; another drags a peasant, his prisoner. The camera surveys the desolate land and shows fire and then water: a rushing stream symbolizing hope. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, villagers appear on foot and attack the mounted monsters. The rebellion has not been extinguished; the people have not been conquered. Perspective on village losses is given, though, by what follows: a tracking shot across the ground—a scene of slaughter. 1860’s opening movement may even have inspired Sergei M. Eisenstein in the making of Alexander Nevsky (1938).
     As perhaps did the Battle of Calatafimi, the tree now in bloom, at film’s end. 1860 isn’t in all respects a great film (its middle is largely pedestrian), but it is bookended by two passages of gripping poetry.

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