Drawing upon the impoverished rural region of his own childhood in Salento, Edoardo Winspeare has combined superstitious folk fable and World War II anecdote seemingly to little purpose for nearly all of this movie’s length; Pizzicata may strike the viewer as fanciful and slight, and in its triangular romantic melodrama even trite—but then, almost magically, by making its brief coda a repetition of action—the dance between a girl and a boy—we have seen earlier, it achieves a graceful, heart-walloping finish that stills our censure, chides our complaints. Above all, here is a compelling use of communal dance in a dramatic film—one where dancing that had seemed, though colorful, extraneous becomes the very vessel into which the whole film pours, becoming in fact the film’s tragic and timeless essence.
The plot is a stretch. In 1943, a downed American fighter pilot is protected by farmer Carmine, who reasons he would like someone in similar circumstances to do as much for his soldier-son, Donato. Tony is a New Yorker whose parents, from Italy, have taught him fluent Italian. Carmine: “America: It takes away our sons, like the war.” Tony falls in love with Carmine’s daughter Cosima, who reciprocates this love but is ready to obey her father’s wish that she marry surly Pasquale, the son of a wealthy landowner. Alas, this isn’t enough to satisfy Pasquale’s jealousy.
Former documentarian Winspeare’s film is full of singing and dancing—the observant concerns of an ethnographer. (The cast, except for the actor playing Carmine, is nonprofessional.) It is a courtship dance between Cosima and Tony that is hauntingly repeated in the coda; but another dance, this one all-male, mimics a knife fight. Later, Pasquale will stab Tony for real—that is to say, for the benefit of the tale that will be regionally told. But a paroxysmal dance draws our greatest interest: the tarantata, in which a woman exorcises passion or grief. It is the dance that Cosima was born for.
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