DOWN AND DIRTY (Ettore Scola, 1976)

Ettore Scola’s Brutti sporchi e cattivi, called Down and Dirty in the U.S., is a trenchant study of hectic, noisy urban poverty, how the conditions and lifestyle that poverty imposes pervert the idea of family and the individuals comprising four generations of one particular family that live together, one on top of the other, in a flimsy shack in a rat-infested dumping ground on the hills of Rome. Scola (best director, Cannes) scores a painfully funny satire whose stinging truthfulness lies in its grasp of poverty’s insidious force rather than any mirror it holds up to reality. After all, Giacinto Mazzatella was rewarded with a substantial amount of insurance money for losing an eye; he might have used this for himself and his extended family. Instead, he hoards it, desperate to have this piece of cake rather than eat it, desirous to hold onto something he can finally call his own: literally, ridiculous; but as analysis, brilliantly astute. The complexity of insight here disputes an application of the word greed to what grips both Giacinto and those family members who are willing to do anything to divest him of the money, including adding rat poison to his dinner. All, including Giacinto, are monstrously driven to overturn a personal history of deprivation.
     In a great scene, Giacinto interrupts a daughter’s sex with her husband’s brother, but, faced with his daughter’s ripe sensuality segues seamlessly from paternal admonishment to incestuous overture as daughter protests, “Daddy!” This translates into the realm of familial relationships the confusion of rights to the money, the blurred boundaries of responsibility that are traceable back to the original deprivation or poverty. One wants to have whatever one can get because whatever one does not have magnifies the mockery that poverty inflicts.

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