LOVE IN THE CITY: PARADISE FOR THREE HOURS (Dino Risi, 1953)

In 1953 Cesare Zavattini produced L’amore in città, which comprises six short films, each by a different filmmaker, in one instance, two filmmakers, one of them Zavattini, who also contributed to the scripts of all but one of the films. The “city” is contemporary Rome.
     A dance hall on Rome’s outskirts, where each week, on Sunday afternoon, men are brought in for housemaids on their day off—an extension of the regulation of their lives that their employers enforce at home. A wild boogie, a tempestuous tango: whatever the dance, many of the women throw themselves into it. Some, however, just sit and watch. Marking the perspective of a seated woman, the shot of a dancing pair is framed to leave an impression of entrapment. The center of the floor is crowded with couples; at the edge, though, near the doors, there is space: two couples seem frayed without the anchoring bulk of other couples.
     Paradise? (Segment’s title: “Paradiso per tre ore.”) It’s Hell, especially when guys flick out their signature or latest moves, trying to impress their transient partners or themselves. Did you catch the split? One passage keeps the camera’s eye on dancing feet. For another shot, the camera, and we along with it, are in the midst of the motion, which seems to consume us.
     The “motion” is ironic; these women, whose job as housemaids marks their low socioeconomic status, are going nowhere. Risi’s imagery reeks of imprisonment; some of the women resemble zombies. The film would have needed to be more powerful to make its 12 minutes matter.
     Some sources expand the “3” of the title to “4.” Risi referred to “a couple of hours.” What difference the exact duration of this illusion of freedom?

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