TWO CENTS’ WORTH OF HOPE (Renato Castellani, 1952)

The conclusion of his “young love” trilogy, Due soldi di speranza found writer-director Renato Castellani sharing the top prize at Cannes with Orson Welles’s Othello. (Ettore Maria Margadonna and Titina De Filippo collaborated with him on the film’s story and screenplay.) Italy’s critics named Castellani the year’s best filmmaker while also adjudging the script that he co-wrote the year’s best. On the strength of this film came his next assignment, another film about young love: Romeo and Juliet (1954), which won Castellani the top prize at Venice—a film, although seriously flawed, far superior to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version.

Due soldi di speranza is a zany comedy that, initially, unfolds in an impoverished village setting at hilarious breakneck speed but resolves its emotionally complex material in a more problematic key. Twenty-two year-old Antonio, just out of the army, manages one lousy job after another (one of these involves the brutal treatment of carriage-drawing horses as they are forced to negotiate an uphill bit of street—animal lovers, beware); meanwhile, although her father and brother are against him, Antonio also increasingly reciprocates the romantic attentions of Carmela, whose unswerving devotion to Antonio, delightful, is reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn’s pursuit of Cary Grant in Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby (1938). Thus Antonio must try to balance the claims being made on him by personal feelings and social responsibility, including his need to contribute to the household of his almost always hysterical mother (Filomena Russo, fabulous).

Brash and brilliant, but also heartfelt and affectionate, Castellani’s film represents a less familiar kind of Italian neorealism. Suggesting a postwar society that doesn’t quite know whether life now is better understood as a comedy or a tragedy, it merits its accolades.

Vincenzo Musolino plays Antonio; Maria Fiore, Carmela.

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