Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro) (1949)

dir. Giuseppe De Santis. In northern Italy, the annual rice planting and picking season has arrived, and as is tradition, only women with their “small and fast hands” are capable of the backbreaking labour. However, the men are well suited to counting the money, and barking orders. The women start their journey to the rice fields by cramming into trains and getting to know their new colleagues. Here, we meet Francesca (Doris Dowling) and her loutish boyfriend and criminal partner Walter. To escape the Carabinieri, Francesca blends in with the rice workers and learns their ways. Bitter Rice is a diverting crime film, that is frequently captivating through some standout scenes on the rice fields, particularly when the women work together to circumvent the rules of their overseers. The film is diminished by a brutal sexual assault that is presented dismally, both in the violent portrayal, and in the impact on characters. The star of the film is Silvana (Silvana Mangano), a peasant rice worker who befriends Francesca, and has her own life complicated by the criminal elements hanging around the farm. Germaphobes may cringe at the unhygienic treatment of the stockpiles of rice, with characters regularly lounging over the rice while smoking, eating, and engaging in various other human activities.

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.