Bitter Rice

Writer/director Giuseppe De Santis's third feature filters a neorealist call for workers' rights through the aesthetics of film noir. Set in rural northern Italy, Bitter Rice opens on a train station where petty thief Marco (Vittorio Gassman) is on the run with girlfriend Francesca (American actress Doris Dowling). Told by Marco to hide out, Francesca joins the migrant laborers arriving for the annual rice harvest, but sees the work as a chance to finally leave behind both Marco and his life of crime. Developing a tenuous relationship with the wise Silvana (Silvana Mangano), who has far more on her mind than picking rice, Francesca learns the ropes of a world burdened by too many workers and too few jobs. Featuring stunning shots of the rice fields and the tireless women who work them, Bitter Rice demonstrates real sympathy for the laborers' plight while simultaneously offering a pulpy, Anthony Mann–like narrative and visual punch. The true star, though, is 18-year-old Mangano, whose performance is raw, sultry, and completely unforgettable.

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