We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
She leads a grim existence as a factory worker. Her husband has been hit by a motorcycle and is laid off with a broken leg. Her brother-in-law spies on her and her mother-inlaw spits on her. She’s been diagnosed as a tuberculosis victim and sent to a sanitorium in the mountains, courtesy of the National Health Service. And now she has met a young man who is desperately in love with her, and she finds she loves him too. “We must try to keep our heads,” she tells him, clinging to him. And then after a pause: “But WHY must we try to keep our heads?”
That’s the question asked and never answered in Vittorio De Sica’s last film, “A Brief Vacation.” De Sica, who died earlier this year, was one of the great directors of the postwar Italian neorealist movement, which represented a large, loud break with Hollywood tradition and dealt with life as it might exist outside sound stages.
In movies like “Shoeshine” and “Bicycle Thief” he told the stories of poor people trying to survive in a system geared up to manhandle them. His films grew slicker and more commercial by the 1960s, but he never lost his gift or his heart, and there were masterpieces like “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” (1972) and now this final return to a working-class subject.
It’s not a movie, though, that offers solutions to the problems it sees; de Sica’s communism was outworn long ago. It’s a love story, a very brief and poignant one, surrounded by a lot of anger. And it’s a “woman’s picture” of the new sort, the kind in which women make up their own minds and make their own mistakes. His heroine, Clara (a luminous performance by Florinda Bolkan), is harassed and bone-tired and driven to shouting things like “I’d do better as a whore” while she faces the bathroom mirror at dawn. But she has resources she never dreamed she owned.