Bitter Rice (Riso amaro) is a 1949 film from Italy directed by Giuseppe De Santis.
The setting is northern Italy during rice-planting season. Seasonal workers, all women, head north to the rice fields for planting and harvesting. Hiding among those workers are two petty thieves, Giuseppe and his moll/partner Francesca. They have graduated from petty thieves to big-time thieves after Francesca, at her controlling, abusive boyfriend's urging, stole a very valuable necklace from the hotel where she worked as a maid.
Giuseppe and Francesca are at the train station when the cops show up. Before he can be arrested, he shoves the necklace into her hands and throws her on the train. So that's how Francesca finds herself on the train headed north to the rice fields. She isn't a very good or subtle thief, and another worker, Silvana (Silvana Mangano in her Star-Making Role) notices Francesca hiding the bundle under the blankets of her barracks-room mattress. Silvana filches the necklace and is torn between wearing it herself and turning Francesca in...but all is not as it seems. Eventually Giuseppe shows up at the rice farm with a new scheme: to steal the whole season's rice crop.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The movie opens with a close-up shot of a man's face as he looks directly into the camera and talks about how northern Italy is rice-growing country, and how every year when it's time for planting, young women travel to the rice fields for seasonal work. The man is eventually revealed to be a radio broadcaster.
- Cat Fight: The biggest cat fight of all time, possibly. Bad feelings between the contract workers and the "scabs" (non-contract workers) suddenly erupt into a massive brawl. The scene that follows has hundreds of women thrashing around in a muddy rice paddy, with hair-pulling galore.
- Double-Meaning Title: Only in Italian. The Italian word "riso" can mean either "rice" or "laughter", and "Bitter Laughter" fits with the film's Downer Ending.
- Downer Ending: Silvana shoots Giuseppe to death, then kills herself.
- Driven to Suicide: Her face a mask of guilt and horror after she shoots Giuseppe to death, Silvana climbs to the top of the observation tower and throws herself off to her death.
- Epic Tracking Shot: The first shot of the film is a long tracking shot that starts on the close-up of the man talking, then pulls back to reveal that he's a radio announcer, then turns to show the women arriving, then completes a near-360 degree spin to show women boarding the train, before ending with the two police that are there hunting after Giuseppe.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- When the detective at the train station fires a warning shot, Giuseppe grabs Francesca and yanks her in front of him to serve as a Human Shield.
- The first shot of Silvana shows her dancing provocatively to the accompaniment of her portable record player, not to earn money or anything, but just because she wants to dance.
- Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: People at the train station hawk newspapers announcing five million in jewels stolen at the Grand Hotel", which is how the audience learns what Giuseppe and Francesca have done.
- Fanservice: For starters there's Silvana, who spends the whole film in tight and/or revealing clothing. But there are also a lot of other characters and Fanservice Extras in tight clothing. There are shots of whole rows of women bent over as they plant rice. Scenes set inside the worker domitory at night show all the young women in slips and nighties.
- Foreshadowing: A whole sequence in the film shows how the rice fields are irrigated. Workers chop the ropes holding sluice gates shut; the gates then open and water pours through the sluice gates to flood the fields. Towards the end, when Giuseppe is trying to pull off his heist, Silvana chops the ropes in the same way, flooding the fields and distracting all the guards.
- Gainaxing: Does Silvana shake her breasts for the entertainment of the crowd while she's dancing? Yes, yes she does.
- Info Dump: A great chunk of exposition at the beginning of the movie, as the radio host explains how Northern Italy has a large seasonal rice farming industry, and how young women flock north to plant and harvest the rice crop.
- Italian Neorealism: As with many Italian Neorealism films, it's a drama of the working poor shot in black and white on location instead of a stage. However it also has plot elements more associated with Film Noir or crime movies, like a stolen necklace, a Love Triangle, a heist, and a scantily-clad Ms. Fanservice.
- Libation for the Dead: An unusual non-alcohol example. The rice pickers are all leaving, carrying the sacks of rice that are part of their wages. Silvana lies dead on the ground, covered by a sheet, after she killed herself. The workers all sprinkle grains of rice on the sheet as they pass.
- Love Dodecahedron: Francesca is Giuseppe's moll/victim. She's obviously attracted to Marco, the buff soldier. Marco has little interest in her but is smitten with gorgeous Silvana. Silvana flirts with Marco relentlessly but eventually cleaves to Giuseppe, and becomes Francesca's replacement as moll and thief.
- MockGuffin: The necklace that Silvana stole, the whole reason that she went on the run and wound up at the rice paddy in the first place, turns out to be a fake.
- Ms. Fanservice: Silvana, who spends the whole movie in tight sweaters, or tight tops and short shorts, or (when she's in the barracks) lingerie. Sweater Girl, She's Got Legs, Toplessness from the Back, Gainaxing—Silvana Mangano is deployed to the maximum advantage that Italian cinema of 1949 would allow.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with all the rice pickers walking back to the train that will take them away, the rice-growing season having ended.
- Same Language Dub: Doris Dowling (Francesca) was American; her voice was dubbed. Silvana Mangano was Italian but got her voice dubbed anyway.
- Sinister Switchblade: Giuseppe has one. When he finds Francesca unwilling to help him steal the rice, he says "Jail isn't the worst thing that could happen to you," and he flips open his switchblade creepily.
- Sweater Girl: Every top that Silvana wears over the course of the film is stretched to the snapping point.
- Toplessness from the Back: Even more fanservice from Silvana, as the rice pickers bathe in a stream.
- Torches and Pitchforks: A crowd literally wielding torches and pitchforks comes rushing back after Silvana floods the fields. But since they don't know she's the one who did it, she passes through unmolested, her face contorted with guilt.