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Film / La Terra Trema

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La Terra Trema is a 1948 film from Italy, directed and narrated by Luchino Visconti.

It tells the story of the Valastro family, poor fishermen in Aci Trezza, a village on the western coast of Sicily. (The film is told in the Sicilian language, near-unintelligible to Italian-speakers on the mainland.) All the fishermen of Sicily live on the ragged edge of starvation at all times, performing backbreaking labor out at sea, only to give their catch to greedy wholesalers who pay them a pittance and then sell their fish at great profit in urban Italy.

Ntoni Valastro, a young man who served in World War II and came back full of new ideas, chafes at being exploited by the plutocrat merchants. He hits on an idea: buy a fishing boat for his own family, so the family can sell their catch on the wholesale market themselves. Unfortunately, after a promising start their business venture fails, leading to a series of disasters for the family.

As with many films of the Italian Neorealism movement, filled with an Amateur Cast consisting of real Sicilian fishermen. Later received a Spiritual Successor in Visconti film Rocco and His Brothers, about a similar poor Sicilian family that travels to mainland Italy but struggles to assimilate.


  • As You Know: Cola helpfully reminds his grandfather and the audience that Ntoni only recently came back from service in the war and time as a POW.
  • Blowing a Raspberry: The fishermen do this to Lorenzo the wholesaler at the cafe after Lorenzo mouths some platitudes about how they're all in it together.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: It ruthlessly exploits and oppresses the workers and will seek to squash anyone like Ntoni who tries to rise above his station. The narrator describes their fate as "hopeless slavery." This film was financed by the Italian Communist Party as an electioneering tool for the impending 1948 Italian general election. (The Communists lost, thanks in no small part due to meddling from the Untied States.)
  • Crapsack World: Sicily, a land of desperate grinding poverty where the working folk are oppressed by greedy businessmen.
  • Defiled Forever: Lucia, apparently, since having sex with the cop seems to have made her unmarriageable by anyone in the community.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Things are looking up! The Valastros got a huge catch of anchovies with their new fishing boat. They salt away thirty barrels of fish. But on their second voyage out a huge storm wrecks their boat, sweeping away all of their equipment and rendering their boat unseaworthy. It's catastrophe, as the over-leveraged Valastros have no money to fix their boat and get new equipment. They lose everything.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After his grand plans have failed, a jobless, broke Ntoni takes to drinking heavily.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A nearly three-minute take follows one of the younger brothers of the Valastro family as he tries to sell his catch amidst the madhouse of fishermen on the beach, before giving up and going home.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Cola is lit only by a single candle as he tells Ntoni that they have no hope of making it in Aci Trezza. Soon after he's lured away to the mainland to work.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The bells that toll at the opening of the film set a mood of foreboding and doom. Later they toll again as an alarm, warning of the storm that wrecks the Valastro boat.
  • The Faceless: The mysterious man who appears on the beach in Aci Trezza, handing out American cigarettes, offering some sort of unspecified work in mainland Italy. We never see his face; he's always shot from behind, while wearing a raised collar and a wide-brimmed hat. Ntoni's younger brother Cola is one of a half-dozen youths who accept and leave with the man.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The rain sets a suitably depressing mood as the Valastro home is foreclosed on by the bank.
  • Match Cut: From Ntoni watching the celebration at his family's house to Ntoni in the exact same location and position in the frame, but looking out at the ocean while holding hands with Nedda.
  • Narrator: Provides rather heavy-handed commentary on and explanation of the events onscreen. The wreck of the boat is followed by the narrator saying "It was not enough to have the hostility of men; nature also played against them."
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: The docile citizens of the village resent the Valastro family for having ambitions, and they mock the Valastros relentlessly after those ambitions fail.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The wreck of the boat triggers a series of disasters. The Valastros lose their home, which Ntoni had mortgaged to buy the boat. They are reduced to the edge of starvation. Nedda dumps Ntoni. Cola leaves Sicily for parts unknown, having been offered work by a shady, mysterious character. Lucia finally puts out for the policeman that's been sniffing around her, and thus is rendered unmarriageable. Somehow, they also lose the boat, which makes no sense as they paid for it with the money from the mortgage. Just to make things more depressing, Grandpa dies. Finally, a starving and desperate Ntoni is forced to once again work as a hired hand for the merchants, who laugh at him and mock him even as they give him a place on one of their boats.
  • Working-Class People Are Morons: The villagers of Aci Trezza accept their fate with ox-like stupidity, not even realizing that they are exploited by the merchants, and if they do, simply accepting it as their fate. They mock and ridicule Ntoni's ambitions, and after his boat is wrecked they are even worse, taking positive delight in the misfortunes of the Valastros. At the end a bitter Ntoni talks about how everyone in the village abandoned him.