Film: Earth Cries Out, The / Il grido della terra (1949)

May 26, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer: n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:n/a

Region: n/a

Released: n/a

Genre: Drama / Action

Synopsis: A group of post-WWII refugees escape from an Italian internment camp and attempt to settle in Palestine as plans to establish the state of Israel are underway.

Special Features: n/a

 


 

Review:

Since its restoration in 2008, The Earth Cries Out is regarded as one of the earliest films chronicling the founding of Israel, made 9 years before the publication of Leon Uris’ best-selling novel Exodus, and Otto Preminger’s epic 1960 film version.

A far more modestly budgeted production, Earth is very much a B-movie made with sincerity, but also with careful attention on momentum to mask the limited sets and sequences. Director Duilio Coletti pulled off a modest miracle by elongating a series of sequences into intense mini-dramas that transcend the simplistic tale of former wartime friends who find themselves on opposite ends in British-ruled Palestine.

Four writers (including frequent Frederico Fellini scribe Tullio Pinelli) fleshed out the story by one-timers Lewis Gittler and Maria R. Berardi, keeping the conflicts very lean and simple: after embarking on a sailing ship bound for Palestine with fellow postwar Jewish refugees, Irgun member Arie (Andrea Checchi) arrives at the port of Haifa with Dina, the former fiancee (stunning Marina Berti) plus the father (Filippo Scelzo) of his best friend David (Luigi Tosi), now a member of the violent Haganah movement.

After Dina becomes aware of David’s new love Judith (Vivi Gioi), she rebounds with Arie, himself smitten with the striking woman since their meeting on the Exodus ship and the first unsuccessful attempt to reach Palestine. Meanwhile, David’s involvement in violence escalates from improvised roadside bombs to more strategic placements in the Brit’s Haifa headquarters, and his arrest and subsequent death sentence cause the Haganah to snatch Arie and David’s WWII comrade & friend Lt. George Birkemore (Peter Trent), a mid-level British officer who finds himself similarly tried and sentenced to hang.

Fans of Exodus might find the story a bit threadbare and characters undercooked, but Earth could be seen as an alternate stream from Uris’ novel, covering Italian refugees still fresh with the trauma from the Nazi concentration camps. This is a much more adult take on trauma and the social bonding that brings disparate people together to fight for and establish the Jewish state: Dina’s past is very clear – she was sexually and emotionally brutalized by the Nazis – and it’s especially unsettling when Arie tells her to undress so Birkemore and his men leave the lovers alone during a midnight search and arrest.

The contrast faced by characters is very clear: a constant struggle to move forward and turn tragic loss into a strong motivator for positive change. Most of the dialogue scenes are designed to have characters establish their positions before Coletti moves into another taut sequence, and the film’s finale is rather abrupt – after tragic parallel executions, we leave the survivors as they continue the moral and political battle of nation building under duress. Coletti counters the script’s familiar archetypes by fixating on what are essentially team building exercises: the sailing and arrival of refugees to British Palestine are mini-masterpieces in montage; David’s meetings with resistance comrades are followed by bombing runs; and the events of his trial are cross-cut with Birkemore’s own hopeless circumstance.

At the tip of the film’s second act, when the group head for the ship and set sail for Palestine, Coletti’s already ratcheted the sequence by having everyone at the seaside refugee camp excited for their dusk trip, and a good chunk of Earth‘s first third fixates on the masses of people rowing to the creaky, whitewashed schooner where they stow their few possessions and weather a long trip. The sequence’s real power comes when the group arrives at Haifa, which Coletti dramatizes with rather extraordinary details covering the captain running the ship aground, and a lengthy disembarking montage that has the refugees diving, swimming, rowing, and pulling each other to the coarse rocky shore where they’re whisked away before the Brits can arrest them.

The success of the film lies in Coletti’s direction, the beautiful, creamy grey composition by cinematographer Domenico Scala (Ossessione), and sharp editing by Mario Serandrei (Blood and Black Lace, The Battle of Algiers), but the glue that makes the narrative so seamless is Alessandro Cicognini’s fascinating score.

An important figure in Italian postwar dramas by Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan), Cicognini also wrote the haunting music for David O. Selznick’s messy Terminus Station (1953), and in Earth he balances lush thematic material with Jewish folk and liturgical pieces, but his most clever interpolation is the British national anthem, played back in a grungy key that deliberately evokes the German anthem and discretely places the Brits as Nazi overlords. Equally striking is the selective use of a theremin which is organically supported by orchestra in the closing cross-cutting montages as David’s body is carried up a mountain in a lonely funeral procession, and Arie and his men frantically search for Birkemore in neighboring forests.

 

The American p.r. campaign emphasizes action, illegalities, “underground strikes” and “terrorists.”

 

Earth certainly deserves a proper Blu-ray release, if not a special edition that contextualizes the film’s importance as a cultural artifact and example of Coletti’s fine directorial skills, which extended his career to more international co-productions, such as the compact B-actioner Submarine Attack (1955), London Calling North Pole (1956), Under Ten Flags (1960) for Paramount, Black City / Il re di Poggioreale (1961) with Ernest Borgnine, and co-directing with Edward Dmytryk Anzio (1968). A DVD of Earth reportedly exists in Italy, but without English subtitles. The subtitled version screened at TJFF 2018 was provide by the Primo Levi Center in NYC.

(I’ve added a YouTube link to a must-see round table discussion at the PLC in 2012 with University of Pisa’s Guri Schwarz , NYU’s Stefano Albertini, the PLC’s Natalia Indrimi, and  Wendy Gittler, daughter of lead scenarist Lewis Gittler. I say must-see because of the important details by Schwarz on the film as a document of a little-known period in postwar Italy in which Jewish refugees made the trip from Italy to Palestine, and the ‘underground railroad’ in which allied officers and soldiers aided Jewish refugees enter Italy and prepared them for the final stage in an epic migration. Albertini contextualizes the film as a partial neo-realist film, and Gittler provides a compact history of her father’s incredible life that included being a journalist who witnessed the migration within Italy and felt compelled to recount the stages in a dramatic narrative.)

 

The European posters fixate on passionate emotions tied to love, hope, and struggling to eke out a better future.

 

In an interesting footnote, co-star Berti appeared in the Italian mini-series The Odyssey (1968) co-directed by Mario Bava; Bava also directed co-star Checchi in Black Sunday (1960), and worked with editor Serandrei on multiple film, including Caltiki (1959), Erik the Conqueror (1961), and Hercules in the Center of the Earth (1961).

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB Composer FilmographyTJFF 2018

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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