Power plays in the prettiest of places

The Law (La Loi)

on June 30, 2010 by Ed Scheid
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The Law is an entertaining 1959 film about schemes and conflicts in a small Mediterranean coastal town. Oscilloscope is releasing it for the first time stateside with its original French-language soundtrack. Adding to the appeal, the residents are portrayed by a charismatic group of multinational stars including Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri and Yves Montand, all in peak form. Building on the reputations of the cast and director Jules Dassin could enhance the appeal of this Law for art film enthusiasts.

Dassin, who had worked in Hollywood for many years, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He moved to Europe where he famously produced the heist classic Rififi (1954) and Never on Sunday (1960) with Mercouri, his wife.

In well-shot introductory scenes, different village residents are viewed from their balconies as relationships play out. The central character is Marietta (Lollobrigida), housekeeper to the wealthy patriarch of the town, Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur). A priest calls her the town's disgrace because of her open sensuality.

Lollobrigida is a fiery and earthy presence, making Marietta a formidable match for the swaggering males, most of who have designs on her, including her brother-in-law and the sinister crime boss Matteo (Montand). Montand is a potent villain who attempts to dominate everyone. Marietta's female relatives are also employed by Don Cesare and resent her attractiveness.

Marietta is drawn to Enrico (Mastroianni), a poor agronomist visiting the town to drain the marshes for malaria prevention. She plots to get money for a dowry to have a comfortable married life with Enrico and cleverly tries to turn unexpected events to her advantage. She is not above thievery. Compared to Marietta, Enrico is very passive about their future.
Lucrezia (Mercouri) is the unhappily married wife of the judge who is secretly involved with Francesco (Raf Mattioli), the young son of Matteo. In contrast to Marietta, Mercouri has a cool elegance that hides the pain she feels because of her empty life. Lucrezia and Francesco plan to leave town together.

Shooting in black and white, Dassin effectively uses shadows in the indoor scenes to emphasize the stiflingly claustrophobic atmosphere of the town, this contrasts with the sunny open outdoors that represent freedom from the town's oppressiveness. Highlighting the nastiness pervading the town, the men have a sadistic drinking game in which the one chosen to be "the law" can humiliate others. Dassin stages some spirited confrontations, including one in which a character is tied to a table with belts.

A dubbed English-language version of The Law was briefly released in the US in 1959 under the title Where the Hot Wind Blows. The film was briefly re-released in an Italian-language version in 1961. While this Law is not a rediscovered classic, the cast acts out the heightened emotions with flair, keeping the film enjoyable.

Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures
Cast: Gina Lollobrigida, Pierre Brasseur, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri and Yves Montand
Director: Jules Dassin
Screenwriters: Roger Vailland, Jules Dassin, Francoise Giroud and Diego Fabbri
Producers: Jacques Bar and Maleno Malenotti
Genre: Drama; French-language; subtitled
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: June 23 ltd.

 

Tags: Gina Lollobrigida, Pierre Brasseur, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri, Yves Montand, Jules Dassin, Roger Vailland, Francois Giroud, Diego Fabbri, Jacques Bar, Maleno Malenotti
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