La terra trema (The Earth Trembles)(1948) 

 

 

 

Director:     .

Starring:     Antonio Arcidiacono (Ntoni), Giuseppe Arcidiacono (Cola), Venera Bonaccorso (La vecchia che ride), Nicola Castorino (Nicola), Rosa Catalano (Rosa), Rosa Costanzo (Nedda), Alfio Fichera (Michele), Carmela Fichera (La baronessa), Rosario Galvagno (Don Salvatore, il maresciallo dei carabinieri), Agnese Giammona (Lucia), Nelluccia Giammona (Mara), Giovanni Greco, Ignazio Maccarone (Maccarone), Giovanni Maiorana (Un bambino), Antonino Micale (Vanni).

a poor Sicilian tries to lessen the exploitation of the fishermen in his village by the fish merchants and finds all the cards are stacked against him

 

Spoiler Warning:

"The story told in this film is set in Italy, more precisely in Sicily, in the Acitrezza village, a village that is on the Jonio Sea, not that far from Catania.  [Acitrezza is on the center of the east coast of Sicily, south of Messina at the northeast tip of the island and Catania to the south.]  The story that this film tells is the same story that happens every year everywhere in the world in which men exploit other men.  The houses, the streets, the boats, the sea are all from Acitrezza.  All the actors in the film were chosen among the inhabitants of the village: fishermen, women, farmers, masons and fish merchants.  In expressing their rebellion, pains and hopes, they know no other language than Sicilian.  The Italian language is not spoken by poor people in Sicily."

A man shouts out for Lorenzo.  Another shout is for Raimondo.  Still another shout is for Uncle Giovanni Sigaretta.  these men are fish merchants.  The men are now shouting out to sea:  "Caught any fish?  Can I bring the scales?"  The answer comes back:  "We've got a lot of fish.  You can bring the scales."

The narrator says:  "As always, the first to begin their days in Acitrezza are the fish merchants who go to the seaside when the sun is still tucked behind Capo Mulini.  Like every night, the boats went out, and now they are coming back with the little fish they did catch.  If there's abundant fishing, you survive in Trezza.  It's always been like this, from the grandfathers to the fathers and to the grandchildren."

Most of the houses are made of old stones. A woman of the Valastro family begins her daily routine before the sun comes up.  Big sister Mara yells for Lucia to hurry up and go get some bread.  Now the woman shouts out for Lia to pour some water on the floor here.  Lucia looks at a picture.  She says:  "I think of that morning when we waited for our father and he never came back."  She is thinking of her brothers now out on the sea.  In the photo she observes that her brother Ntoni was dressed like a sailor.  He had just returned from serving as a sailor in the war.  And there in the photo are Cola and Vanni.  And then there's Alofio and grandpa.  They are all fishermen.  She comments:  "The sea is bitter."

The brothers are down at the seaside bringing in the fish.  The narrator says that the biggest share of the fish money is taken by the merchants.  All costs concerning the boats and crew fall on the backs of the fishermen, "while the merchants get rich without any effort at all . . ."  After the catch is collected, the men and boys have to work mending the tears in the fish netting.  Cola says that Raimondo was arguing with Nino today, saying that he already gave him the deposit.  An older man replies:  "Don't worry Cola.  They never get angry for real.  . . . They fight and argue, but they always agree to be united against us!"

The seaside is covered with men haggling over the buying price for the fish. 

The Valastro males come into their house.  The narrator comments:  "12 hours of hard work and they bring home not even enough to avoid starvation.  Still the nets were full when they pulled them up."  Some of the guys, like Ntoni, complain that it just isn't fair.  "We cannot live like this any longer!"  Grandfather asks Cola why is Ntoni complaining so much?  Cola says the war changed way Ntoni looks at things. 

Ntoni goes to see a girl he likes named Nedda.  She raises rabbits. 

The Marshal of the Police Squad is the authority of the town.  He likes to watch the pretty girls go by.  One of those girls he likes is Nedda.  The man, Don Salvatore, has a better life than most of the people in town because he's paid by the state and he has lots of spare time to waste.  The poor fishermen have to go out to work every night "as theirs is a hopeless slavery".

Mara waters a window plant.  She likes to watch the workmen working on a house next door.  She speaks to one of the men, Nicola.  He tells her he's going to Catania. Someone shouts that Nicola is going to the city to find himself a wife.  This brings out a laugh from the other workers.  Mara, however, is not laughing.  She doesn't like the idea of Nicola looking for a wife elsewhere than at her house.  She asks him if that's true?  He says if he could marry, it wouldn't find his bride in Catania.  The job supervisor tells Nicola to get back to work.

The boats are sailing out onto the sea.  Lamps are taken along to help them see at night.   And the light also attracts the fish to the surface of the water.  "It takes a lot of fish to get a few thousand liras from the merchants."  Ntoni and other workers complain, wile others tell them to be thankful for what they have here and now.  Some of the young fishermen say they want to start negotiating the cost of fish with the merchants.  

The young fishermen haggle with the merchants.  The merchants keep the prices down and there's no way to get extra money out of them.  The  narrator comments:  "One becomes accustomed to injustice, the old people say." Ntoni gets so angry that he grabs one of the scales and tosses it into the sea.  This starts a real riot among the merchants and the young people.  A merchant runs to the marshal saying the young people are throwing both the fish scales and the fish into the sea.  The police get their rifles and run down to the seaside.

Ntoni and others are arrested.  And now the unrest is spreading in town among all the fishermen.  The businessmen are very concerned because their earnings were reduced by half in the fracas.  The merchant Raimundo says:  "Since the accident, the whole town seems full of communist spirit."  The merchant goes on to say that they must forgive Ntoni, but another merchant, Nino, says they must punish Ntoni.  Lorenzo backs Raimundo. 

The Marshal tells Lucia that he heard that the Commissioner of Catania let Ntoni go.  Lucia thanks him for the good news. 

Those arrested are brought by truck down by the seaside and released.  A lot of men give a big cheer for those who were arrested.

Ntoni thinks the merchants just admitted that they need the fishermen by dropping the charges against the arrested men.  He figures that now they must figure out a way in which the fishermen don't need the merchants.  He tells his family:  "Im telling you that we were not born to live a lousy life, to never hope to improve ourselves.  We were born to at least be masters of our lives and the lives of our family."  Cola decides that Ntoni is right.  Ntoni says that they should work for themselves with their own boat.  They can sell their fish directly to the customers in Catania. 

At the local fisherman's bar the guys virtually laugh Lorenzo the merchant out of the place.  Lorenzo complains about it to his fellow merchants.  They tell him not to worry about what happened because they are going to put the fishermen back in their rightful place. 

Ntoni finally wins over his entire family to his side.  And now he wants to talk about his ideas with the other fellows.  They too can do like the Valastros and break free from their old oppression. 

By 2 p.m. the Valastro family must be at Ospedaliera Street near Aci.  They are going to go by bus.  They are going to put a mortgage on their home to get some ready cash to build a better future. 

A month later the mortgage goes through and Ntoni returns to Trezza feeling like the master of the world.  And now he feels he's secure enough to marry now that the family can work for themselves. 

For the very first time the Valastros go fishing for themselves.  When they come back they tell the other fishermen that they have a lot of anchovies.  This was the good stroke of luck that Ntonia was hoping for. 

Now the family has to buy the salt to salt the anchovies.  Mara is in charge of the cart to bring the salt to the home.  Nicola helps her with the heavy cart.  He is a bit upset at the idea that the Valastros will become rich and out of his reach.  "With a heavy heart, Nicola said goodbye to Mara.  . .   Now he's too poor for Mara Valastro . . . "  Meanwhile, Ntoni is trying to woo Nedda. 

A lot of people from the neighborhood help the Valastros salt their anchovies.  Everyone seems to be having a high old time.  They laugh and laugh. 

Ntoni and Nedda go for a long walk.  Nedda makes Ntoni chase after her until he catches up with her.  They kiss while on the rocks by the sea.  Ntoni is very happy as everything he wanted is within his grasp now.

The weather today is rough, but the boat must go out.  Another fisherman tells Ntoni that he better be careful  "If there's wind in the Gulf, come back."  Ntoni is relying on good luck.

The bell of the church is rung.  That means that  a storm is coming.  Mara is really worried.  She goes to a friend's house and tells them that she was at the reef all night waiting for them to return.  She tells Bandiera that someone should go find them.  Bandiera says he warned Ntoni and now the storm is arriving.  He can't go out in that storm.  Mara begs him to go out.  So now Banidera says let's see what he can do. 

The weather turns good again.  One day the Valastros' boat shows up by Capo Mulini.  Bandiera went out in the storm and now they are being towed to port. The word is spread that Bandiera found the Valastros' boat.  People start coming down to the seaside. 

The Valastros are back but they lost everything:  the nets, the ship's mast, the oars, the sails and the boat has a hole in its side.  In one night they lost all their hard work.  The narrator says:  "The merchants now have their revenge.  They will make Ntoni pay for his rebellion."  The merchants really ball Ntoni out and now he's ruined by his own hands. 

The men go home to a warm welcome, but Ntoni is really upset and complains:  "I'm still unfortunate and bound to this destiny and to work harder to feed others."  Grandfather tells him not to dwell on it or he really won't accomplish anything.  Ntoni replies:  "But I'm telling you there has to be an end to this humiliation."  Grandfather now worries about paying off the debt. 

Ntoni goes to see Nedda, but the doors of her house are locked against him.  He yells out her name repeatedly.  Even the dog barks at Ntoni.  Some of the fishermen laugh at Ntoni.  He asks if there is any work for him and his brothers, but there is none.  The narrator comments that Ntoni has to seek work, but he finds none.  "Nobody wants him in Trezza."

Don Salvatore continues his pursuit of Mara and Lucia.  If he can't have Mara, then he will try for Lucia.  He brings a beautiful silk scarf for Lucia.  Lucia response is:  "Those gifts are for rich people, and we are not."  He says he is not offended and he wants them to know that:  "Don Salvatore is always a friend." 

The family has 30 small barrels of anchovies left, but the merchants say that the anchovies are spoiled already.  Ntoni says they are just trying to steal the anchovies for virtually nothing.  They don't reach a deal.  But faced with starvation, they are forced to eventually sell the goods at a low price anyway. 

A stranger comes to the village.  He attracts attention because he has American cigarettes.  One of the guys thinks he's an American.  The stranger tells Cola that he can help him out, so Cola walks with him to see if it's true.  The narrator is suspicious of the stranger's intentions. 

Cola returns home with an unopened pack of Lucky Strike.  He starts going through Ntoni's chest.  Ntoni comes in and catches him in the act.  He asks Cola what's he looking for in his chest?  Ntoni asks if he found a job?  No.  Ntoni says he has been looking for work for a month now.  He starts crying when he says both he and the family are now starving.  He is beginning to lose all hope.  Cola says that he's tired of living in Trezza.  "I don't think that in the world there are men as bad as here in Trezza."  Ntoni tells his brother not to say things like that.  They were born in Trezza and they will die in Trezza. Cola is thinking about finding work in a city somewhere.

One of the brothers, the smallest, comes home all wet.  Cola puts him in bed and gets a towel with which to dry his hair.  Then another brother, Vanni, comes in telling Cola that today he worked in Cannizzaro.  The brothers come to the understanding that all the merchants have agreed not to work with any of the Valastros.  Only Michele Gentili wants men who can work. 

The guys go to sleep, but Cola acts suspiciously.  He has hidden something that he must want to keep secret. 

In the morning Ntoni follows Cola, who meets up with four other guys. They all start walking and go into a bar where the American is waiting for them.  Ntoni watches them through the window.

More bad luck.  The officials from the Fidani Bank have come to confiscate goods from the Valastro family.  The engineer starts assessing the value of the house.  Ntoni is told that the men from Catania are coming with the Municipal Guard.  Ntoni runs home, but there's not much he can do.

It seems like the American is running some type of criminal activity using the guys of the village.  When Cola comes home he talks to the photo of the entire family.  He asks their forgiveness for he is leaving.  He adds that when he comes back they will all be happy together.  He leaves while the roosters start cock co doodling.   The guys get on a row boat. 

Ntoni tells grandfather that Cola has run away.  Grandfather gets sick and they have to take him to Catania to the Santa Marta Hospital.  Ntoni picks grandfather up from his bed and puts him on the truck.   

Ntoni now spends every night at the local inn with some other men down on their luck, the worst people of Acitrezza.  When Don Salvatore comes whistling by all the bums hide from his sight. 

Also staying out for parts of the night is Lucia.  She has probably been with Don Salvatore because she is now wearing a nice necklace around her neck.  Mara is very upset at this, but she really can't do much to rein in her younger sister.  She finally figures out that Lucia must have been out with Don Salvatore.  She slaps her sister a couple of times and they struggle with each other for a short while.  Lucia breaks away from Mara.

The narrator comments:  "One by one, the branches of the tree dry out and fall."

Lorenzo offers Ntoni a job as a crew member on one of his boats.  Ntoni absolutely refuses the job offer.  Lorenzo tells him that everybody in town is saying that Ntoni Valastro has become a slacker.  The two men start fighting with each other.  The neighbor women start yelling at Ntoni that he is trying to kill Lorenzo.  Ntoni shoves Lorenzo down, but doesn't continue the fight.  Lorenzo leaves.  One of the women tells Ntoni that now the Valastros are the worst family in all of Trezza.  Ntoni goes into his house.  Mara tells him there's a letter.  It's an Order of House Repossession by the Bank.

Mother and Mara start packing up their things.  Mara goes to see Nicola.  She tells him that the bank has taken their house and now she must say goodbye to him.  She tells him that this is God's will.  And now she can never marry because they are so poor.  She says goodbye and runs home. 

The family has to be out of the house this night.  They carry their possessions on their back.

Two new boats are blessed by the clergy.  Raimundo stands up on one of the boats to say a few words about the baptism of our new boats.  Not attending the ceremonies are the Valastro family members. 

One day Ntoni sees some men working on what was once his family's boat.  He looks it over as men work on repairing it.  A young girl knows that it once was Ntoni's boat.  She asks him how did his family become so poor?  And she says she knows that the people of his village do not like him.  Ntoni says yes, everybody abandoned him.  "They're blaming me for my family's ruin, but they don't understand that I was right."

The narrator says no one will help Ntoni "as long as they won't learn to care for each other, to be united."  It's within himself that Ntoni will find the strength to start again. 

Ntoni goes with his two brothers to see the fish merchants.  The merchants give him a really rough time of it, but they seem willing to let him register for work.  They laugh at him for bringing his two small brothers with him. Ntoni tells the merchants that he and his brothers Alfio and Vanni are deckhands.  Raimundo laughs his head off, but he says he will hire his entire family.  And he laughs some more.  He tells Lorenzo to enroll the brothers in Menicucci's team.  Ntoni signs in. 

The narrator observes:  "Thus, starting over, the Valastros go back to the sea, a bitter sea which inevitably is the death of all those who sail it."  Mara hangs up the family photo on the wall next to a painting of Jesus.  Ntoni helps row the boat out to sea.

 

Spoiler warning.  Good movie, but a sad one.  Ntoni is very upset at the injustices that he and his brothers have to put up with as fishermen who are exploited by the fish merchants.  He tries to think of ways they can lessen the exploitation.  He thinks if the fisherman cooperate with each other, they can improve their situation.  Some of the young fishermen cooperate with Ntoni in trying to negotiate better deals with the fish merchants to get a bigger slice of the money made off the backs of the fishermen.  But the merchants stick together and Ntoni's attempts to negotiate better prices come to naught because of the fish monopoly of the merchants.  Ntoni thinks some more and decides that they could fish for themselves as a family and sell the produce in the town of Catania.  The merchants are very angry at Ntoni for going his own way.

Ntoni is so anxious to get out under the yoke of the merchants, that he goes out on a day of bad weather.  A friend has to go out in another boat to rescue Ntoni and his family.  The Valastro family lose almost all their equipment and their boat was damaged too. This ruins the Valastro family.  The merchants tell everyone not to hire any member of the Valastro family. With no source of income, the family becomes extremely poor.  Grandfather dies and grandson Cola leaves the town of Trezza.  Ntoni becomes somewhat of a bum.  They lose their house, the house the Valastro family owned for so many generations. In the end Ntoni has to swallow his pride and go back to work for the fish merchants. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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