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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
La Commare Secca (1962)

La Commare Secca (1962)

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Released 11-Oct-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Booklet-Insert Essay By Rolando Caputo Ass. Lec. Cinema Studies
Featurette-Bernardo Bertolucci: What's The Meaning Of Cinema
Trailer-Tokyo Story, The Leopard, The Wind Will Carry Us, Umberto D
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 85
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bernardo Bertolucci
Madman Entertainment
Starring Bernardo Bertolucci
Sergio Citti
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Carlotta Barilli
Lorenza Benedetti
Clorinda Celani
Vincenzo Ciccora
Alvaro D'Ercole
Giancarlo De Rosa
Elena Fontana
Maria Fontana
Gabriella Giorgelli
Romano Labate
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Piero Piccioni
Carlo Rustichelli

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.70:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   As film lecturer Ronaldo Caputo says in the informative booklet which accompanies this DVD, it is always fascinating to see the first film by a great director. For film buffs it provides an ideal opportunity to look for clues as to the future style and success of the filmmaker.

    In this case the director is Italian master Bernardo Bertolucci and the film is La Commera Secca. Although he is still making films (2003's The Dreamers is his latest) Bertolucci is best known for his 70's and 80's films The Conformist, 1900, Last Tango in Paris and the multi-Oscar winning The Last Emperor. Bertolucci's individual voice is best seen in the languid, sensual camera work and his colourful and poetic visual style.

    Clue-hunters beware - not a great deal of the Bertolucci style is evident in this first work, La Commera Secca. For a start the film is shot in a bleak and austere black and white. The probable reason why this is not a truly representative Bertolucci film is because the script was based upon a story by his friend and fellow poet Pier Piero Pasolini. For those not big on Italian cinema history, Pasolini was a controversial writer and director who continually challenged societal norms with his films and occasionally faced criminal charges over their content. His 1975 virulent anti-fascist torture film Salo has probably been banned in more countries then it has been shown.

    The keys to Pasolini are found in his connection with the Roman urban poor, particularly young males. This identification lies at the core of La Commara Secca and hence is not really an indication of things to come for Bertolucci. In fact, Pasolini was slated to direct the film with Bertolucci as his assistant but Pasolini chose to do another film leaving Bertolucci as the only available candidate. Only 21 at the time, Bertolucci said later than he was paralysed by fear when the cameraman asked him where he was to set up the first shot!

    The English title for the film is not an exact translation of the Italian but it does serve to set up the fact that this is a film not so much about a single death as the idea of death itself.

    As the film opens the body of a woman is discovered in a wasteland near a park in Rome. Bertolucci's camera finds her, moves off, and then comes back again as if it were a cold human eye.

    In Rashomon-like manner (although Bertolucci says he had not seen the Kurosawa film at the time) the film becomes a murder mystery of sorts as we are introduced to a series of suspects, the subject of police enquiry. Each is asked to relate their movements on the previous day. The murderer is revealed at the end of the film.

    However, that is the only connection the film has with a traditional murder mystery. Pasolini and Bertolucci are not much interested in the facts of the case and each of the stories is a real slice-of-life vignette on being young and male in the city. Whilst their stories are connected somehow with the death the majority of each short story is entirely unrelated to the woman's fate.

    We meet some young thieves stealing from lovers making out in the park, a layabout man and his pimp girlfriend, a soldier bored in the city, a couple of young men trying to impress some girls and a lonely man identifiable by his noisy clogs. The only connection is that all the men were in the park, at night, when the woman was killed. She is a prostitute and we see her in interludes between the stories as she prepares for a night's work.

    The tone of the piece is quite spare. These are people on the fringes and are disaffected and alone even when in company. There is a homoeroticism and misogyny underneath the work which is probably due more to Pasolini than Bertolucci.

    Fans of Bertolucci may find La Commera Secca too unlike his mature works to be revered as a representative work of the master. Perhaps the most obvious connection is the lingering pans whereby the camera slowly traces its way along a character and drifts past as if disinterested in the on-screen action. The performances from the largely unknown cast are quite good, suggesting that the young Bertolucci was already able to coax fine turns from amateurs. The film is probably a bit cool and lacking in dramatic drive to be of general interest and this is a purchase best suited to the film buff or any lover of Italian cinema. One thing is undeniable - it is an extraordinarily mature work from a 21 year old director and the film stands up on its own as a fascinating look at lives on the edge of the city both literally and metaphorically.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


   La Commera Secca was shot on a 35 mm film at an original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It has been transferred to DVD in the ratio of 1.70:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The back of the case refers to this as a fully restored print and it looks remarkable for its age and likely budget. Considering this movie is almost 45 years old the transfer is in fact impeccable.

    Nicely shot in black and white the contrast is just right and the black levels are deep. There is a lovely crispness and clarity to the image.

    The level of artefacts is minimal and there is no obvious print damage. There is minimal grain.

    The subtitles are clear and easy to read.

    There are no other flaws with the transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    La Commera Secca comes to DVD with Dolby Mono 2.0 (192 Kb/s) audio (although the case lists it as 1.0 Monoaural).

    The dialogue is clear and easy to hear . It is in Italian and, truth be told, the audio sync is not impeccable which may be due to dubbing in post-production. It is not a real problem but it is noticeable.

There is some distortion in the louder moments but it is not really a big issue. The only real problem I have with the sound relates to the score and is an aesthetic rather than technical issue. In 1962 the avant garde jazz infused soundtrack was the height of trendiness but now it seems self-consciously arty and pretentious. It is punctuated by flute and discordant drumming . There is, however, a nice Spanish guitar theme for the prostitute.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio & Animation

    This is a series of stills from the film backed by the Spanish guitar theme with the black and white stills highlighted in a very blood red.


    Aside from the documentary below there is also an interesting essay by Rolando Caputo, Associate Lecturer in Cinema Studies at Latrobe University. The essay is grounded in the real world and is designed to be read and enjoyed by both the serious critic and the casual fan. He looks at the background to the film and the filming process. He is a good communicator and I look forward to reading further essays by him on future releases.


    La Commera Secca contains a 55 minute documentary about Bertolucci called What is the Meaning of Cinema?. Rather than a traditional documentary style examination of his works this is really a chronological guide to his films 'narrated' by Bertolucci himself by way of numerous interviews he gave across the decades. It should be said that there is only a brief glimpse at La Commera Secca. The footage here is invaluable including Bertolucci working on set for some films and explaining in typical esoteric 60s/70s style the meaning behind his movies. Even if some of Bertolucci's comments are a bit obtuse the extra is extremely worthwhile as it charts the sometimes perilous course his career has taken. It is amazing to think that in the enlightened 70's Bertolucci was actually convicted of immorality for Last Tango in Paris and that the film was banned in Italy for 8 years!


    This is the usual series of trailers from Madman release prefaced inexplicably by the anti-piracy warning.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Region 1 viewers can buy this movie as part of the Criterion Collection. In addition to the movie it contains what is described as an exclusive interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci and an essay by film critic David Thompson. It's hard to know the value of these features without seeing them but to my mind the essay by Rolando Caputo and the documentary feature have great merit. On the strength of these I would recommend the local purchase.


   La Commera Secca is an interesting drama and examination of the Roman youth underclass. It is an excellent transfer and probably looks as good on DVD as it ever did at the cinema.

    The extras are fascinating and ably complement the film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

Other Reviews NONE