Review: ‘Rice Girls’

High-concept docu "Rice Girls" counterposes the black-and-white curvaceous stars of Giuseppe de Santis' 1949 Italian neo-realist meller "Bitter Rice" with the colorful but dumpy elderly women who once actually worked in those rice fields. Though pic neatly exposes the stylistic exaggerations of bygone exercises in Italian neo-realism, docu finally overuses sentimentality: The feisty little old ladies, drunk on nostalgia as they revisit the rice planting scenes of their youth, don't have enough spark to carry the film.

High-concept docu “Rice Girls” counterposes the black-and-white curvaceous stars of Giuseppe de Santis’ 1949 Italian neo-realist meller “Bitter Rice” with the colorful but dumpy elderly women who once actually worked in those rice fields. A couple of the now-elderly women briefly toiled alongside Silvana Mangano as extras on the film. Though pic neatly exposes the stylistic exaggerations of bygone exercises in Italian neo-realism — the steamy, supposedly “down to earth” sexuality that passed for class consciousness — docu finally overuses sentimentality: The feisty little old ladies, drunk on nostalgia as they revisit the rice planting scenes of their youth, don’t have enough spark to carry the film. Outlook looks limited.

Docu reunites some 30 former “rice girls” who, as young migrant workers, converged from all over Italy for the brief, but backbreaking, harvesting season. Returning to Piedmonte and rice paddies now tended by machines, the women recall the jobs and the strikes of the early ’50s, joyously bursting into song at the slightest provocation. Unfortunately, contemporary DV footage of charming old ladies cannot compete with the high-contrast, sultry carnality that infuses every frame of their black-and-white celluloid counterparts.

Rice Girls

Italy

Production

A Stefilm production in co-production with YLE/TVI Finnish Broadcasting Corp. Produced by Elena Filippini, Stefano Tealdi. Directed, written by Matteo Bellizzi.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Franco Robust; editor, Silvia Del Ferro. Reviewed on cassette at Museum of Modern Art Documentary Fortnight, Dec. 24, 2003. Italian dialogue. Running time: 54 MIN.
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