Ugly, Dirty and Bad / Brutti, sporchi e cattivi (1976)

5.0 out of 5

Can a movie with such an endearing title live up to its title's promise?

In director Ettore Scola's hands, not only does the 1976 Italian ghetto scenery provide the bleakest, most infernal sights this side of a poliziotteschi, but the eat-the-rich social/political commentary is layed on with a spattered halbeard. Whether it be the motorcycle-led baby kidnappings, the beggars tripping unsuspecting pedestrians, the motorini driven through cardboard shanties, the rampant drunkenness, incest, and rats being thrown off cliffs as children's games, the "day-care centers" consisting of playgrounds built inside filthy cages, the senile, t.v.-addicted grandmothers exploited for their welfare checks to sustain entire squalid families of eighteen, the daughters sold into porno, and even the solemn depiction of the movie's only form of employment, invalid home care, where a nurse's common obligatory functions is to jack off elderly patients, this bludgeoning war-hammer of a movie is hysterically funny and plays like Car Wash. Only without the songs.

One dream sequence further degrades the movie's disgusting, one-eyed patriarch for his bourgeoise greed and neglect of his brood, but any moralizing is kept to a minimum. Though basically a family portrait of deviants, it's a film far removed from the lovable, humble peasant fairy tales of Visconti and DeSica.

Yet, amidst all the sordidness onscreen, there is sympathy evoked for most of the slum's victims, especially the movie's children who exist in an abyss of dysfunction and garbage. Nino Manfredi, as the one-eyed pig of a father, gives a masterful performance as a man capable of perpetuating all seven deadly sins, and then some, on a movie screen for 90 minutes, especially during one unforgettable sequence where, after being poisoned by his own clan and escaping on a bike, Manfredi peddles, flattened, prostrate on the beach only to induce vomiting with a bicycle pump! Next to the grandma evacuating her bowels in public, this is one of the movie's many magical atrocities. "An urban, vicious nightmare" is how The New Yorker magazine described Scola's movie, and that's about how it plays, but it shouldn't be dismissed as just a cultural shock-fest. The final image and freezeframe say more about wretched poverty and the Catholic church than most humorless and less graphic "social isues" movies of the Italian 70s.

One caustic flick and well worth checking out.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics