A socialist’s wet dream, and it’s a love story, too? Director Luigi Comencini's 1974 manifesto about factory workers being suffocated to death in a plant also tells the poignant and tragic tale of Northerner Giuliano Gemma falling for Sicilian Stephanie Sandrelli, one of cinema’s most confused protagonists. But, then, her psychotic and prejudiced family and brain-damaging work conditions contribute to most of the couple’s troubles.
In one startling scene, they meet by the factory’s river as it belches pollution, surrounded by a fog representative of their toxic future. Wow, symbolism!
Sandrelli’s ominous love for the non-existent sun in Milan is also a sign that, of course, things are going to turn bad—and they do. Even the desperate couple’s love-making is forced to commence in a squalid, Sicilian household bathroom. “Work sucks your blood, like a vampire” Gemma spits at one point, and this is only a hint of the anarchist violence to come. If only feel-good American movies of the working class could end with such shocking finality, instead of cheers and bad music for Julia Roberts. Other great dialogue from Gemma’s parents in acknowledging Sandrelli: “Does she wash? Even my canary washes.”
A wrenching, effective combination of sociological struggle and memorable characters.