The Law (1959)
Directed by Jules Dassin
"The Law" of the title is the name of the cruelly unfun drinking game engaged in by the local male toughs in the Adriatic village Porto Manacore. In the game, one person is arbitrarily selected as the unquestionable leader who gets to decide who drinks, and how much. It's not far removed from the politics of Manacore, where everything from first dates to civic appointments seems to be determined by the elderly, wheelchair-bound, purportedly all-knowing Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur), who observes the townsfolk's comings and goings from his elevated flat, arrogantly cluttered with dusty and priceless Greek art.
Blacklisted expat Jules Dassin adapted the film from Communist Roger Vailland's novel—and the Marxism of the microcosms used is unsubtle and obvious. Dassin never allows you to forget the overarching lessons about oppression and unfairness, although the actual, convoluted plot concerns a tawdry sexual saltarello between the Don's gorgeous virginal housekeeper (Gina Lollobrigida), a melancholy local hottie (Melina Mercouri), and elegant suitors like the engineer Enrico (Marcello Mastroianni) and Yves Montand's Matteo. The constant and confusing back-and-forth volleying of the lovers never allows an empathetic comfort zone, which might be part of the agenda, but Dassin's camera smartly never strays far from The Law's central symbol—Lollobrigida's glorious cleavage, lit, flaunted and micromanaged with a meticulousness Howard Hughes would've appreciated. That her tits themselves are Marxist tokens of unearned presumption is the funniest undercurrent here, but the unceasing "Mediterranean lustiness" on display eventually exhausts in a manner similar to Dassin's other post-Rififi European postcards.
June 23-29 at BAM