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La Commare Secca (The Criterion Collection)

4.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The brutalized corpse of a Roman prostitute is found along the banks of the Tiber. The police round up and interrogate a handful of possible suspects. In this, his stunning debut feature—based on a story by Pier Paolo Pasolini—Bernardo Bertolucci utilizes a series of interconnected flashbacks to explore the nature of truth and the reliability of narrative. The Criterion Collection is proud to present La commare secca, the first full realization of a legendary talent.


Signaling the arrival of a gifted young filmmaker, La commare secca (or The Grim Reaper) marked the promising debut of Bernardo Bertolucci, who would attain world-class prominence in less than a decade. Having served as director's assistant on his friend Pier Paolo Pasolini's successful debut Accattone the previous year, Bertolucci was only 21 when he co-wrote and directed this impressively structured drama (based on a story by Pasolini) about a murdered prostitute and the police interrogation of several potential suspects. Bertolucci has denied the influence of Kurosawa's Rashomon (which he hadn't yet seen), but that film's prismatic structure is echoed here in the chapter-like retelling of circumstances surrounding the murder, as described through the suspects' unclear memories, conflicting testimonies and subtly hidden agendas. Punctuating the mystery with scenes of the prostitute's final hours, Bertolucci defies his directorial assignment (Pasolini had declined the job, and Bertolucci was hired to approximate Pasolini's visual style) with an ever-moving camera that tracks each suspect through a variety of ominous Roman locations. As he explains in an exclusive interview on this Criterion DVD, Bertolucci was the youngest person on the set, and extremely anxious as a first-time director, but his talent speaks for itself. La commare secca was not a hit with critics, but it's a remarkable debut by any standard, fully vindicated by Bertolucci's subsequent greatness. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • Exclusive interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci
  • Essay by film critic David Thompson

Product Details

  • Actors: Rick Jason, Vic Morrow
  • Directors: Vic Morrow, Sutton Roley, Tom Gries, Bernard McEveety, Ted Post
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0006Z2NB8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,980 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "La Commare Secca (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Death suggests the ultimate end for an individual and it often travels together with fear stemming from awareness of the unknown destination after the heart ceases to beat. The destination after death has been taught by religious leaders for several millennia and frequently the tales after death include those of devils, demons, and other scary creatures that embed fear in the listeners. Tales told in regards to life after death reveal, as many religious leaders have suggested, that the destination is based on the choices made while alive. Thus, these choices better have a moral direction where the person abides to the rules of the society, or consequences might be dire when the heart halts. However, when death arrives to a poor soul those who live must deal with the remains of the deceased, which heavily will affect the destination thereafter.

Bernardo Bertolucci's tale La Commare Secca opens with the camera in a tilted lower angle on a bridge while the sound of a car swooshes by, as some pages are thrown over the edge of the bridge. The camera pans with the pages that drift with the wind, which gives the audience a good view of the Tiber river and the apartment complexes across the river. Increasingly the wind speeds up the movement of the falling pages as they blow along the man-made river bank. The pages appear to be newspaper pages as they get stuck in the high grass. Some pages struggle to get free from the grass as the wind keeps tearing at them. Slowly the panning camera moves out of focus and then back into focus as it's attention is aimed at the drifting pages. Suddenly the camera stops it's panning motion, and playfully soothing music appears in the background.
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This 1962 black and white Italian film shows why some of the best films ever made were made in Italy from approximately 1945 to 1965.

The plot is basically a murder mystery which is used to show different facets of Italian life at that time. This was when Italy was still recovering from World War II and was not the modern economy it is now. The film concentrates on various marginal characters who do not hold a regular job.

A prostitute is killed at the edge of a park in Rome. The police question various characters who were at the park at the time. They all claim to have just been passing through the park. Then long flashbacks show what really happened and the daily lives of these people. Most of the film consists of these flashbacks.

The first is a young man who says he was in the park while looking for a job. The flashback shows that the job was robbing people at the park. The second is an ex-con who has now found a means of support as a gigolo. The flashback shows that he is the gigolo of a madam whose demands for money owed by the prostitute forced her to look for work on that fateful night. The third is a soldier on leave in Rome who fell asleep in the park. The flashback shows he spent most of his time trying to pick up women. The fourth is a teenager who was in the park with his friend looking for something to steal. The fifth is a shady character who says he was in the park to kill time after work. He works at a nightclub as a male dancer for unaccompanied women.

This movie is somewhat like the famous Japanese film Rashomon (1950) in that every witness tells a different story about the park, but different in that here the murder here is eventually solved.
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In the video interview he did for this criterion film release Bertolucci goes to some length on his collaboration with the great director Pier Paolo Pasolini - pointing to 'Accatone' as the birth of cinema. Then when speaking of his own work - he says that it was as if all his efforts were in vain - as the critics judged it as a copy of Pasolini. This judgement is very unfortunate - despite the fact that the story was written by Pasolini and the class of people to which it pertains is Pasolini's beloved lower class - this film has a radically different feeling from anything Pasolini ever did.

I am kind of a bit unsure as to whether this film rates 4 or 5 stars - certainly it is the work of a very young director and lacks the fine tuning of later Bertolucci films. Nevertheless, this film hangs with me like a strange dream and it has proven itself worthy of an excellent rating.
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The grim reaper is the icon of death; he is a figure that is feared all over the world, as his only goal is to take life away. However, The Grim Reaper isn't a horror movie, but more of an Italian murder-mystery. Although the title and opening sequence are morbid, the rest of the story isn't gruesome.

The story begins with a woman's body being found under a bridge. The police are investigating her murder and interview men who were in the park the night she was killed. All of them are shady characters and they tell their stories about their lives just before the murder. The flashback stories we see are mostly about lovers and would-be lovers, but as nearly all of them have a degree of money problems, so they all appear potentially suspicious.

What I liked the most about the movie was when the stories get to the park. We see the same place, just from various viewpoints. The further we get into the movie, the more we see the personal stories of everyone that was in the park that night. The park has a surreal feeling to it - as if it was a place where time stands still and lives on and on in the stories that are told about that night. As we watch the stories that have little to do with anything violent, we are always reminded that there is a murder among those at the park. We swing back and forth between the problems people face in everyday life to the realization there is a killer among the people. The Grim Reaper keeps its viewer guessing as we take in the details of the people who were a witness, if not the murder itself, to the location of a murder.
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