Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, O la borsa o la vita (1933)


Daniele, the protagonist of the film, is given a bag of money from his friend Giovanni and asked to invest it. Due to a stock market collapse, he mistakenly believes that the money has minimal value, and starts desperately looking for ways to pay his friend back. Daniele becomes convinced that the only solution is to die, so that Giovanni can cash in his life insurance policy. In spite of several risky attempts to meet his death, Daniele remains alive. Eventually, Daniele learns from Giovanni that the money has actually doubled in value.

Main Principles

  1. A New Theorization of the Relationship Between Subjectivity and Objectivity

  2. The Rationalization of Aesthetics: the Straight Line


The film draws on a radio-comedy written by Alessandro De Stefani. Previously, Bragaglia had only made documentaries; this comedy debut would enshrine him as a leading director of the genre thereafter. O la borsa o la vita describes the trials and tribulations of Daniele in quite an original way, with avant-gardist elements unfolding either in the plot and evident in some stylistic choices. The bizarre attempts Daniele makes to die and their juxtaposition give a surrealist nuance to the film. In particular, the episode in which Daniele decides to carry out a dangerous mission for an anarchist group (who are actually a bunch of patients escaping from a mental hospital) is exemplary of an irrational strand that runs throughout the film. Moreover, Daniele’s troubles are all caused by the breakdown of the stock market, which symbolises the illogical and even uncanny intervention of the irrational in the everyday life. Some other scenes seem more attuned to an avant-garde and futuristic canon, such as that in which the camera exalts the aerial stunts by the Fascist-acclaimed Ace gunner Mario de Bernardi. As a whole, O la borsa o la vita’s rational style conveys a linear dynamism characterising the scenes. Camera angles and movements, as well as montage, emphasise an energetic pace and an avant-gardist inspiration, overall privileging the aesthetic dimension of the plot rather than the sentimental and human vicissitudes of the protagonist. Actor Sergio Tofano’s interpretation of Daniele is also crucial in this respect, as he consistently embodies a detached and surrealistic attitude despite the bizarre attempts he makes to die.

Bragaglia’s aesthetic experimentation exposes a dialectical relationship between the autonomy of the arts and the ideological and political objectivity Fascism tried to impose. As far as this dialectic dimension is concerned, O la borsa o la vita has played an original role in epitomising how some popular artefacts such as film, painting, photography, architecture addressed the challenging balance between autonomy and heteronomy within Fascist Italy, as well as representing an artistic experimentation with a popularised form of avant-garde.


Bataille, Georges. 1985. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bragaglia, Leonardo. 2009. Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia. I suoi film, i suoi fratelli, la sua vita. Bologna: Persiani Editore.

Carabba, Claudio. 1974. Il cinema del ventennio nero. Florence: Vallecchi.

Gianmarco Mancosu