Mario Camerini, Rotaie (1931)
The film is about a newlywed couple who get married against their respective families’ will. They also plan to commit suicide together because they have no money, but an unexpected turn of events makes them change their minds. They find a huge amount of cash in a wallet and decide to take a train to Sanremo, where they lose everything gambling at the casino. Eventually, they escape from a dangerous situation by taking the first train that is departing without knowing its destination. In a third-class carriage, they meet very underprivileged people who, in spite of their poverty, offer to share food with them and subsequently help the male protagonist to find a job.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
The original version of Camerini’s Rotaie was a silent film made in 1930; however, it was edited and distributed with sound in 1931. The relationship between Fascist modernity and a troubled love story is portrayed through rather sophisticated aesthetic techniques/a rather sophisticated aesthetics. The dramatic vicissitudes of the young couple and their ebbs and flows seem quite detached from the escapist genre that characterized Italian film production under Fascism, in particular in the second half of the thirties with the telefoni bianchi genre. Camerini also anticipates some artistic and technical trends that will be used a decade later such as shooting on location, the extensive use of intense close-ups, a skilful use of light (chiaroscuro) and composition, and a generally severe style. We can perhaps trace some hints of neorealism in the scenes set in the third-class carriage, in particular when the camera lingers on a humble woman who is breastfeeding her child. Such a realistic setting starkly contrasts with the luxurious yet immoral atmosphere of the previous scenes set in the Casino.
The exaltation of Fascist modernization is conveyed by the central role the national railways play throughout the plot. When the couple is about to drink poison, a train races past their hotel room, blasting open a window and knocking over the glass of poison. The couple takes this as a sign of destiny and they do not commit suicide. The fortuitous find of a wallet full of cash also takes place in a train station and, after they lose that money in the casino, it is again a train journey that offers them the chance of a new beginning. Accordingly, when the couple is tempted in various ways to lead an anti-Fascist and individualistic life (e. g. dwelling on committing suicide, wasting money, gambling), the metaphorical break-in of fascist modernity, represented physically by the railways, gives them a chance of redemption and the opportunity to embrace an organic, Fascist lifestyle.
Brunetta, Gian Piero. 2009. The History of Italian Cinema: A Guide to Italian Film from Its Origins to the Twenty-first Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Chiti, Roberto and Enrico Lancia (eds). 2005. Dizionario del cinema italiano. I film - vol.1. Rome: Gremese Editore.
Ricci, Stephen. 2008. Cinema and Fascism: Italian Film and Society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.