Alessandro Blasetti, Terra Madre (1931)
Terra Madre’s protagonist is Marco, a young nobleman living a lazy urban life with his lover Daisy. Marco’s family owns a country estate which is far from the city where they live. Marco decides to sell that land in order to have more money to squander. However, before finalizing the sale, he decides to visit his land: this visit changes his life because there he nostalgically remembers his happy childhood, and because he meets Emilia, the farmer’s daughter. Just before the closing of the sale, Emilia calls Marco and tells him a fire is spreading throughout the estate. Marco races back to his property, he helps putting the fire out, and later decides to stay to take care of the estate. Eventually, he marries Emilia.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
Terra Madre’s plot revolves around a narrative of redemption consistent with Fascist policies and discourses of reclamation of the soil as well as cultural and societal ideals. Marco is a character who embodies this metaphorical path of reclamation. At the beginning of the film, his lifestyle is completely at odds with Fascist values, and he embodies what the regime considered immodest and irresponsible behaviour. However, when he returns to his family’s estate, he starts his personal recovery from the swampy liberal and individualistic life in which he is bogged down. This redemption is facilitated by the encounter with Emilia, who opens his eyes to a new life in which individual happiness and traditional social values are sublimated within the Fascist idea of modernity. The other female character, Daisy, represents all that threatens the Fascist social order, since she is depicted as an arrogant and dissolute woman who considers country life and values boring and primitive. The strong contrast between a positive Fascist modernity (Emilia) and a degenerate and immodest liberal modernity (Daisy) is also clear in the scenes of the feast the peasants organize to convince Marco to stay with them. Folk music and dances convey a traditional as well as Fascist-attuned way of understanding social leisure, which is the opposite of the decadence and immorality characterizing the urban party taking place in his city-villa at the same time.
By juxtaposing these narratives, Terra Madre encourages the development of an alternative idea of modernity to that conceived by liberal individualism. Marco’s return to his roots does not simply champion a rural and even bucolic escapism from this corrupt modernity; rather, it actively conveys Marco’s recovery, who carves out his role and undergoes a process of individual realization to the extent that he embraces a totalitarian and Fascist-oriented rediscovery of traditional values.
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.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. 2001. Fascist Modernity. Italy 1922-1945. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Gori, Gianfranco. 1983. Blasetti. Florence: La Nuova Italia-Il castoro.