Another brilliant film from Pontecorvo
If you enjoyed Gillo Pontecorvo’s films The Battle of Algiers and the more obscure Burn, then there’s an excellent chance that you’ll enjoy The Wide Blue Road. While this film is less overtly political (Italian Jewish Pontecorvo is a Marxist), there’s a subtle political message there.
The Wide Blue Road is set in the islands off the coast of Italy. Since the closure of the local quarry, the only source of income for the local men is fishing. Some men have shelved their nets, and turned to using dynamite to get a bigger catch. Dynamite fishing is illegal, but the local coast guard must actually catch fisherman in the act of using dynamite in order to prosecute them.
There’s an acknowledged status quo on the island. Squarcio (Yves Montand) is known to be a great fisherman, but he’s long since given up fishing the old-fashioned way, and now uses dynamite. Everyone knows he fishes this way, but the other fishermen don’t condemn Squarcio. They see him as a fellow victim of financial hardship. The coast guard officer is also an old friend of Squarcio’s, and while he also knows that Squarcio uses dynamite, he doesn’t pursue the matter. Squarcio’s childhood friend, Salvatore (Francisco Ravel) hopes to develop a co-op amongst the fisherman and eventually buy a fridge, so that the fisherman can control more of their profits. As it is, the merchant who owns the only fridge on the island gives the men a pittance for their catch.
The status quo on the island alters when a new coast guard officer arrives. He wants to capture Squarcio, and Squarcio, won’t give up dynamite fishing–even though his wife (Alida Valli) urges him to stop. Squarcio’s quest to support his family by illegal fishing develops into a relentless, stubborn and self-destructive drive.
The Wide Blue Road (La Grande Strada Azzurra) is really a marvelous film. Yes, it’s the story of a simple fisherman, but it’s much more than that. One of the film’s major themes is an examination of Individualism/Capitalism vs. Socialism–Salvatore’s efforts to form a collective are at first assisted by Squarcio, then ignored, and finally undermined as Squarcio places the finances of his own family above all the other families on the island. Squarcio’s desire to provide for his family crosses a moral line when he compromises the other families, and as a result, Squarcio and his family become social outcasts.
The Wide Blue Road is a beautiful film. There are some breathtaking scenes of the ocean full of sailboats as the fisherman gather to begin a day’s work. The film is a touch sentimental in a few places, but overall, this is an engaging, intense story of one man’s hubris. In Italian with English subtitles.