Sergio Citti is mostly remembered as a writer, for his collaboration with many Italian greats such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ettore Scola. But he was also a gifted, if slightly underrated director, with a style noticeably influenced by the above two directors, particularly visible in one of his last films, “Vipera” [Eng. Title: Viper].
Set in 1940’s and 50’s Sicily (Paternò), we follow the fortunes of Rosetta from the time she’s twelve (Larissa Volpentesta) and living with her drunken father Leone (Harvey Keitel) – he’d turned to alcohol to forget Rosetta’s mother, Vipera (Elide Melli), after she ran away with a fascist some time ago. Little Rosetta’s fortunes turn for the worse when she’s raped and made pregnant by another former fascist (Giancarlo Giannini), and Leone also dies after falling from his bicycle. She’s sent to live in a convent until the age of twenty one, and her newborn child will cruelly be adopted out by her visiting mother.
By the time she’s let out of the convent, Rosetta is a young woman (Annalisa Schettino). She goes in search of her mother, hoping to find her baby there. Instead she finds a Vipera even more delusional than before, believing she’s still the item that she once was. Rosetta’s son isn’t to be found – Vipera, a former dancer, had been nicknamed a whore by many back in the village, but that’s giving whores a bad name. She had abandoned Rosetta’s baby altogether and gives no explanation for her actions. When Rosetta decides to leave, Vipera completely looses her mind and throws herself naked on the street spread-eagled, in pouring rain, calling on every man in town to take her. Rosetta keeps walking…
The storyline may sound dreary and heartbreaking – it actually is for a good two-thirds of the film, and Citti is ruthless and unapologetic in the way he handles his subject, showing the misery and hopelessness for what it used to be. But then again, it ends in the most fortuitous manner, with a touch of poetic flair even, when Rosetta not only finds her lost son but also witnesses her late father’s dream become real. One of the film’s features is its rich contrast – the pure and trusting father-daughter relationship against the opportunistic village folk (and the rapist), the wicked mother against the kind whores who take pity on Rosetta, and Rosetta’s innocence as a child against the strong willed person that the world had turned her into.
Another feature is the rich detail of Sicilian life from the period, from its ceremonies like communion and street parades, to people’s ignorance and religious superstitions. The film may neither have award-winning performances, nor a proper reason for having Harvey Keitel in it, but it is well-conceived and thoroughly satisfying cinema nevertheless, largely because of the fine storytelling, detail, and thoughtful direction – reason enough to declare that it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Elide Melli
Two scenes of Elide Melli feature nudity – the first is when her character forces Rosetta to feel her breasts to prove that she’s still ‘young’ and desirable. The second is when she literally invites every man in town to have sex with her, by lying naked on the street, and in pouring rain – we don’t see that every day, do we..!