The Law (La legge)
Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by Jules Dassin and Francoise Geroud from a novel by Roger Vailland
Le Groupe des Quatre/Cite Films/Titanus/G.E.S.I. Cinematografica
I could not appreciate any merits the film may have had because of my antipathy to most of the characters and their behavior. My husband found the story to be an amusing commentary on Italian machismo. Take your pick.
The story is set in an Italian village near Naples where a kind of modern day feudalism is alive and well. Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur) is the acknowledged boss of the village. He is an old man and remains holed up in his village with four comely servants. Enrico Tosso (Marcello Mastroianni), an agronomist from the North has arrived to conduct some kind of crop experiments. He is looking for a maid. The Don’s women all want the fiery Marietta (Gina Lollabrigida) to take the job. She isn’t interested in being anybody’s servant but determines to marry the handsome newcomer.
One of the nightly pastimes of the men of the village is a stupid and cruel drinking game called “The Law”. Two of the drinkers are chosen to be the Boss and the Deputy Boss. They determine whether the other drinkers at the table will be allowed to drink, how much they drink, and the manner of consumption. All of this is done for maximum humiliation value. Somehow Matteo Brigante (Yves Montand) always gets chosen Boss. He fancies himself as the successor to the Don.
In the meantime Brigante’s son Francesco has fallen in love with a local judge’s wife (Melina Mercouri). They plan to run away together. Brigante manages to foil the plot at the last minute to the great chagrin and embarrassment of the lady.
Brigante also is set on conquering Marietta but she is not having any and he resorts to force.
The only character in this film without an ulterior motive is the one played by Mastroianni. The others are all cruel, vain, and selfish. Lollabrigida’s is the kind of woman who will stop at nothing, including thievery, to get what she wants. Admittedly, her physique in this alone would bring most men to their knees. Anyway, for some reason she irritated me so much that I couldn’t really enjoy the film. I might have reacted differently on another day.