The Organizer (Il compagni)
Directed by Mario Monicelli
Written by Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli and Mario Monicelli
Lux Film/Vides Cinematografia/Mediterrannee Cinema Production/Avala Film
A gem of a film with a very different performance from Marcello Mastroianni.
The setting is Turin, Italy at the end of the 19th Century. The community mostly works at the local textile mill. The shift is 14 hours long and conditions both in the homes and at the mill are squalid. When one dog-tired employee loses his hand to a machine, the other workers vow to quit an hour early in protest. But with no real organization, the walk-out fizzles.
Enter Professor Sinigaglia (Mastroianni), an ex-high school teacher turned union organizer who is a fugitive of justice resulting from his activities in another town. Sigigaglia is an odd-ball kind of egghead that proves to be a surprisingly inspirational speaker. He convinces the workers that they need a lot more than one extra hour off work and they go on strike.
The management is unshakeable and the strike stretches out beyond economic endurance. Finally, unable to fob off the workers, the management turns on Sinigaglia. With Renato Salvatori, Fulco Lulli, and Bernard Blier on the strike committee and Annie Giradot as a prostitute.
I was preparing for a lot of violence and there was some but the ending holds out a ray of hope for the future. There are also quite a few light-hearted moments. Cinematographer Giuseppi Rotunno’s lighting evokes black-and-white photographs of the era. Warmly recommended.
The Organizer was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.